She nudges her pounce pattern up, then down, then to the right, then down again. Pascale Arpin steps back, concentration washing over her face. Eventually, the 32-year-old finds the perfect alignment for her sign.
She pats a sock stuffed with chalk along the pinholed edges of the stencil, then peels it back to reveal soft white lines contouring the letters. Next, she mixes enamel paint in a small paper cup. She grabs her stepstool and positions herself, her mahl stick supporting her hand as she paints the window of Little Jo Berry’s.
This past fall, Arpin went on a whirlwind trip to Las Vegas, where she raced to complete Tim Burton’s installation at the Neon Museum in time for its October 15 opening. She worked shoulder to shoulder with the legendary director, modelling and painting characters into the night.
“It was just me and Tim, walking on-site and saying, ‘How does this look?’ Every day, just calling each other and doing in situs, looking at the characters and where they were going to go,” Arpin says.
In Ottawa, her focus is on painting the names of businesses on their windows. She’s a self-taught artist with a degree in sociology and humanities; after graduating from Carleton University, Arpin turned down a scholarship to pursue graduate studies, choosing instead to work with children in Nunavut.
“I wanted to get away from books and back to making stuff with my hands,” she says. In Nunavut, she also volunteered as an arts programmer at a women’s correctional facility and found work in the film industry, which included signmaking. “Painting signs for films made me realize that’s what I wanted to do.”
In the summer of 2016, Arpin returned to Ottawa, where she soon made sign painting her full-time job. In 2017, she sought out Minnesota sign painter Mike Meyer and become his assistant, helping him with workshops in the United States. It was a connection she made during that period that got her the Burton job.
In Ottawa, her precise work can be seen at Otherside Tattoo, Little Victories, and Spark Beer, among others.