November 26, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sometimes the old becomes new again, and Arbor Street Studios is bringing old-school, quality craftsmanship to local shop windows, building exteriors, business interiors, eateries, and drinking establishments.

“People are valuing that quality now, in a different way,” says artist and owner Sharon Davis.

“Simply put, it’s hand-painted signs and hand-drawn chalkboards,” she says of her new venture. Davis launched the business in June, but she’s worked in various aspects of the field for over 20 years.

The Western Pennsylvania native has called Omaha home for 12 years. Her business is named after the street on which she lives with husband Evan and their three children, but the studio is housed out of co-located space along Maple Street in the heart of thriving Benson. Not that Davis spends much time in the office anyway; the nature of her work takes her to sites all over the metro.

“I think that Omaha is so welcoming to young people going out on a limb and saying, ‘I’m going to give this a try’,” Davis says. “I’m an artist first, so this is a way to make money doing art. It’s a huge blessing to be able to still be creative but make a living.”

Soe of her more familiar work now adorns such spaces as Benson Brewery and the neighborhood’s Aroma’s Coffeehouse. Further south in Midtown, she’s helped to establish a brand at the new vegan eatery hotspot, Modern Love (featured in the November/December issue of Omaha Magazine).

The self-described hands-on learner picked up the fundamentals of her craft through a high school/vo-tech school cooperative program. “I spent half the day in class and half the day honing my art skills,” she says. “My first job right out of high school was running a sign shop at Wegman’s [a grocery store chain]. I was there about five years and did 150 chalkboards per week.”

Davis is as much an artisan as she is an artist. Most surfaces need priming and some pigments work better than others on certain backgrounds, she explains. Chalkboards “are all math”, which means measuring out each letter and using grid paper to execute a composition.

“It’s not just ‘Will it fit?’ but how will it fit and be readable and attractive and still leave you some negative space. There’s a lot to take into account.”

Her signs go up on both indoor and outdoor surfaces, and that fact poses its own unique set of challenges.

“There’s science to it, too,” she says. “Certain paints work better in warmer weather. Certain paints have a viscosity that is better for brick or for windows. What kinds of thinners work in different paints, and how much to use?”

Through collaborative projects with other local sign artists, Davis has learned some new stenciling and projection techniques that have allowed her to expand her services.

“Being able to work with other people who have that experience and have been trained under apprenticeships and schooling, it’s been eye opening,” she says. “And it’s progressed my business a lot. I’m madly in love with learning all about it.”

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