CORNER OF THE CITY: Shelby Rodeffer, Sign Painter & Visual Artist

Feb 01, 2018

If you stop in our new Chicago cafe (our first outpost in the Midwest!), you’ll be greeted with the illustrative handiwork of Shelby Rodeffer, a Chicago-based, sign painter, muralist and visual artist. Shelby draws a through line in our hand-lettered shop front tradition, in this case, with the help of gold leaf master and Stumptown sign painting legend, Pete McKearnan.

Shelby’s recent gigs have included painting Stevie Gee drawings on a 40-ft bus for a Pitchfork Review cover, a Chicago Reader’s “Best of Chicago” mural on the back wall of a Korean Polish street food joint, and she’s had a hand in rad lettered shop fronts across the city. Shelby was raised in Nashville but has lived in Chicago for four years – or as she puts it, survived four winters – and she’s now devoted to sign painting full time, with her company Finer Signs. Her recent personal work deals with femininity, connection and isolation through the iconography of female figures, structures and letterforms. She looks up to folk artists, the Mission School movement, and the women of Bauhaus for inspiration and beyond.

She chatted with us and let us in on her favorite corners of the city.

What’s your favorite place to enjoy a cup of coffee?

My favorite spot in Chicago is a little hideaway called CC Ferns. It's dark, chill and small and has amazing hand-painted signs and really friendly, talented baristas.

Also (and this is not nepotism) the Stumptown cafe on Division in Portland is one of my favorite places for coffee. A neon sign, gilded windows, AND it's the first place I ever had a coffee soda which changed my life.

What's a perfect day off?

A perfect day off would consist of going out for breakfast, thrifting or biking through the park, seeing some art, working a little bit and meeting up for a drink with friends. My favorite thing about Chicago is that you can bike 20 miles in a day with relative ease (it's flat) and that each neighborhood is its own little township, with its own characteristics and offerings.

Best recent day trip? We have some great buddies that live on a farm an hour outside of town on the Wisconsin border. It's really awesome to get out of the city, eat cheese curds, and play with chickens and horses for a day. That and going to King Spa, which is a Korean bath house just outside of town. I think about their cedar sauna when I am stressed out.

Can you tell us about some of your favorite spots in the city?

My boyfriend and I go to Chinatown at least once a month just to pig out, get boba tea, and buy candy and keychains. The Garfield Park Conservatory is a must-visit in the winter months to kick Seasonal Affective Disorder blues. Smart Museum of Art in Hyde Park always has amazing exhibits. Intuit Gallery is one of my favorite galleries and they are right next door to The Matchbox (the city's "most intimate bar") and the Silver Palm (a restaurant inside a 1940’s train car). I love seeing movies at the Music Box, which is known for its 70mm screenings. If you're into books at all, I highly recommend checking out the Dial Bookshop in the Fine Arts building downtown. My favorite record store is the Dusty Groove. Wooly Mammoth is a really cool oddities shop on the North Side. If you want a hot dog, my favorite one is at Fatso's Last Stand, although my meat-eating friends stand by Red Hot Ranch. I also really love neighborhood bars. We are known for having a bar on every corner here and each one is special.

It's hard to keep track of all of my favorite places, so I made a google map with specific keys like "best views," "spots for weirdos." I share it with friends when they come to visit because otherwise I will always leave something out.

What would you tell someone to see if they were visiting Chicago for the first time?

There's so much more to see than the Bean and Wrigley Field! Pick one or two neighborhoods a day and just walk around. The best way to get to know a new block is to go to the corner bar. For a great view, I'd recommend taking a trip down Lake Shore Drive or walking on the lakefront, especially by the Museum Campus. One really great spot to check out on any visit is the Chicago Cultural Center. It's downtown, it's free, and it is always hosting cool art exhibits, historical information, meetups and live performances.

Anything else you think we should know? It smells like chocolate here! There's actually a crowdsourced Tumblr that tracks the cocoa smell coming from Blommer Chocolates as it drifts over the city.

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Photos by Marta Sasinowska