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Old world style

image Jay Gordon, owner of Blackout Custom Signs

AUSTIN - Jay Gordon, owner of Blackout Custom Signs, is a throwback to an earlier era in America. He loves the old style look of signs from days gone by, even if they aren’t as slick as a computerized, machine-cut, sterile sign one could easily find today.





    Minus lead-based paint, Gordon will use much of the same materials previous generations of sign makers used, which produces unique and visually striking signs for his clients.
    “It’s purposely done that way,” Gordon said. He has an appreciation for the lasting quality of America’s earlier signs and the feel they have.
    Gordon came from an Air Force family. His last base was Bergstrom, and he was there when it closed, which causes him to wax nostalgic every time he goes to the airport now.
    At a young age, Gordon was intrigued by cars and hot rods, with their pin-striping and fancy paint jobs. He discovered that the best painted cars were done by guys who were also sign painters. He taught himself the craft and eventually got good enough to work for a sign company, where he was drawn to all the various components of signs.
    “It was cool how you could take it to the next level with neon, light bulbs, lighting and movement,” he said.
    Gordon started Blackout in Jan. 2008. His very first customer was the
Alamo Draft House Ritz. He likes doing work for them because they have lots of wild and crazy ideas. His first project, for instance, was a replica of Slim Pickens, astride a nuclear weapon. Movie buffs will remember this as the closing scene of Dr. Strangelove when Pickens dropped from a B-52, riding an atomic bomb.
    Blackout Signs has done work across America and into Canada as well. In 2011, it won a national award amongst sign-makers for the Best Commercial Building Sign. They were contracted to fabricate the design for the Luling Watermelon Shop.
    When he does assist with a sign’s design, Gordon is totally old school. “I still design stuff with a pencil and paper,” he said.
    Gordon has three other guys in his shop. While “everybody has their own skill set,” they all can chip in and fill in for someone else when needed. Sort of. “I can do everything in the shop except the computer stuff,” Gordon said. “I just don’t understand it.”
    When it comes to the discussion of LED lights replacing neon lights, Gordon is unambiguous: “There is no soul to using LEDs.” While there obviously is a time and place for LED lights on signs, Gordon thinks neon just looks better. “It has more presence,” he said.
    Being in the Austin area bodes well for Gordon. “Austin’s been real good to us,” he said. He enjoys it when a business notices a sign he did for another business and asks who did it for them.
    Gordon laughs at his business savvy, or lack thereof. “I’m not sure I know how to run a business,” he said. “I’ve been able to keep this one alive through sheer hard-headedness and determination. We count on our work to get us more work. We don’t have sales people or advertise. We use social media very little.”
    When it comes to the future, Gordon states that “I have no aspirations to get any bigger.” He used to have as many as 10 people work for him, but he didn’t like being the supervisor-dad. His four-person shop is just right, he said. “These guys are like family.”
    “I enjoy designing and building things.” Not the cookie-cutter, chain restaurant kind of sign, but the unique, visually striking sign that oozes feeling and charm.
    “Every job we do, we try to make it better than the last one we did,” Gordon said.
    From painting hot rods to winning national awards, Gordon is a sign-making artist who does modern work with an old-world flair.
    Blackout Custom Signs has its shop in San Marcos. -dsz

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Author Info
Dan Zulli dan@constructionnews.net