Top Shelf Signs

Walking into a painter’s workshop, you’d probably expect to see mounds of coffee cups and garbage, with paint thrown, dripped, and spilled everywhere, stacks and stacks of “not good enoughs” in garbage cans, thrown on desks and covering the floor.

Top Shelf Signs is not that.

A stereotype of painters is the eccentric, consumed, and slightly…*ahem*...weird man or woman, difficult to talk to if the conversation isn’t about brushes, technique, or artistic interpretations.

Taylor Nagel isn’t that, either.

Walking around his space in the Central Warehouse building in Saginaw, you see a space that looks like it’s being taken care of by someone who takes what he does seriously enough to look like a professional, met by a person who takes people seriously enough to shake your hand, answer questions as well as ask them, and talk about everything from Joe Rogan to tattoos to pickles on a stick.

He's working while we begin our conversation, but I get the impression that our talking is just as important as the work he's doing, and we begin out talking by talking about the beginning.

For most of his working life, Taylor sold concessions with his dad at fairs and carnivals. I ask him what the carnival scene is like.

“It’s like the mob,” he says.  

I laugh. 

“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s super cutthroat, and it’s probably one of these reasons I ended up doing this.” 

“How exactly did you end up painting signs by hand?”

“Well my mom was a painter, and growing up at the carnival there was all like crazy stuff going on, and I’d watch sign painters. I had always wanted to do something with art, but I didn’t really put those things together until I was 20 or 21 when my dad had a guy come over and paint his trailer. And I was like, ‘Wow, this guy is making decent money doing this’, so I e-mailed him and said that I really wanted to learn the craft. So he said to come over to his shop and he’d teach me some things. So I went, and he saw that I had the interest and some talent, and then next month we went down to Florida and painted on carnival trailers for two months. When I got back, I knew what I wanted to do.”

Most small business owners will tell you that it's not if you will make big mistakes (you will, often) or how many (a lot), but whether or not you can dust yourself off, fix them, and continue pushing forward. 

I ask Taylor to tell me one of his. 

“I didn’t quite have the business yet, and I did this carnival trailer for a guy, ‘Pickle on a Stick’. And I was just going along painting it. The next day I came in and I was doing some shading and stuff, and I was done with three sides of the trailer. And my dad’s buddy came in and he was like, ‘Hey, you spelled “pickle” wrong.’ And this guy’s always messing around with you, so I was like, ‘Oh yeah, funny.’ But twenty minutes later I was looking at it, and then got on Google and was like, “Oh my gosh, I spelled “pickle” wrong.” 

“How much time had you spent on that trailer at that point?”

“I probably had four days into it.” 

“Ouch.” 

“Yeah, that was pretty terrible.”