Bill Riedel



Painting The Portraits

I started doing portraits for a couple reasons. Arthritis in the hands and the boredom of daily evening TV.

The process is quite convenient. At one time, I used to hand sketch and enlarge using the grid system. Now I scan a photo, enlarge and then print it.

The print is set over a good stiff paper that accepts water based color. A sheet of carbon paper is placed under the print and traced. This gives me a perfectly proportional outline. From there on. it's just a matter of painting in the colors from the original photo.

The portraits are rendered with Jo Sonja's acrylic gauche.  I was introduced to it by wood carver supply.  All the faces and carved statues were painted with it. This paint results in a beautiful finish.

Color is the most critical factor in rendering an exact likeness. Many times you have to lighten or darken as needed. It is also easy to straighten a bad hair doo.

Any of you Letterheads reading this have the ability to learn to do this. I've had no formal training or special books on portrait painting. The most important ingredient is to have the desire, love and determination. Add some practice and never say "that is good enough".

The following slideshow consists of roughly 70 Letterheads, Pinheads and WallDogs, I have met through the years. It's a work in progress. New portraits are constantly being added. God willing and me able, this will continue for many more years.

My thanks you to all of you who care about me and Letterheads.


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the Slide Show!


Bill Riedel's Letterhead Portraits
A Work In Process

Feb 23, 1928 was my first day on the planet. Raised in the middle of the Great Depression. A compulsive day dreamer in school, an average student except when it came to art. I carved a soldier out of a bar of soap when in the fifth grade.

High School had me doing scenery for plays and dances. I was delegated as Art Editor for the class Year Book. Then they made me the President of the Art Club even though I hadn't joined.

Left High School in the senior year to join the Navy with four friends. They all were turned down, so I went alone. That two year hitch was a good experience. Got to see quite a bit of the World in the Atlantic and Pacific.

After the Navy, I planned to attend Art College, passed the exam and was enrolled in the Spring. While waiting for the Fall semester to arrive, got a job in a sign shop and loved it. Instead of the four years in college, I took a six month course in Lettering School. The Republic School of Fine Art and Show Card Lettering in NYC. It all came so easy, I felt that this is where I belonged. No longer was I just an average student.

In May of 1952, I married Maria Rocco. For the next 50 years, she was my lover, partner and best friend. She gave me 5 wonderful children. A son Bill, and Daughters Debby, Maryann, Gail and Kathy. They in turn presented us with 14 grandchildren. 9 boys and 5 girls. Eight have their own cars now, and 3 have College degrees.

For the next eight and a half years, I worked and attended school, learning as much as possible. The pay wasn't enough to support a Family and mortgage so I ended up leaving..

In 1954, we took the big step into the unknown, and started the Riedel Sign Co. in our garage. Getting started wasn't as tough as I had thought it would be. There was plenty of work to be had. Took anything that came along and learned that by doing it all, you never had to stop when only one kind of work, like trucks, stopped.

Our First Shop

All five of our children were blessed with talent and always helped when needed. My Son, Bill Jr., came into the business in his senior year on the work study program. He now has complete control. He's expanded the business to include illuminated signs and enlarged our shop Today we are able to turn out much more work than we did in our early years.

We now have 6 fulltime employees and a grandson that helps out part time. Bill Jr. is the boss, his wife Regina is our office manager and all round key worker. Daughter Maryann joined us after High School. She is our air brush artist, lettering and vinyl specialist. Youngest daughter Kathy also worked with us for five years. Maryann's Brother In-Law Jim  looks after the metal work and computer design. Ray is a good all round man, he can handle almost anything. I do all the gold, carving and pictorial work.

Our work is the general commercial type with air brush, hand carving, pictorials, and electric signs. We will take on anything that comes along, but the majority of our work is truck lettering. We especially enjoy doing the unusual.

Maria was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis in her 40's. This disease progressively robs it's victims of their mobility. Eventually it results in complete disability. Marie was bed ridden, blind, and fed through a tube to her stomach.

She lasted until her 72nd birthday and passed away the following morning.  That Spring 2002 was our 50th year of marriage.

My first Letterhead meet was in NY state. I was excited when told there was going to be a demo by the man who produces the signs for the United Nations. He was going to show us how to do knock out showcard lettering. Being a student of the N.Y. School of Showcard and Fine Lettering, this was my thing. The man proceeded to draw each letter from a book. It took so long. This was anything but knock out Lettering.

I fell in love with the Letterhead concept of sharing. When I was learning this trade, it was impossible to get help or information from another sign company. Letterheads opened a whole new wonderful world for me. Every event produces a new experience. As one of the few "Old Men of Signs," I enjoy the extra attention and respect.

I don't take a normal vacation like most people. Letterhead Meets are my vacation! It's a real privilege to be invited to meets. Terry Colley of England invited me to his meet as one of the demonstrators. He put me up in his house, fed me, and treated me to a personal tour of the area. Then there was Belvidere, Cornwall, Mars, Kenlake, Oklahoma City, a trip across Canada that included meets in Saskatchewan and Renfrew, Ontario. The list, and memories, go on and on. Letterheads has allowed me to make new friends all over the World.

We now are going on our 50th year! One of the nicest things to happen to the business is the Letterhead movement. A whole new world was opened up. I believe that because of the Letterheads, the quality of signs has grown all over. I consider myself lucky to still be working full time and being invited to Letterhead meets all over the World.

Just one last item, I'd like the young people to know that they should not feel bad that they can not afford a college education. They can learn whatever they want as long as they have the desire and will power.

All the sign carving, relief and 3-D, picture and portrait painting, I taught myself with lots of practice. I believe that there isn't anything you can't do if you really want it. Go for it!


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