Christian Shaknaitis has made his mark on nearly every business in Lawrenceville.
The artist and founder of Brush & Pounce creates signage that’s a throwback to the early-1900s, when hand-painted logos and ornate lettering dominated the landscape.
“I’ve always liked typography,” he says. “When I was a kid, I would write out the alphabet again and again.”
His work adorns everything from Pittsburgh storefront windows and facades to menu boards, A-frames, beer coolers, fences, food trucks and entire sides of buildings. With a paintbrush and a pounce wheel — a tool used for transferring an image from one surface to another — Shaknaitis gives new brands a vintage aesthetic.
It’s a re-emerging trend, especially among mom-and-pop shops lining local business districts.
The Abbey on Butler Street is a veritable showcase of his talent, ranging from large emblems on the restaurant’s exterior to small placards located throughout the space.
“It’s still the best looking sign in the city,” she says.
Word-of-mouth from happy clients keeps Shaknaitis busy year-round.
Shaknaitis conducts on-site consultations to gauge the size and scope of each project. At his Stanton Heights studio, he then designs and fabricates wooden letters and shapes, and carefully lays gold leaf designs on glass panels. Sometimes, he paints signs by hand directly on the wall of a business, an activity that draws a crowd of curious customers.
Many are surprised this old-fashioned service still exists.
Shaknaitis, a Connecticut native, first visited Pittsburgh in the early-1990s while touring with his band.
He fell in love with the city, where many ghost signs — faded advertisements usually found on brick walls — can still be seen. Unlike computer-generated graphics printed on vinyl, the images are pleasantly wonky, with visible brush strokes and uneven lines.
But, what they lack in perfection, he says, they make up for in charm.
Shaknaitis eventually fell in with a small contingent of like-minded artists and makers who practice traditional sign-making skills. Over the past five years, the group has rapidly expanded.
The Pittsburgh Lettering Club meets every other Wednesday at 4719 Hatfield St. in Lawrenceville. Weekly themes (script, shading, vehicle lettering, icy caps, vintage mascots) challenge attendees to learn different techniques.
Shaknaitis is happy to share his knowledge of the trade with the group. And he loves that new developments popping up throughout the city are blank canvases for his work and others.
It’s a sign of the times that there’s plenty of work to go around.