There is a certain charm of the small, local business setting that makes Lake Havasu City quaint with character. Locals know their favorite restaurants and businesses and often see those windows decorated with colorful art that depicts the services of the business or celebrates a holiday or season. So who is the artist behind these local favorites?
For 23 years, Julie Mendes,62, has been the mastermind behind the window art seen around town.
As a window artist for more than 40 years, she brought her talents from the San Francisco Bay area of California.
Growing up, it was not until high school that Mendes recognized her talent for art in a drawing class. She continued her hobby in college classes, but never saw much of a future in art. In her early 20s, Mendes met a friend who specialized in hand-drawn window signage and was taught the tricks of the trade.
For six years, Mendes decorated various chain restaurants in the Bay Area including Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
At the time, she mainly designed signage for the companies. Once the vinyl clings became popular, she transitioned to decorating windows during the holiday season. Seeing a demand for her art, she decided to continue her craft year-round.
“I loved what I did. I figure, why not do something you like,” Mendes said.
Her art form was so specialized that there were no classes to be taken and no Internet at the time to research. Learning by trial and error, Mendes practiced on her home windows.
She begins each piece with a sketch on the space with china marker. She then adds the first layer of the design in white to brighten the layering colors. She details with layers of acrylic and latex paint that prove more weather resistant than other paints.
“Many of my works are inspired by related clip art of special characters. I usually make each piece as I go with a rough idea from the client. For a sign painting, it usually takes about four hours. For a character/themed design, anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours. Each one is unique.”
The mother of three (Ryan, Danielle, and Jason), saw her business style as an opportunity to spend time at home with her family. The kids helped their mom grow as an artist and helped with the designs.
In 1994, the Mendes family moved to Lake Havasu. Continuing her window design business, she created Signs by Julie and signs each piece with the name.
Danielle and Ryan (and the grandkids) now help their mom with the pieces; Ryan is also an airbrush artist.
“I remember helping Mom since I was in diapers. Each job is so different and fun.” added Ryan.
Window art may have been Mendes’ hobby-turned-business; however, it is not her only art medium.
In her spare time, Mendes loves to paint interesting objects. Her latest works have been painted on old barn wood and horseshoes (some more than 100 years old).
For the future, Julie Mendes hopes for good health and happiness for her family.
“God has given us good things right now and we are trying to show our kids and see their gifts come out.”
Julie Mendes is the artist behind Signs by Julie. Her art has become a local tradition.