Will Sears and Ryan Adams both spent their formative years enamored by graffiti artwork and bold color, probably then unaware of how the art style would one day inform their daily work — and connect them to each other in a joint collaborative with their equally talented wives.
The story of Portland, ME-based Better Letter Hand Painted Signs begins with Will, who was born and raised in Philadelphia. “I grew up writing graffiti and painting, with strong interest in art and design,” he shares. “When an artist residency opportunity brought me to Maine in 2010, I discovered that Maine suited me, and made it my home. Shortly after arriving in Maine, I started a small hand painted sign company, called Better Letter Hand Painted Signs. One of my first jobs was at a friend’s new brewery, Oxbow Brewing Company, painting murals in their brew barn and signage around the property.” Will then brought on his wife, fine artist Tessa G. O’Brien, painter and muralist Ryan Adams, and his wife Rachel Adams, a painter. They form a collaborative of independent artists, sign painters and muralists who have worked with one another for a number of years and recently decided to formalize the relationship under Better Letter this year.
Ryan, who was born and raised in Portland, shares, “I began my artistic journey by emulating the work from my comic books as a kid, but when I received the Subway Art book by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant at age 10, my life became consumed by bright colors and bending letter forms.”
Tessa dips into many other creative streams in addition to co-running Better Letter with Will, Ryan and Rachel. “I have discovered that I thrive on the day-to-day variety! I have an active studio practice that I try to give 20-30 hours a week. I occasionally work as an artist assistant to a local sculptor, which is a fascinating window into the world of material and dimension.”
Rachel came to Portland from the Boston area by way of her printmaking degree, which she graduated with from the Maine College of Art. “My mother is an artist and art teacher and my father is a writer so I grew up with a huge appreciation for colors and shapes and a love for textiles… Applying pattern to multiple surfaces excites me and I loved the repetitive nature of the process.”
All of these unique backgrounds — each of them deeply rooted in creativity — results in a dynamic portfolio at Better Letter, of which projects include wooden signs, lettering on glass, vehicle lettering, murals, gold gilding and more. The collective spectrum of Will, Tessa, Ryan and Rachel’s collaborative work is undoubtedly the result of the group each nurturing their own individual art practices, and today we’re taking a peek into the respective studios of each artist. Tune in after the slide show below to find tips from these duos on how to successfully (and peaceably!) work with your spouse or partner. —Kelli
Image above: Rachel, Ryan and daughter Zoe in their basement studio. “We had this idea that because we were having a baby we had to get a house and move further away from the city… maybe join a book club and take up extreme couponing,” Rachel jokes. “We rented a house just outside town when I was pregnant as a test run of what it would be like to be somewhat responsible for a house. It was a hot mess. The garden looked like Jurassic Park after about three months. So we decided to buy a multi-story town house and have the basement be our studio. We are still in close proximity to downtown and Ryan’s mom lives in the same complex (built-in childcare). It was kind of a no-brainer.”