Sign art graces local businesses all over Long Beach, Los Angeles County and beyond. Chances are you’ve seen clear windows with gold-leaf lettering, or storefronts with painted signs around town, and chances are they were painted by Adam Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been a Long Beach full-time sign artist and muralist for 4 years and a Long Beach resident for 10.
Gonzalez’s business, Top Notch Sign Co, encompasses more than painting addresses and hours on windows, he’s curated everything from elaborate murals to signage on large grain silos at your local brewery. When asked, Gonzalez says his favorite thing about sign art is the detail and craft that goes into making the signs, “There are so many small, different things that sign painters put into their signs that the public eye would never notice.”
Gonzalez has always been creative, working on design projects since he was a young kid, and filming skate videos while living in Palmdale. He soon found his way to sign painting after his uncle, also a sign painter, pushed him to study the medium professionally. Gonzalez then pursued his AA degree in Sign Graphics at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College (LATTC), home to the last in-person program for sign art in the nation. “The program was intense but it was probably the best decision I made.”
At LATTC, he learned from sign-painting legend Doc Gutherie, who stressed the importance of being of time and always having your materials handy. “That really set me up for doing my own business whether or not I realized it,” said Gonzalez.
Sign art new and old is everywhere if you look hard enough. Long Beach businesses including barbers, bakeries, breweries and coffee shops have commissioned unique lettering and artwork in recent years that mirrors old signage like the now restored Middough’s Boys’ and Men’s shop advertisement on the building’s facade, located downtown off of The Promenade and Broadway.
The fact that sign painting has remained the same since its rise to popularity in the industrial age is what drew Gonzalez to the medium. The ability to letter by hand using original techniques, without a computer, is what makes this functional art so unique. “When it comes to doing gold leaf (signage), it’s been the same technique since it was invented in the 1800s.”
As the world balances a digital age, the popularity of hand-painted sign art proves that analog is a medium that will continue to cycle throughout history. “You go to any coffee shop and they have something where the idea is you can take a photo and post it on instagram,” says Gonzalez.
There’s a saying in the letter-head community that Gonzalez has learned to live by, “IOAFS” or, it’s only a fucking sign. “You can’t be married to the sign,” Gonzalez says. He doesn’t strive to be perfect but he does strive to do his best, especially for Long Beach. “I’m never going to have the perfect business but I’m always going to try,” says Gonzalez, “I have so much love for Long Beach and I’ve been very thankful for the community here.”
Top Notch Sign Co’s letter art can be found at Long Beach businesses like The Merchant, Colossus, Good Time, and Portuguese Bend.
You can find Adam Gonzalez @topnotchsignco on Instagram or check out his website https://www.topnotchsigns.co/ to reach him.