“I’m what you call a sign geek,” says Todd Bates. Bates, this month’s St. Pete Threads Artist of the Month, has travelled all around the country photographing old signs for his Vintage Neon Project. But he came back home to St. Pete for the first t-shirt in what he hopes will be an ongoing series.
Todd’s passion is particularly fitting for St. Pete. Vintage neon evokes the city’s unique Midcentury Modern legacy, as well as a little bit of the kitschier side of Old Florida. “My favorite is definitely the Thunderbird [Resort],” Todd says, of the striking art deco hotel on Treasure Island. “There’s also the Sands, which is just a gem. It’s a little two-story beach hotel, and they have a great sign.”
Beyond his striking photographs of existing signs, Todd also uses image editing software to create re-imagined versions tailored for some of his favorite cities, in what he’s dubbed the Re-Sign series. So far, the series includes designs for St. Pete, Tampa, and Seattle, where he spent eight years before returning to St. Pete in 2010. The arrow-shaped St. Pete sign is based on the sign at China City on 4th street. “I’m told it’s the oldest Chinese restaurant in St. Pete,” Todd says.
Todd wants to make more city-centric signs, but he says the process is labor intensive. That’s thanks to a meticulous attention to detail – the entirely imaginary neon lettering on his St. Pete sign casts precise, realistic shadows, and the letters of the Tampa sign are weathered with amazing exactness. (Full-scale prints of the work can be found on the Vintage Neon Project’s Etsy Store.
After nearly a decade in Seattle, Todd couldn’t be happier to be back in St. Pete, and getting involved in the community. “I’ve seen an amazing transformation from when I left to when I came back. I love the art scene, and just the general vibe. There’s a lot of pride in our city. I love being a part of that.”
“I just think St. Pete is an amazing place.”
For chronicles of Todd’s neon-fueled travels, follow him on Instagram at @vintageneonproject. And watch St. Pete Threads for more t-shirts from Todd and other exciting St. Pete designers!