“I was (and still am) a total weirdo.”
Good Snake is an experiential design studio helmed by Hannah Epelbaum (left brain) and Kayla Fritz (right brain). They offer two services: damn good design and damn good hand painting.
Tell us about your path to becoming a sign painter.
My grandmother (Ursula Kemper-Ebinghaus-Romanowski) was a sign painter and graphic artist in Germany, and she continued painting until the day she died at age 93. I was her biggest fan. In college, I studied graphic design initially, but my professors quickly became frustrated with me bringing my handmade design projects to critique. Computers are wonderful tools and often necessary, but it was important to me at the time to use my hands to create, so I ended up shifting my focus to printmaking and fine arts.
I worked restaurant jobs throughout college, and my supervisors and other industry friends began to ask me to make signs for their restaurants. People can sense when you’re really into something, so word spread, and Hannah and I started a business in Portland called Ghost Sign Studios. It all came full-circle when I was painting a mural for a coffee shop one rainy day; some guy driving by did a full U-turn and drove his truck into the parking lot, he was so excited to see me painting. I nearly had a heart attack, because at the time, I had illegally parked a 5,000 lb boom lift on a sidewalk, and thought I was being busted by the city. That guy was Justin Riede, one of the most talented sign painters and gold leaf gilders I have ever met. He invited me to a secret monthly meeting with a group of OG sign painters called The Letterheads, who would meet every month, drink beer, and look at each others’ recent work on a projector screen. I was such a baby sign painter, but they really encouraged me and made me feel welcome, and that was the moment I knew I hadn’t been crazy this whole time for pursuing my passion. We moved to Austin in 2016 because we’re big fans of tacos and sunshine, and this town has been very welcoming to our new faces.
Who or what inspires you?
Paula Scher is a real powerhouse and design badass who isn’t afraid to go completely against the popular vote in the industry. I think that’s the only way to be a successful designer and artist; you need to create things that are accessible and new.
In general, I try to avoid spending too much time on social media viewing the work that other people in my craft create, even if they are friends of mine. Even if you don’t mean to, you’re always subconsciously absorbing information, and I don’t want my work to look like everyone else’s. I try to seek inspiration in completely different fields, like architecture, ceramics, fashion, photography, or even music. Also, being bored is very important. Our phones and computers spoon-feed us inspiration and stimulation, but giving our brains the chance to run wild every so often is the best. I once spilled paint thinner in my phone and it didn’t work for about a week until it evaporated. I think I did some really great sketches that week.
Were you creative as a kid?
Very. I was (and still am) a total weirdo. I decided as soon as I could talk that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. Having an artistic grandparent, I was very lucky to be surrounded by art supplies and have my creativity fostered and taken seriously at a very young age. There is actually a photo of me painting around the letters on one of my grandmother’s signs at age two. It’s pretty funny. I was trying so hard, too.
What do you like about living in Austin?
Austin has been a really accepting city. There are always exceptions, but for the most part, we’ve found that many people here appreciate individuality and authenticity in style. I know there are gripes about growth pushing out creatives, but on a daily basis, we encounter people and companies who genuinely care about doing right by design and the arts right here in the city, and are willing to do what it takes to implement it effectively.
What is your typical day like?
It really depends. Some days we get right into designing and will spend the entire day sketching or having meetings with clients. Other days we might be on-site painting, or working in the studio fabricating and lettering. Literally no two days are the same, and that’s why we love our job. Some days I get so into painting, I’ll look at the clock and.. “Whoops, I’ve been lettering for 14 hours straight.” It’s a lot of fun.
What's your favorite food?
I love hand-held foods. Cheeseburgers, tacos, fish sticks (don’t judge me), chicken nuggets, and who could forget donuts. My hands-on preferences extend to all facets of my daily life.