OTTAWA -- You have probably seen Pascale Arpin’s work around Ottawa. You just may not have known it.

The accomplished artist—much sought-after for her custom sign painting and hand lettering—has painted signs for businesses all over town.

Gongfu Bao restaurant in Centretown, Black Squirrel Books in Old Ottawa South, and The Third in Hintonburg are just some of the many places that bare her distinctive lettering on their storefronts.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic making it hard for many restaurants and stores to attract customers, Arpin’s skills have been in renewed demand.

“Businesses are having to respond so quickly,” she said. “A lot of them need something painted the same day.”

Arpin has been doing shorter-term signs for businesses advertising their new services during the pandemic.

At Pressed sandwich bar and coffeehouse on Gladstone Avenue, the sign advertises a new no-touch grocery service.

At Gongfu Bao, the new signage directs delivery drivers and customers to a pickup window, along with instructions on how to order food online.

For Arpin, the work brings her back to what got her interested in sign painting in the first place. Traditionally, sign painters would go to stores and quickly paint daily or weekly prices freehand.

 “That’s what drew me to sign painting originally, but it’s not something to get to do…because the bulk of the work I do is planned,” she said. “The fact that this situation called for that specific skill, it’s been really fun for me to just get to show up and do quick, casual lettering.

“It’s such a joy for me.”

The whole process takes just a few hours. Arpin shows up, cleans the window, then quickly sketches out the lettering using a grease pencil. She then paints the letters using an oil-based enamel paint, which means the windows can be cleaned without affecting the signage.

It’s called a splash window, because the paint is meant to be there for a couple of months and then be scraped off.

“Businesses are in a situation where they need something quick and cheap, and that’s not permanent…because who knows when we’ll be scraping that off the window.”

Arpin started doing sign painting when she was working in film and television. In 2018, she sought out world-renowned sign painter Mike Meyer.

She drove to Minnesota, where Meyer is based, and took his workshop. He hired her to tour the U.S. and help teach workshops across the country. Since then, she has been travelling constantly, taking on projects in Ottawa when she’s home. Now, with the pandemic, she can devote her time to projects here.

Arpin has also been able to work out creative payment plans with businesses, given the extraordinary climate. When she painted the windows at Pressed, she traded her services for groceries.

“A lot of these businesses, if they can pay me then I’m happy to do it, but if thye’re in a situation where money is tough right now I’m happy to do a trade.

She says she’s hearing from the restaurants that the new signs are helping.

“Whether it’s people walking by that are noticing ‘Wow, we can order from them’ or it’s the delivery drivers knowing where to go…it allows them to work more efficiently.”

Arpin has also created a lettering piece, spelling out 'Apart Today, Together Tomorrow,' with 25 per cent of the proceeds going to the Ottawa Food Bank.