Yes, They Used to Paint Billboards… By Hand

This article is taken from the history of my good friend Craig Stevens. He started working in outdoor advertising quite a while ago. I won’t give exact dates because he can beat me up. At some point, he saw his job of painting billboards going the way of the dinosaur. Instead of going extinct, he adapted by learning the usual computer graphics programs and developing his conceptual skills. To this day, he’s still flourishing as an art director for Olympus Media. What follows is a short glimpse into the art of painting billboards. From here, I’ll hand it off to Craig:

Okay so I’m dating myself. I started in the outdoor advertising industry before digital technology, and yes we actually used to paint those huge billboards by hand. Inside, outside wherever, whenever, summer, winter, and we worked in Pennsylvania so it wasn’t like it was nice outside. Most of the painters are long gone now or have moved on to other things to make a living. So much craftsmanship and ability. I was pretty good but there were guys who were downright AMAZING. People used to love coming into the shop and see what was going on. You really haven’t experienced a billboard until you’ve stood next to one and realized how big they really are. Well, here is a small sampling of painted work from a number of years ago (before I sold out and started working on a computer). Hope you enjoy as much as I enjoyed painting. There is a place in NYC called Colossal Media who has been trying to revive the hand painted wall and signs, more power to them!

Craig Stevens Billboard Painter 1

For a little perspective, I’m 6’3″ tall. This was one of the rare occasions I was able to work inside on an electric stage. Was like a mini vacation compared to working out on the road.

Craig Stevens Billboard Painter 2

Craig Stevens Billboard Painter 3

Craig Stevens Billboard Painter

Craig Stevens Dock Street Beer Painted Billboard 1

This is how I usually worked, off an old block & falls (rope & pulley) swing stage rig. Yes, this was also being laid out by hand.

Craig Stevens Dock Street Beer Painted Billboard 2

Craig Stevens Dock Street Beer Painted Billboard 3

Craig Stevens Bennett Infiniti Painted Billboard

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Miner

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Musikfest 1993

Just the bottom half was painted, on paper.

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard The Hotel Restaurant

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Rentschler Automotive

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Tuskes Homes

Al Fedor Billboard Painter 1

My dear friend and mentor Al Fedor at work. The fastest brush I’ve ever seen and one hell of a guy. He is missed.

Al Fedor Billboard Painter 2

Al Fedor Billboard Painter 3

Al & I used to work together quite a bit back in the day. He would work on the copy, and I would paint the picture. That’s the corner of my Ford. Still have it, 211,000 and still running.

Pete Toth Billboard Painter 1

This is the other guy who taught me everything that Al didn’t teach me, Pete Toth. One of the best pictorial painters in the country.

Pete Toth Billboard Painter 2

Pete Toth Billboard Painter 3

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Coors Silver Bullet

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Ski Montage

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Big Boy

Craig Stevens Painted Billboard Zima


View Craig’s advertising portfolio.

7 thoughts on “Yes, They Used to Paint Billboards… By Hand

  1. William Childs

    Cool article. I had the pleasure of working with Craig back at AOA from 1999-2011 and he was one hell of a painter and artist. It was amazing to watch him work. It was also inspiring to watch Craig make the shift from hand-painted boards to teaching himself photoshop and illustrator and then getting a chance to show what he could do when he got hired in NEPA and he changed the face of the market. Craig’s too humble to ever admit how truly talented he is at multiple art forms. I just consider myself extremely lucky that I got to work with him.

    July 19, 2012 at 10:42 am
  2. […] have a way of becoming obsolete. Just ask anyone skilled in typesetting, or the ancient art of painting billboards by hand. Don’t assume that what you sell today will be the same as what you’ll sell […]

    January 9, 2013 at 7:20 pm
  3. […] have a way of becoming obsolete. Just ask anyone skilled in typesetting, or the ancient art of painting billboards by hand. Don’t assume that what you sell today will be the same as what you’ll sell […]

    January 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm
  4. Brings back lots of memories! Did both swing stage and indoor on on an electric stage! I think I miss it. Doing PC work now, no jobs in this field anymore! Everything has gone digital and electric. Great looking work! some of my favorite work is painting using extensions (tops and sides) to give more depth.

    June 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm
  5. Please tell us what years you did these. I remember seeing this!! I am so happy I found your portfolio!

    October 13, 2014 at 6:45 am
    1. between 1984 and 1998ish. sorry just stumbled on your comment

      October 25, 2017 at 8:35 pm
  6. Anna

    What kind of paint do you use to paint a billboard?

    March 20, 2018 at 1:28 pm

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Todd Turner

Todd Turner has been an art director at Adams Outdoor Advertising in Charleston, SC since 2004. He has created award-winning campaigns for large brands like McDonald’s, Bojangle’s and Harley-Davidson but has spent most of his career working with small local businesses to create advertising that actually works.

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