Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Fausto Ávila Martin shows off one of the signs he has been working on.

How Roatan Communicates With Itself

Roatan is growing in leaps and bounds. With dozens of commercial centers about to open for business, the signage business is booming as well. Signs and signage are becoming more elaborate in order to help us orientate ourselves and recognize places we are attempting to locate.
The oldest surviving sign on the island is an 1898 lifeboat marking the name of its mother ship ‘Snyg.’ It adorns a two-foot piece of wood at a home in Coxen Hole.
The first signs on the island were simple painted wood announcing a business to customers that already knew about it. Even today, some islanders still rely on word of mouth to the point that they don’t have a business name displayed next to their establishment.
The island went through an evolution of the sign design business over the last four decades. In the 1980s there were wooden signs with painted, stenciled acrylic letters. In the 1990s, super large signs came with 3D and fiberglass. In the 2000s PVC materials arrived on the island, and in the 2010s LED and photo-op artwork proliferated. In the last couple years, LED and 3D art is flourishing.
The sophistication and scale of signage on the island has grown rapidly. The signage has become much more three dimensional, elaborate, and colorful. The signs increased in scale and scope. There are now half a dozen “I love Roatan” 3D signs as tall as a person; photo-op signs with picture frames 12 feet tall; angel wings signs and a dozen oversize beach chair signs sponsored by different hotels.

Mr. Fausto’s Servicolor

Fausto Ávila Martin, 57, came to Roatan from his native Trujillo in 1987. He was just 20 years old and tried many different professions before finding his calling. Ávila worked for the Italian company ASTALDI cutting bush to prepare the paving of the Roatan airport runway. He was paid Lps. 1.25 an hour and could make as much as Lps. 13 a day, a good pay in those days.

Ávila begun by painting houses and assisting Pali Castillo, the one professional sign maker the island had at the time. Castillo would paint the names of fishing boats on their hulls and paint names on stores on wooden planks in Coxen Hole. Roatan’s biggest town was not exactly Times Square, and the sign business was in its infancy.

Ávila begun by painting houses and assisting Pali Castillo.

Castillo made signs for the Casa Warren in Coxen Hole, and different fishing boats around the island. In the 1980s and 90s, Roatan signs were simple and often large.

Ávila remembers creating a 20 x 12 foot sign in Los Fuertes announcing the Executive Inn hotel. “Now you can’t have signs bigger than three by four feet,” says Ávila, who is energetic and smiles when he speaks about his work.

As young man, Ávila learned his stencil technique when Romeo Silvestri, a French Harbour business man, convinced him to go on his own. Soon Ávila was making a sign for his wife’s beauty salon in Coxen Hole. It was 1991 and the island was just starting to grow.

In 1992 Ávila set up his Servicolor sign business and worked out a small wooden building on the side of the road by “el triángulo” in Coxen Hole. Ávila prefers working on marine plywood, painting, or airbrushing it with acrylic paints, then sealing the paint with polyurethane so it could last 10, 15 or even 20 years.

Over time, Ávila has worked on signs for some of the island’s biggest businesses: Anthony’s Key, Coco View, Las Palmas, and Port of Roatan. “I worked on this for two months,” says Ávila about a three by four foot welcome sign he built and painted at Anthony’s Key Resort. The sign shows in great detail each one of the resort’s bungalows and trees. He painted the original name of “Oso” transport ship back in the early 2000s.

Today, Ávila’s business is based out of a concrete home on the main street of Coxen Hole. He still creates signage for faithful clients like BICA and Anthony’s Key, and occasionally picks up new ones.

Sign Maker Gessell

Gessell Brousek at his First Bight workshop.

Gessell Brousek stumbled into the sign making business by chance. While his father was building high end furniture for houses on Roatan, Brousek followed suit with a complementary business of his own: sign making. “I can draw and I can paint, I am artistic and I am creative – I can do signs,” recalls Brousek about his decision to go into the sign making business.

It all started with one developer in 1995. “John Edwards called and said: I need some signs” recalls Brousek. It was his first commission for signage, one he created for Lighthouse Meridian. West Bay was pretty much undeveloped back then, and there was only Foster’s, Tabyana, and Mayan Princess with beach front units built. Edwards was becoming the island’s biggest developer and needed a constant supply of signage for his projects, which included Mayan Princess, Parrot Tree, Century 21, and others.

Soon after his first commission, word travelled fast. Buccaneer wanted a sign, Gio’s wanted a sign. Word of mouth delivered a steady and growing stream of clients. Times were uncomplicated back then. Brousek did a sketch for the prospective client and got himself jobs. “[Developer] John [Edwards] was a constant customer for 20 years,” Brousek remembers.

Brousek works primarily in marine plywood, fiberglass, and in construction pine. “We have to work with something that withstands the weather and the sun,” he says. He works under the name of the company his father started: Maple Leaf. The Brousek family moved to the island from Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1993.

There is no plan. I just know how I want it to look.

Some of his signs survived well over a decade, like his Tabyana “stroll sign” for example. Others, like the Coco View sign, he renews every few years to give it more life and shine. The Iguana Grill was his first 3D sign, and Brousek also created the iconic Twisted Toucan sign for Roatan’s best know bar of the 1990s.

After the government imposed lockdowns of 2020, his business scaled down. “I simplified a lot after COVID,” says Brousek. “Most of the time I work by myself.” The Canadian sign maker works from a workshop that is adjacent to his home in First Bight.

His workshop is an open space covered from the sun, with no walls and surrounded by groves of banana trees. It is a space full of saws, fans, compressor, stools, and work tables. He is intuitive, and has developed the knowledge of his materials and tools over three decades. “I just create it. There is no plan. I just know how I want it to look and go along and make it work,” says Brousek, smiling.

The signage business keeps him busy and his 3D installations have become bigger and more elaborate. He builds photo op structures such as beach chairs, and has ventured into sculptures and industrial art. He is making a fish school installation for a West Bay hotel.

Roatan’s tourist attraction owners constantly think of ways to create some interesting sculptures and artworks. Brousek created several challenging sculptures for Little French Key: a statue of Neptune standing in the sea, a giant seahorse swing, and a mermaid seating on a seahorse.

Alex Making Signs

Alex Montiel’s crew assembles a sign for a restaurant in West Bay. (photo courtesy of Alex Montiel)

For many island businesses, the importance of signage cannot be overemphasized. “Your sign is your main identification,” says Alex Montiel. Montiel’s Multiservicios del Caribe sign company works with a variety of materials: PVC, acrylic, vinyl cuttings, fiberglass, fome board. He develops the idea, concept, and design, and then manufactures signs commissioned to him throughout the island. Some of Multiservicio’s clients include iconic hotels and large island businesses: Ibagari, Infinity Bay, Pristine Bay, Sun Corporation, and Roatan Municipality.

Montiel moved to the island in 1997. In 2000, he started his graphics design company Multiservicios del Caribe. Signage was initially a small part of his business, but it steadily grew.

Montiel tries to stay ahead of the many technological advances in the industry. He attended trade shows about signage multiple times, such as Tradeshow Signs of the Americas. “We were using LED lights before La Ceiba did,” says Montiel about Roatan being at the cutting edge of signage design in this part of Honduras.

Multiservicios was the first company to start making LED lit signs. The first LED sign was ACE Hardware in 2013. Multiservicios built the iconic “I heart Roatan” sign in front of Petrosun in Flowers Bay. “That sign started trending, says Montiel. “It was preceding signs like that in La Ceiba, Tela, Guanaja.”

One of his clients is Stephanie Woods, owner of The Cove restaurant in Palmetto Bay. “Alex has been the go-to sign maker for over a decade. [he is always] keeping up with new, longer lasting quality materials,” says Woods.

While they do graphic design and paper printing, sign making is the most creative and challenging aspect of the Multiservicios del Caribe undertakings. “We love the radical and crazy ideas people bring us. We love to be challenged,” says Monitel.

His shop does custom designs and 3D installations. According to Alex, choosing materials is sometimes the biggest challenge. Moniel says PVC is not the best choice for big signs. It is too heavy and not so rigid. PVC, however, is an affordable, long lasting material. “We can mimic any type of material – copper, rusted metal – with PVC,” says Alex. “You have to touch it to tell.” PVC can last up to 20 years, and while they look like wood, they can last longer. “All the signs you see in Disney, amusement park signs – they are PVC,” says Montiel. It can last decades if protected from elements… Rain, sun, wind.

We love the radical and crazy ideas people bring us.

Montiel uses automotive paints for a smoother, easier to maintain surface as well as for a more lasting effect. “Over 20 years we have been trying and testing all kinds of materials, and PVC is the one that lasts the longest,” says Alex. “We use ACM – Alubond, a compound that is a combination of PVC and aluminum. Alubond is a brand of aluminum composite that is non-combustible, non-toxic, and odorless. Neon LED is the latest signage material that Montiel began using.

The island has a natural beauty; bad, poorly made signage can take away from that splendor. Montiel is conscious of the visual pollution that is increasing on Roatan. “I am against billboards,” says Montiel. “I am 100 percent against visual pollution.”

There are several other craftsmen making signs on Roatan. Painter Dennis Luma also creates signage. Luma is based in West End, and is more of an artist that is happy to create signs when things are slow.