Providence Painted Signs *Interview with owner: Shawn Gilheeney*

When you look around you can see that the world is communicating with you. Living in the Creative Capital there is an expectation that you should see art everywhere, and the really awesome thing is that you do.

That is what Shawn Gilheeny does for a living with Providence Painted Signs. He creates hand-painted signs for local businesses; he communicates for his clients through his art. He has painted signs all throughout Providence and Rhode Island.

Shawn is an artist, business owner, skateboarder, and Providence local. He also has a fantastic sense of humor– I literally laughed out loud with this interview. Shawn and his colleague Buck invited me to one of their jobs where I got to spend time with them and take some photos of them in action. I hope you are inspired to pursue your dreams after reading about his journey.


Shawn William Gilheeney

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tell us how Providence Painted Signs got started and your business partners.

“Providence Painted Signs got started about two-and-a-half years ago when I needed a career change, so I decided to make my own job. I talked to two close artists friends of mine Greg Pennisten who I had collaborated with lots of sign based art work under the pseudo-name Plastic House, as well as with Buck Hastings who was a fine art painter in the same studio building as Greg and I. Our common thread being we all had done some sign work and could swing a paint brush. I proposed we start a company and combine our commercial art portfolios.”

“I’d strike out and try to get us work so they could quit their jobs and we could paint signs and murals for a living. It took about a year and a half to get established enough then I was able to take on Buck full time, but I’m still waiting to get enough consistent work to make Greg quit his day job.”

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where is Providence Painted Signs located? And why did you decide to have a space there?

“We are at 39 Manton Ave. Bldg 16 in Providence. We moved here because we took on a sign job that was too large for either of our separate small studios to fabricate inside of. We had lined up a spot at Hope Artiste Village and put down a deposit. We were apprehensive about being next to a baby yoga studio with all of our chemical fumes and such. I reached out to Olneyville housing to find a potential spot down the road and their new tenant for this building had just dropped out the same week. I lost the deposit for Hope Artiste and we moved to beautiful historic Olneyville instead.”

tell us about your creative process. 

“Creative process is on a client to client basis. What they are looking for as far as aesthetics, the Alphabet selections derive from the shelf of old sign painting, typography and decorative art books.”

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what is the most fun job you’ve done?

“All of the exterior ones; the great outdoors. Always exciting to be in the wild.”

how would you describe Providence Painted Signs to someone?

“We make signs the old new fashion way. Hand painted the way you like ’em.”

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how do your clients find out about you?

“Probably from a sign.”

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how and when did you become interested in art and painting?

“Graffiti was my real inroad to artistic expression as a youth and skateboarding; that was also the other catalyst.”

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where are you from?

“I grew up in Greene which is in western Coventry, Rhode Island”

we love being a part of the Providence community, what made you decide to live and stay in PVD?

“I moved back here to have my knee operated on. I was living in Seattle but was on a cross country trip skateboarding and I destroyed my ACL before our Europe leg of the tour. To get insurance I had to go to college under my moms insurance plan. Then, I liked college enough to stick around here and see it through. I stayed because of the cheap rent and ability to scrape by and make a living in the arts.”

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how would you describe PVD to someone who has never been here before?

“It’s like England but newer.”

 describe your typical day at Providence Painted Signs.

“It’s like a choose your own adventure book. But a sign based adventure that involves the sign game. Every day is something else that you have to look out for.”

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we love music and musicians, tell us about what music you listen to while you work?

Chances with wolves all the time mostly.”

what is the most rewarding thing about being a business owner?

“I can fire me whenever I want”

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what is your vision for Providence Painted Signs?

“Ah… that changes all the time. Long long term: let’s say it involves watercolors, the beach, my lady, margaritas, lots of dogs and good food cooked over fire.”

what is your favorite quote?
“Nothing exceeds like excess.”

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what is your favorite place you’ve traveled to?

“Tasmania. It’s like Australia with miniature kangaroos.”

describe your personal style to us.
“Its been described to me as: urban mountain man.”

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we love connecting with our readers through social media! how and where can our readers follow Providence Painted Signs?

“Instagram: @providencepaintedsigns // The wonderful world of commercial sign painting right there at your fingertips.”

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advice you would give to our readers wanting to start a business of their own?

Find something you would do all the time anyway then figure out how to get paid for it. Then get ready for the inconsistent monetary existence that ensues.”

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Having the opportunity to watch Shawn and Buck work was truly an honor. They are some of the funniest down-to-earth guys with insane talent. It was really beautiful to watch them work together and bounce ideas off each other in real time. The artistic process is really fascinating.

Thank you for sharing your ideas, process, and advice with us, Providence Painted Signs!


:: all photography and editing by Olivia :::

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