A native of Highland and New Paltz, Ryan Solomons had to take a long journey, both internal and external, before he ended up back home again with a clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish as a professional signmaker. But now he’s putting his roots down again where he started, and the business that he founded in 2019, Geometric Signs and Design, is seriously making a name for itself.
The striking aluminum lettering that reads City Winery on the towering brick chimney of a repurposed tannery in Montgomery, and the seven-by-17-foot mural of the word Wine on an old water tower on the same site, are the most visible examples of Solomons’ recent work. “That was definitely an epic job,” he says, recounting how he had to rappel in a climbing harness to complete the chimney work because the scaffolding didn’t get him close enough to the brick surface of the concave structure.
But it was that challenging job that paid for one of the key pieces of equipment in his woodshop: an enormous CNC (computer numerical control) router table that enables him to carve out elaborate designs in wood and metal via CAD/CAM software. “It’s a workhorse, and my biggest teacher,” says Solomons. “When I first got it, I had no idea how to use it. It was a yearlong process of setting it up.”
Learning by doing has been the 30-year-old’s style since he was a child attending Mountain Laurel Waldorf School and Poughkeepsie Day School. Early on, he honed his wilderness survival skills in Wild Earth programs, and later put them to practical use when he traveled cross-country on his skateboard as a “loaded longboarder.” Whether it’s mushroom identification or iron-smelting, whenever Solomons decides he wants to know how to do something, he simply goes to the place where it’s done – Mexico, for building structures with adobes from local clay, for example. To make his own skateboard, he studied with a Rosendale-based woodworker who taught him how to harvest various kinds of wood, as well as how to use machinery safely and do joinery.
Solomons’ learning curve has also included a couple of years of formal schooling, at the Art Institute of Boston. He stayed on in that city for a while, acquiring technical skills at Sign Center Boston, and then moved on to other apprenticeships, Signarama, Flag Graphics and a purse designer among them.
Since landing back at his mother’s home on Springtown Road, he has continued his study of sustainably sourced local wood with architect Rick Alfandre; a stunning table made with ash from Alfandre’s own land was ready for pickup in Solomons’ printing shop the day Hudson Valley One paid a visit. In the next room stands a Roland printer/plotter that can print banners up to 56 inches wide and 200 feet long, as well as a laminator.
Solomons prefers working with natural materials, and says that he will steer his clients away from foam and toward wood if they want a 3-D sign. His carved signboards are exquisite, the lettering sometimes sporting gold-leaf inlay. Local examples of his painted signage work can be seen at Sweet bakery and two pizzerias in New Paltz, Rino’s and La Bella, as well as Bird Watcher’s Country Store in Tillson. Among his jobs for Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, he recently blacked out the windows of a building being converted to a laser-tag arena. He has studied enough masonry to create monument-style signs, and also does logo design, vehicle lettering, tee-shirts and swag.
What’s trending in the signage world these days? Neon, according to Solomons, who knows how to do it, having learned glassblowing techniques in his usual hands-on way. “Melting glass and then slipping argon gas in it – it’s a cool process, a super-fun medium. It’s all over different clubs in the City. It’s so versatile; you can use it both indoors and outdoors, and it creates cool light effects.”
But banners are a staple of Geometric Signs and Design’s daily business, and it’s there that he’s able to offer drastically reduced prices to local not-for-profits whose missions resonate with his personal ethos. In his cross-country travels, he spent some time at Standing Rock and observed the poverty and addiction problems plaguing the indigenous community. Impressed by the job-creation work being done by a South Dakota organization called the United Veterans Construction Team, he contributed his signmaking skills to their effort.
“I wanted to help Native people create businesses,” he recalls. “I asked myself, ‘How can I support things like this where I am?’ So, I’m helping local activists with banners, charging as little as ten bucks for a banner, because my heart’s there. It’s about change for a community. People want to promote their business and be stoked about it. I’d rather cut them some slack and see the change.” One recent project close to his heart was painting a beautiful sign for the Munsee Three Sisters Farm in Newton, New Jersey.
For all his expertise in helping others brand themselves clearly, Solomons has not been aggressive about promoting his own relatively new business. “I don’t know how I’m finding clients, but I do. There’s a lot of word-of-mouth,” he says with a laugh. “Most of my transactions happen from face-to-face meetings with people.”
What would Solomons like most to be creating, once the business really takes off and he has his pick of jobs? “The one that challenges me the most, that puts me out of my comfort zone,” he answers without hesitation. “That’s the best place to learn and grow. It keeps me alive.”
Geometric Signs and Design is located at 375 Springtown Road in New Paltz. Ryan Solomons will be hosting a family-friendly Open House on Saturday, November 20 from10 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring pony rides and free stickers for kids. To learn more about the company’s services, visit https://geometricsignsanddesign.com or www.facebook.com/geometricsigns, or call (845) 514-8702.