It was at age 15 that TJ Guzzardi began his journey to becoming a sign maker, taking his bass guitar to be pinstriped and being inspired to give it a go himself.
“I saw a guy doing pinstripe designs on my double bass,” says TJ. “And while I watched him, I thought that’d be pretty cool to learn to do and so I decided to give it a try.” From there, he bought some brushes and started painting. Thanks to his dad owning a hot rod shop, TJ’s skills continued to grow, being commissioned by his clients to paint their cars.
Yet it wasn’t until five years later that TJ really found his groove, when he took the jump from pinstriping to lettering. “I was asked to do a tattoo shop sign for a friend and I had never done any lettering before,” he explains. “I was always scared to give it a go but we designed it together and I painted it. Through that, I left some business cards and from there all the work I’ve done has slowly built up to a full-time job. Now I have jobs booked through to September which is really cool.”
Since those initial days, the self-taught sign maker has gone far, literally, with TJ having travelled around Australia painting signs, created a couple of signs for Mexican soft drink company, Jarritos, as well as being commissioned by Harley Davidson. “They invited me to create a helmet and paint one for an art show which they ended up buying and displaying in their Sydney head office,” says TJ. “They gave me a brand new helmet to do whatever I liked with, and I got to be very creative and make it look like it was 40 years old and all distressed.”
A lover of everything 1950s, all his signs have a definite vintage vibe, something else which harks back to his childhood: “When I was a kid, my parents dressed very 50s,” explains TJ. “My dad was very Grease like, he had the slicked back hair and the leather jacket. I was kind of just brought up in that culture and have taken that and then combined it with my own feel.”
Painting on salvaged materials — anything from a toilet seat to an old trunk — TJ is not afraid to paint on any surface: “If the paint sticks to something, I’ll paint on it!” His sign making process is very delicate and time-consuming and is something that a select few will get to experience during the Meet Your Makers Studio, a new feature at the upcoming Life Instyle trade fair in Melbourne.
Featuring artists and designers, including TJ, these live workshops will give visitors a unique opportunity to see how these creators bring their designs to life. “I’ll be painting one of my signs on the day, either an old sign for a café or just a decorative sign,” explains TJ. “I thought it’d be something cool to be involved in, a place where I could show my work to a different audience, compared to those who I normally do my work for.”
Life Instyle Melbourne is being held at the Royal Exhibition Building from 31 July to 3 August 2014. TJ’s workshop is on Thursday 31 July from 10-11.30am. More information on this trade-only event can be found here.