Frank ‘n’ Signs: Local artist mixes advertising with art
by WILLIAM WRIGHT
Apr 15, 2011 | 3493 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
POSING WITH HIS FAVORITE carved wood subdivision sign in Cleveland, Frank Smickle says, “This is my most restful sign. I made the sketches, selected the colors and did the design in 2009.” Photo by WILLIAM WRIGHT
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Go anywhere in Cleveland and you’re liable to see the artwork of Frank Smickle, a professional graphic designer and sign painter with a style as recognizable in his field as that of da Vinci or Monet.

Not that Smickle would compare his works to the world-class artists who defined the Renaissance and Impressionist art movements. Nevertheless, one glance at his paintings and local art lovers can recognize them as the work of Frank Smickle.

Each of his exuberant paintings is a window into his world of tranquility and hope for the future. His paintings are enveloped in a wide-eyed optimism and fantasy world elevated by beauty — all of which combined comes alive with a simple charm to provide a special feast to the eyes.

With more than 100 paintings, graphic designs and murals on numerous school walls, neighborhood stores, billboards and subdivision signs, Smickle is one of the most recognized artists in Cleveland. His artwork and graphic designs are also featured in Hamilton, Meigs, Polk and McMinn counties.

Mike Policastro, head baseball coach at Cleveland State Community College, says, “Frank’s the best! His billboards and designs are truly outstanding.”

Having worked at Cleveland State since 1975, Smickle says he is proud of all his murals and signs on display all over campus.

“People tell me whatever I paint is cheerful. That’s my style,” he says. “I try to make my art look happy, cheerful and restful. Before I learned the truth I was a very sad person. Then I became happy.

“I guess it’s the fruit of the Spirit — Holy Spirit. It comes through my work. I never tried to get a style. I just do what comes natural. I try to make everything have a restful look to it, which would be like a paradise.”

According to Smickle, people stop and admire his work, which he takes as a compliment, adding, “I’ve probably done about 100 (paintings) in schools. In one school I did 52 paintings.”

Born in Easton, Pa., and raised in Belleville, N.J., Smickle went to The Art Student’s League of New York and Pratt-Phoenix School of Design in New York before attending the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts in New Jersey, which first opened in 1882. Painting ordinary people and scenes of everyday life — genre painting — is what Smickle calls his favorite type of painting.

“I like people. People are interesting,” he says. “I like to capture their personality in my paintings. Everyone is different.”

According to the 63-year-old artist, he was only a year and 3 months old when he realized he had talent which was inherent also in his mother.

“I drew a picture of my mother and it wasn’t a stick figure,” he says. “I had the eyes, the pupils and the nose. It made her happy, which was not an easy thing to do. She could draw very well. My mother wanted to be a fashion illustrator but because of World War II she never did. My great-aunt was also a well-known professional artist in the New York area.”

After honing his craft at several distinguished art schools, Smickle moved to Chattanooga with his parents and went to work for Dana North Sign Company in Cleveland in 1975. He was trained as a book and magazine illustrator.

Two years later he moved to Cleveland, met and married his wife, Mary, and went into business for himself in 1984.

“Everyone kept telling me ‘You’re creative with your signs. You should go into business for yourself,’” says Smickle. “The time was right. So I did.”

Smickle says his first idea was to call his new business, “Frank ‘n’ Signs,” but decided in favor of a safer, more conventional name — “Frank Smickle, graphic designer and sign painter.”

Although the name had less pizzazz, it was his creative talent and innovative designs that made a name for Smickle and elevated his business to designing professional and pop art in Bradley County. Smickle, says his favorite muralist is 18th century Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

“Tiepolo’s murals have tremendous perspective,” says Smickle. “His color is great. His drawing is great. I just think he’s the best one. Everybody else is saying Michelangelo. I say Tiepolo. I also like Andrew Wyeth and his father, N.C. Wyeth. There’s also Diego Rivera and Norman Rockwell.”

When it comes to the greatest artist of all time, Smickle says without a doubt he admires the artwork of the Creator of heaven and earth.

“I think Jehovah is the greatest artist of all time. No one can match His colors and what He has done,” says Smickle.

Now that his hobby has become his profession, Smickle says his favorite pastime is attending Christian meetings at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Cleveland where he and his wife, Mary, worship.

“As a hobby, I really don’t have one anymore,” he admits. “As a kid, art was my hobby, but when you do something you love for a living it’s not like you’re loving it — you like it. But when I attend the meetings I feel relaxed, peaceful and happy — almost like the people in my paintings.”