Take a stroll in downtown San Luis Obispo, drive into downtown Avila Beach and up to Paso Robles, or cruise through downtown Atascadero, and chances are you’ve seen a Southpaw sign.
As owner of Southpaw Sign Co., Sean Beauchamp and his team are responsible for designing and fabricating some of the most notable signs in San Luis Obispo County.
“I make custom things that stand out,” he said. “If I do a gold-leaf sign or a carved sign, people recognize it as Southpaw. It’s a style that doesn’t come from anyone else.”
Established in 1990, the business designs and fabricates a wide array of signage, including decorative iron and glass, furniture and more.
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Beauchamp’s specialty is historic gold leaf, although his shop also produces modern electric signs, neon signs and a host of hand-carved and hand-painted signs as well.
In recent years, Southpaw has taken its approach to a new level, applying its distinctive, creative techniques to fine architectural details and interior finishes.
“We’re going from just being a resource for a store owner who wants to buy a sign to being a resource for the architect or interior designer to build a whole environment,” Beauchamp said.
Beauchamp’s artistry has evolved through the years, and he said he’s never been afraid to adopt new techniques along the way. He started out drawing and then learned to paint, sandblast and apply gold leaf.
His artistic passion started as a child.
When he was a boy, Beauchamp was frequently asked to illustrate the school play brochure or paint signs for small-business owners, family members and friends.
“I was always that kid in school either getting asked to draw something or getting in trouble for drawing something,” he said. “People would say, ‘That Beauchamp kid knows how to draw; ask him.’ ”
At the age of 18, he moved to Los Angeles with dreams of going to art school. Then, one day, while Beauchamp was skateboarding on Hollywood Boulevard, he stopped to talk to an older man painting a sign. The man suggested that he get a job at AAA Flag and Banner, where he was hired and worked for a few months.
“I considered it a boot camp,” he said. “There was no art to it at all, and they had video cameras on us all day. It was terrible.”
But that tough production job led to another position at Industrial Signs in Los Angeles, where he learned to use a sign computer. Then, in 1989, he was introduced to the late Rick Glawson, who had been one of the premier gold-leaf sign painters in the country.
“My introduction to Rick opened up the world of custom signage like we do today,” he said. “He took me under his wing, and he let me work in his shop.”
Glawson’s mentorship propelled Beauchamp into the next phase of his career as a professional sign painter in the early 1990s in Southern California and the Pacific Northwest. He lived in Portland, Ore., and Flagstaff, Ariz., and then he relocated to Mexico, where he painted signs in Quino Bay from 1996 to 1997.
During a break one summer, he stopped for a night in San Luis Obispo and “just fell in love with it.”
“I went back (to Mexico), saved up my pesos and moved to San Luis Obispo in 1997,” he said.
He first worked out of a single-car carport on Foothill Boulevard before meeting another sign painter. They rented a commercial space together in San Luis Obispo and eventually expanded. When his business partner decided to move on, Beauchamp took over.
In 2002, he met his wife, Deborah Hansen, who has a business background and is president/executive director of Central Coast Pug Rescue. Hansen helped to build and expand the company.
Top clients have included Firestone Walker Brewing Co. near Paso Robles, French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, the Carlton Hotel in Atascadero, Vina Robles Winery in Paso Robles, and The Wineman Hotel and the Sinsheimer Building in San Luis Obispo.
While he appreciates the larger projects, it’s often the smaller jobs that Beauchamp relishes.
“Sometimes, it’s the signs for the mom-and-pop businesses that I enjoy the most,” he said.
Despite the success of Southpaw, Beauchamp is still amazed that he makes a living pursuing his passion.
“When I was interviewed for my high school paper in my senior year, I still thought I would go into industrial or architectural design and work for a big firm, and if all else failed, I’d be a sign guy,” he said. “I never thought I would be a sign painter on purpose.”