Judy Grossman made a living for the past 30 years without ever having to get “a real job.”
The Sonora artist and graphic designer, who sports multi-colored hair in a rainbow of green, blue and purple tones, last week celebrated three decades in business as JG Signs & Designs.
At a reception, held at her downtown Sonora studio, she announced she’ll be switching gears. Grossman plans to focus on her artwork and newest venture, Brush & Cork painting parties, which she described as “grown up paint by numbers.”
The move comes after a long and distinguished career.
Grossman moved to California from Minnesota in 1969 to attend California College of the Arts in Oakland, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She later earned a teaching credential from San Francisco State University.
A job as an arts and crafts director for Camp Tawonga, a Jewish co-ed summer camp on the Tuolumne River just outside of Yosemite National Park, brought her to the area.
One of Grossman’s first sign jobs was to paint a logo on the side of a bread truck, which she said paid the hospital bills after the birth of her daughter, Illana Burke.
Grossman and her first husband lived in the Bay Area for several years before returning to Tuolumne County in 1980.
“When we moved back here, there weren’t women sign painters. They were all men. I had to fight to be accepted,” she said.
And fight she did. Grossman steadily built her business, and in 1989 worked on the set of “Back to the Future III,” which was filmed in the Jamestown area.
“I worked harder than I ever had before,” she said.
Grossman was hired as an assistant and did some of the most memorable props in the movie, including the manure wagon the villain, Biff Tannen, falls into. She also worked on the stage coach and the banner that advertises the future clock tower, she said.
It was on the movie set that Grossman met chiropractor Michael Arnold, and later his wife, Sally.
Over the years, Grossman has painted murals in the Arnold’s home and offices.
About 24 years ago, Michael Arnold worked at an office that didn’t have a window. So Grossman painted a window onto the wall that featured a dolphin scene.
“It was nice for patients to relax,” Sally Arnold said.
The Arnolds came calling again 12 years ago when they set out to open Schnoogs Cafe.
Grossman helped with interior design and logo design, Sally Arnold said.
“My husband had the logo made into a pendant for a necklace and gave it to me the night before we opened and started this new chapter in our lives,” Sally Arnold said.
The pendant was made from the logo Grossman had designed.
“Judy can just see things. She can vision things and that’s part of her artistic gifts,” Sally Arnold said. “When you drive through town, she’s left a legacy with her work.”
But Arnold said Grossman is more than a talented artist, “She’s got a big laugh and a heart as full as the moon.”
Indeed, Grossman has given back to the community in myriad ways, from donating her time and skills as an artist and designer to helping found the Tuolumne County Women’s Network in 1990.
“Women are always taught from the time they’re little girls not to toot their own horn. It took me a long time to stand my ground when someone asked me, ‘How much?’ ” for her art.
The group helps promote women in business. And while Grossman isn’t active much anymore, she is a lifetime member.
She adjusted her black-and-white polka dot glasses as she recounted trying to start a business while being a single mom.
“I worked mostly out of my home. I had a home office before home offices were cool,” Grossman said.
But work wasn’t always steady.
There was a point where the economy was so bad, Grossman tried to get a job.
“I went to an authentic interview at The Union Democrat. I interviewed with Harvey McGee and Gary Piech,” she said.
Grossman said they asked her if she actually wanted to do the job (in either graphics or sales), which is when she realized she didn’t want a real job. “So I went out and hustled more signs.”
Grossman has “hustled” signs and designs all over Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. She has created signs for businesses including the Candy Vault, Ironstone Vineyards, the Tuolumne County Visitor’s Bureau and Sonora Veterinary Group. She’s also done hand lettering for Tuolumne County Transit’s trolleys and engine No. 3 at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park.
Some of her murals include Foothill Pediatrics, private residences, and the Mural in a Day project at the site of the Sonora Farmers Market at the corner of the Theall and Stewart streets.
She’s also a member of “The Walldogs,” an organization made up of artists from around the world who meet in a different city each year to paint murals.
One of Grossman’s biggest undertakings was in the late 1990s at the All Seasons Groveland Inn. The owner named each of the rooms after a location in John Muir’s diary. Not only did Grossman do a mural in each room, she also did the interior design.
Another memorable project was when she painted the front of a building (now the Heart Rock Cafe) on South Washington Street in downtown Sonora. It was the first time she was up on a scaffold.
“I love being on a scaffold, it’s like being on a stage,” Grossman said. She particularly enjoys when people honk at her to say hello while she’s up there.
One of her “going out with a bang” projects will be painting the exterior of Sonora Lumber. She invites people to honk while she’s working on the project.
As much gratification as Grossman gets from the work, it was painting a sign six years ago in Livermore that got her thinking of making a change.
She hurt her back while on a scaffold and she realized she needed a plan. “I wanted to work smarter, not harder,” she said.
For two years she worked with a business planner and slowly collected supplies. Brush & Cork kicked off on Valentine’s Day 2014.
Simply put, the new venture is wine and painting parties hosted at her downtown Sonora studio. Grossman provides pre-drawn canvasses, paint, brushes, easels, aprons and full instruction. Classes are open to people ages 21 and older. Drinking is optional, but those who choose to drink must bring their own.
The cost ranges between $25 and $65, depending on the painting.
The 66-year-old said sign work isn’t completely behind her. If a job comes up, and it’s something she wants to do, she’ll fit it into her schedule along with Brush & Cork.
Also on her schedule? A winter holiday in Baja with husband Dean Paine, who she married in 2006. But those aren’t retirement plans.
“I’m not gonna retire. I’m gonna expire with a brush in my hand and smile on my face,” Grossman said.