This man is painting the town red … and other colors, too. Travis Fitzsimmons’ painting portfolio is expanding through Brooklyn — Crown Heights, Flatbush and other neighborhoods, but he’s best known on Park Slope’s 5th Avenue, where, on some blocks, the front windows of up to four businesses feature his work.
It’s hard to miss Fitzsimmons’ work — bright blue or hot pink walls, flamboyant calligraphy on store windows with golden rims — but the art is always unique and true to each business’s essence. A rustic tavern look for the sign of Midwood Flats in Prospect Lefferts Gardens; an emulation of a bright day at the beach for the façade of La Ñapa, a Venezuelan arepas restaurant on Nostrand Avenue; a big sign that reads “Denim Shop” framing Something Else on 5th Avenue. Fitzsimmons’s advice is to “keep it simple.”
In 2014, he decided he needed to drift away from his career as a waiter.
“It was a matter of life a death for me,” Fitzsimmons said. He started painting sidewalk folding signs and “staying within the lines,” he said. But during the pandemic, he decided he wanted to do everything that was needed to keep local businesses alive.
“I wanted to give these great businesses that were sitting on cold bleak corners, an epic flip,” he said. So he went into “fly or fight mode.” He visited around 30 different shops and restaurants per day and had long conversations with store owners.
Once he books a gig, the entire process from coming up with the concept and working on the design to letting the paint dry, can take up to three weeks of 12-hour-long work days.
“The best part is when I’m working and people walk by and they stop to tell me how much they like it,” said Fitzsimmons. “Sometimes, months after finishing a job, when I’m working on a new one down the street, store owners come out to let me know how much better their businesses are doing since I wrapped up and there is nothing that makes me feel more like I am part of the neighborhood.”
The Brooklyn-based painter gets his inspiration from the esthetics of Coney Island back in the 60’s, vintage race cars and classic looking signage that he sees in other parts of the city.
“I want to grab people’s attention and leave them no choice but to stop and take a picture,” he said. “So it’s not about the one-foot-tall signs, it’s about the two-foot-tall letters.”
Some of the advice Fitzsimmons has for his clients is to unify their entire store front, stay away from neon signs or electric installations that will add to their bills and to just tell bystanders what it is that they do in the smallest amount of words possible.
“Avoid banners because those make businesses look temporary and people always want to find reliable gems,” he said. “Temporary measures turn into long term solutions, but not always in a good way.”
Fitzsimmons considers his work a craft that responds to the businesses’ needs.
“An artist would do a mural that represents themselves while I look for what is missing,” he said. “I am trying to keep doing this for as long as I can because I love it so much. Sometimes I’m walking down the street with a friend and I have to stop pointing out my signs because it gets annoying.”
But he is not the only one who notices.
“His style definitely gives Park Slope a neighborhood feel, like every place is a small business and not a chain” said Joanna Tallantire, executive director of the Park Slope Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, an association that supports local businesses through event organization and community building. “It’s a particular design that Travis has. Store owners love to see their places come to life and those who walk down the street get curious and look in.”