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Capturing Fresh Air

Newfound and Labrador Tourism turns to handpainting to capture outdoor authenticity.

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St. John’s-based Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism commissioned Cam Mahy, proprietor of Rocky River Sign Co. (Hamilton, ON, Canada), to paint a peaceful seascape to prompt passersby on Toronto’s busy Gardiner Expressway to vacation there.

Even though some consider billboards to be visual blights, “superboards” that depict calm, rustic Canadian scenes were employed by St. John’s-based Target Marketing and Communications for its “Fresh Air” campaign. Because the agency equated handpainting with authenticity, CBS Outdoor, through Target, asked Mahy to handpaint a 28 x 56-ft. billboard, onsite, 85 ft. in the air.

Mahy had begun his sign career in 1979 with Mediacom (now CBS Outdoor) and learned from handpainting pros, who came from many countries. His earlier connections paid off with this commission.

Mahy worked with his 20-year-old daughter, Julie, to complete the project. First, they clearcoated the flexible-face material with 1Shot waterborne primer to ensure the subsequent Stevenson oil paints would adhere and dry on the banner material. Various paint concoctions entailed double-boiled linseed oil, japan driers and 1Shot bulletin enamel.

Mahy followed a pattern to paint the background, which he and Julie completed before revealing the lettering. Then they created the wood sills that evoke an open window. CBS Outdoor installed the sheer curtains the next day.

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Painting encompassed 12 working days. Overall, the billboard took three weeks to complete.

During that time, a photographer positioned across the highway on a roof captured the entire process. Halfway through, the painters were trying to finish a day’s work, but the photographer told them they had to quickly descend before a storm, and lighting, hit.

A highlight of the project was a shared birthday experience. “On June 19, Julie celebrated her 20th and I, my 50th,” Cam said. “I enjoyed it, but I think Julie had some better ways of celebrating the day.”

In 1994, outdoor’s conversion to digital printing brought Mahy to shop proprietorship and the purchase of his first computer and vinyl cutter. “I got a letter from Mediacom that thanked me for the years I’d been there. It was the classiest letter I’ve ever received.”

In 1999, he painted his last mural to date, a 20 x 80-ft. work for the city of Hanover. He had learned mural-painting fundamentals from veteran Dan Sawatszky. Most of his current work is digitally printed with a 54-in. Roland VersaCAMM. His wife, Robin, runs the embroidery machine, and she handles all the apparel and vinyl-cutting work. Another associate, Aaron, runs the printer and does design work.

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Cam said, “My true passion is painting, so this has been a good summer. I’m starting to renovate a historical mural in Toronto on the Flatiron Building.”

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