Mark Hannah is a busy guy. So busy, in fact, that he hasn’t used a business card in about 10 years. “I really should have one,’’ he said. “One of these days.’’
One of these days, when his work slows down … and that doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.
Hannah, a Dade City artist who specializes in handmade signs, logos and murals, has a lineup of Pasco County businesses that want his services. It’s all word of mouth — and the word is good.
In a 2020 world where such art is driven by digitally created computer creations, Hannah remains hopelessly old-school. He hand-sketches everything, then paints it on a wall. He uses a grid system that produces an uncanny reproduction. And, it looks a lot better than a vinyl logo that was purchased online.
“Watching Mark work is the craziest thing you’ll ever see,’’ said Amber Langston, owner of Wesley Chapel’s Four Leaf Cross Fit. “Our logo has a circle in it. You can’t really mess with a circle. It would look terrible if it’s the slightest bit off. It’s so perfect.
“Everybody wants their picture in front of that mural so they can put it on social media. It’s amazing branding for us. That mural makes our gym pop. It embodies our brand and it means a ton to us. Outside of purchasing equipment, it was the best money we’ve spent.’’
With artist, quality is job one
Brian and Rebecca DeCook work out at Four Leaf Cross Fit. They loved Hannah’s mural. So when they opened Highland Axe Throwing at the Grove in Wesley Chapel, they knew who to call.
“I was stunned by that huge mural at Four Leaf,’’ Rebecca DeCook said. “It looks like professional street graffiti, something you’d see in Los Angeles or New York. I didn’t know the guy (Hannah), but I knew we had to use him.
“I have pretty high standards. People say, ‘Oh, I’d never do work for you.’ For him to meet my expectations would’ve been a challenge for him. He exceeded them. He had no idea what he was walking into, but he wowed me.’’
DeCook said it’s all about Hannah’s personal touch. She was leery of anyone trying to replicate her company’s intricate Highland cow logo, but she said it turned out beautifully.
“When you hire him, you’re not hiring a company, you’re hiring Mark,’’ DeCook said. “You’re hiring an artist. You’re hiring the Van Gogh. It’s not like when you hire a company and they sent you someone that does just enough where you won’t complain and you settle. His prices are fair, but it’s not about the money. It’s about the pride he has in his work. I would never use anyone else. When you consider the price and craftsmanship, no one can come close.’’
Elsewhere in the Grove, Hannah’s work is displayed at Treble Makers Dueling Piano Bar and Restaurant. He painted a mural of Billy Joel sitting at the piano. It was so good, he followed it with an Elton John mural, then one of Alicia Keys.
“Mark’s work gives our place a lot of personality,’’ Treble Makers owner Jamie Hess said. “It makes us unique. And, it’s a local artist, so it fits because we like to have local musicians.
“It was very entertaining for me to watch him at work. He showed me a drawing of what he was thinking for Billy Joel. He absolutely nailed it. He gets up on the ladder, free-hands the whole mural and does his thing. He has a gift like you see in so very few people.’’
Hannah said he always felt comfortable doing artwork — or any kind of work, really. He was a self-described “class clown and partier’’ who hated school and wound up getting his GED. He went to commercial art school and learned how his drawings could be used for consumers. He did layout for newspapers, then some screen painting.
But, around Dade City, he learned the craft of sign painting from some veteran artists and fell in love with the concept.
“Some business owners just like the hand-painted feel of a sign, especially in Dade City with the quaint antique stores and the old downtown,’’ said Hannah, 53.
Always a free spirit, Hannah worked at a number of jobs, including machinist, tree surgeon, landscaper and house painter before venturing into his own sign-painting business in 2003. He was moderately successful, but toward mid-2009, when the American economy had tanked due to the Great Recession, he was desperate.
“I had no work because everything had dried up,’’ Hannah said. “Oh, I had a safety net with family and friends that would’ve bailed me out. But, I had five bucks to my name. Literally. Five bucks. That’s how bad it was.’’
He walked into Francesco’s New York Style Pizza in Dade City.
He had just enough money for one slice and a soda.
“I was still wearing my work uniform, splattered with paint,’’ Hannah said. “The owner walked out and said, ‘Are you an artist? I want to do a mural on this wall. Can you do that?’
“I was like, ‘Yes sir, I can,’ and I was like Speedy Gonzalez getting my stuff together. That moment was really when it all started.’’
Since then, Hannah has enjoyed a few side gigs, such as producing giant papier-mache replicas of political candidates, including one of Mitt Romney that was used at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa and another of Donald Trump that wound up on MSNBC.com’s front page.
He’s also the lead guitarist in a rockabilly band (Skinny McGee and his Mayhem Makers), which has taken him to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Europe (six times).
But, at his core, he’s a hometown artist.
He mostly does mural work, sign painting and lots of projects for the Pasco County Fair. He couldn’t imagine anything better.
“I think part of it is I’m from here and people know me,’’ said Hannah, whose business is known as Hannah Designs Artwork. “I really love my life and what I do. It’s so important to have good people skills. Every time you get a new job, it’s a new client and potentially a new referral.
“My goal is always to work with somebody, give them what they want, be fair, do a great job, make them extremely happy and have them tell somebody else. I’m extremely blue-collar — more that than artsy — so I understand the importance of work and being timely. It’s going well. I could do stuff on a computer, but that’s nothing like being on the ladder and swinging paint. I’m one of those fortunate guys who’s doing what he loves to do.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published November 25, 2020