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  1. #1
    PhD SignManiac's Avatar
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    Attention all newbies

    Lately there have been many post proudly showing your work and then you get upset when the more experienced veterans here try to help you with suggestions. Instead, you get your feelings hurt because not everyone believes your work to be as good as you think it is. You come here seeking praise but when you hear the truth, you think we're all being mean on purpose.

    The fact is, the majority of people in the sign industry today have no proper education with regards to design and layout. You have not been trained or taught the art of graphic/sign design that is necessary if you are to be in the sign business. Just because you can execute and stick letters on a board does not make you a talented designer or artist. Even if you are not a natural artist, it is still possible to become a great sign designer if you take the necessary steps to learn the basics.

    If you are really here to learn then you need to start with the fundamentals and most important of all, learn to take constructive criticism without getting you panties all wadded up.

    Let me tell you a little story. Thirty years ago I was going on my sixth year in business being entirely self taught. Everything was hand lettered then because there was no such thing as a computer. Also there was no such thing back then like Signs 101 where information was offered among your competitors and peers. You have no idea how lucky you are that these professionals are taking time out of their busy day to offer the help they do. All the knowledge back when I started was a closely guarded secret. Hell most competitor shops would not allow you inside their buildings for fear that you might see what they were doing. It was damn near impossible to teach yourself but it could be done as I proved it myself.

    One day I was off to Riverhead N.Y. a town about fifty miles from where I lived and I thought I would stop and visit a local sign shop of I guy I had run into one day.

    His work was some of the best I had ever seen. He had a real sign shop with employees, tools, showroom, the real deal. I brought my portfolio along and wanted his opinion of my work. He was busy at the time but told me to show it to his young hot shot design guy in the next room.

    Well this self proclaimed design god proceeded to rip me a new *** and told me I might as well quit and find another job. He said that unless I worked for another sign company I could never learn how to properly design and make signs.

    My guts felt like they were ripped right out of me. My mouth hit the floor and I was flooded with emotions I'd never known before. I was devastated and crushed. I left his shop and got back in my car. My wife at the time took one look at me and said what's wrong? I told her what Jimmy Hotshot as said and that I was going to give up and enlist in the military.

    She was silent a moment and then said to me, if Jimmy Hotshot is so damn good, why is he working for somebody else? She said to me, for the past six years you have done really well in the sign business and provided for your family all of those years. Why would you want to give up something you love doing so much?

    Well after looking at it that way, I decided being the stubborn ***** that I can be, that I was going to prove that know it all wrong. From that moment on I became obsessed with being the best damn sign maker I could.

    I read and studied every article in every sign mag, tried every new technique I could learn and most important of all, I never, never could be satisfied with any of my finished signs. Even when they were done and gone I would critique and analyze every single one trying to find ways of improving my work.

    To this very day, thirty six years later after picking up that first brush, I'm still never satisfied that my work is good enough. Every once in a while I get a critique or suggestion from somebody and it may sting a little but, over the years I have developed elephant hide and take it as a way to continue improving.

    The one thing that disturbs me most is the planetary infliction of visual pollution that has ruined our communities. I'm all for laws that will punish the graphically challenged because it has gotten that bad.

    So if you aren't pissing and moaning by this post then I suggest you focus your education on design and layout. For those of you in the business ten years or more and never heard of Mike Stevens book "The art of eye appeal" I suggest you pony of a few bucks and invest in your future.

    Good design isn't just a tool, its the key to your financial success as well. When you can design with the best of them, you can command premium prices and who the hell here doesn't want to get top dollar for your talent and skill?

    Something to think about....

  2. #2
    PhD JR's's Avatar
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  3. #3
    PhD Pat Whatley's Avatar
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    Bob, you write really well. Nice post.

  4. #4
    PhD
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  5. #5
    PhD J Hill Designs's Avatar
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    although the book is "Mastering Layout: Mike Stevens on the art of eye appeal"


  6. #6
    PhD SignManiac's Avatar
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    Good catch^^^^ Been twenty years since I read it.

  7. #7
    PhD weaselboogie's Avatar
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    Great post!

    I think everyone has a similar humbling experience (at least they should have ). Mine was art school... the amount of talent that surrounded me was staggering and has taught me to be my harshest critic.

  8. #8
    Certified Circle Designer Rick's Avatar
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    Old ****....

  9. #9
    PhD Arlo Kalon 2.0's Avatar
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    I too started out in the days of handlettering before computers. I was fortunate enough in my persistence and hero worship of sign painters to get to be trained by three of the best. Back then, sweeping the floor was considered an integral part of your training. Often, the most time spent with a brush in hand was filling in on larger letters the master painter cut in the lines for you on. I'll never forget when the day finally came that I git handed my first work order to entirely do on my own, I was standing and beaming beside my creation, ready for the praise of the master. His comment was "that looks like fifty cents worth of dog ****". That is what I often want to tell newbies who post their work on here. Unfortunately, we all know where that would lead. But it's a truth - one that surely hurts as it did when I heard it froma guy I deeply admired. But it didn't stop me. I took it when he made me clean the layout off and start over from his layout. I learned why his worked and mine didn't. I took it to heart he only wanted me to produce the best going out of his shop. It's an attitude far too lacking in any of the current crop of wannabes to this profession. I share your observation about the visual pollution many of them are producing. If only they'd be more willing to actually learn.

  10. #10
    Master of Arts B Snyder's Avatar
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    Can I nominate this post become a "sticky?"

  11. #11
    PhD Flame's Avatar
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    Damn, I don't always agree with you and your mentality but that was an excellent post.

  12. #12
    College Freshman
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    as a new guy i welcome all feedback both good and bad...the bad only makes me wanna work harder and do better...i learn something everyday from this site and very thankful for it

  13. #13
    Bachelor of Arts
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    I too was self taught, by reading and imitating the works of others. My wife would be shopping, I would be studying all the signs in the mall, be it store front lit signs, window posters, ceiling hangers, rack top signs, etc.

    I would never call myself a designer. Just a layout person or a sign mechanic. I strive on basic regulatory, promotional signage. No talent required there. I promise my clients that their massage will be conveyed loud and clear to their target audience. And have many loyal followers for 23 years. I am running sign business now, still not an designer.

    Points being, there are different area of sign field that not all need to be top notch designers. There are plenty of room for newbies to hone your skills, learning by doing. When looked at pictures of works I did years ago with Gerber 4b, does feel like wow, I got paid for that? Still, it must worked for them, otherwise they wouldn't come back.

    Keep on signing!

  14. #14
    PhD Graphics2u's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gnemmas View Post
    I promise my clients that their massage will be conveyed loud and clear to their target audience.
    I don't want anyone to see my massage!

    Good point though!

  15. #15
    PhD Techman's Avatar
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    I would like to point out that.

    Signmaniac's router table room is bigger than most shops.
    He buys 10 mil coro by the semi truck load.
    His printer room and lam and lay out room is bigger than most shops.
    His paint work is glass smooth.

    And, he has his own private seat at the local food shop that features some of the hottest and sweetest babes in the area that all love him for his kindness and generosity. And he has a fine menagerie of really cool snakes.

  16. #16
    Certified Circle Designer Rick's Avatar
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    Gnemmas offers massage and Signmaniac hangs out with hot babes, I have read "Mastering Layout" and it never mentioned any of this. I must be doing something wrong or got the wrong edition!...

  17. #17
    PhD DOGraphics's Avatar
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    I wish you all would quit picking on me.
    j/k .................................................. ........ Good Points.

  18. #18
    Merchant Member Fred Weiss's Avatar
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    I had a full time business that went slow every summer. In the summer of 1971 I purchased a business opportunity deal to make vacuum formed magnetic signs. My experience amounted to a semester of print shop in junior high school and laying out my own brochures with an IBM Selectric typewriter and rub on ChartPak letters.

    In ten weeks I sold $20K worth of magnetic signs and was hooked on both the profits and the smiling, happy customers. But the ex-wifey demanded that I "stay with what I knew", so the equipment was liquidated that fall. 12 years later, minus the full time business and minus the ex-wifey, I launched my current business with the acquisition of a Gerber Signmaker III and never looked back.

    After 26 years, I have not failed to earn a profit in this business. Never learned to design ... just learned the programs and the fabrication. Every so often, I overreached in taking on work I should not have but mostly have done very well with what I can do well.

    While I was developing though, I would read all the trade magazines from cover to cover and I would bore my friends by constantly studying existing signs ... What do I like about this one? What do I not like about that one? How was that one made and how was it installed?

    I do not believe that you need to be an artist to be successful in sign making, although I have an immense respect for those possessing that skill set and aptitude. I do believe you need to have a healthy respect for good layout and design when you see it and do everything you can to emulate it in your work.
    Fred Weiss
    Allied Computer Graphics, Inc.
    Lake Worth, Florida

    Expert Gerber Edge printing for the trade.
    Prices Slashed 50% to 80%! Clip art and seamless texture tiles, collections and individual images, lowest prices ever at www.allcompu.com. Come have a look.
    Our Latest Collection! Plotter Art™ Seamless Texture Tiles Volume Three is now available.

    fred@allcompu.com
    www.allcompu.com

    Always Remember ... STICKY SIDE DOWN.

  19. #19
    College Freshman lbumbaca's Avatar
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    As a newbie well 3yr old one THANK YOU very nice and something for all newbies to think about GREAT

  20. #20
    PhD Jillbeans's Avatar
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    I didn't realize how bad my sign layouts sucked until I was in the biz about 9 years, I thought I was the shizzit.
    It took going to a Letterhead meet to see what I was doing wrong.
    I am always open to advice, and while I am not a designer by any means, I consider myself to be an OK sign maker.
    I always remember the sting of criticism far better than any praise I get.
    And I learn more from what I did wrong, and try to not repeat my errors.
    I try to offer advice to Newbies without being a total tw@t, but sometimes I get so frustrated.
    It's similar to teling someone they have broccoli in their teeth and them replying "but I like it like this!"
    Especially really basic stuff like stretching text, all-caps on a display alphabet etc.
    You'd think that everyone would like their work to get better with every job, but some people really do think it's just typing words into a machine and letting their printer puke them out.
    They don't "get it".
    Luckily, I think there are more Newbies who want to learn, if anything, just to shut up us old-timers. And that's good. So I will keep on pushing the Mike Stevens book, even if some people do not find it to be the be-all-end-all. It's really the only basic layout book I know which is readily available.
    Love....Jill

  21. #21
    PhD Arlo Kalon 2.0's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jillbeans View Post
    and while I am not a designer by any meansl
    You're kidding, right? This is no time to be self effacing. Your designs ROCK!

  22. #22
    Master of Arts N2Harpz's Avatar
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    This thread is inspiring ..... I have now been into this sign business almost 3 years now. I am always amazed at the designs that come from this group. I try to figure out all the why's and why-not's of every design and sign I see posted here.

    In this area things have been super slow. Sometimes not taking home a check. But I still love this job. I love going down the street and looking at a sign that I created. Coming in every morning is a joy and I always have to make myself quit at the end of the day.

    As with my artwork (watercolors) . There is always one more trick to learn. A person never gets to a point where he knows it ALL.

    For all the newbies out there. Signs101 is LOADED with valuable info. Suck it up and soak it in. Don't wear your feelings on your shirt sleeve.

    This is a great place to learn.

  23. #23
    PhD d fleming's Avatar
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    excellent post

  24. #24
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    What a great post!

    Bernie

  25. #25
    PhD SignManiac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fred Weiss View Post
    Never learned to design ... just learned the programs and the fabrication.
    Fred, after 26 years I'm fairly sure that your layout skills are quite good even if you are only doing basic signs as your mainstay work.

    I can't imagine you ever condensing Helvetica by 50% or using all uppercase Brush Script on an ark? These are mistakes that newbies make all the time because they were never taught otherwise.

    It's easy to make money in the sign business but that doesn't mean you need to make easy money on ugly signs.

    Every one of us does simple basic work. Ok, so I don't but...I think most here would love to do the nicer and more profitable fancier work if they had a choice. And they can if they really want to get better at their craft.

    You have two types in this business. The ones where its just a job and the others who are passionate about the artistic side. There's a lot more fun to be had being creative rather than just pushing buttons.

  26. #26
    PhD Replicator's Avatar
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    SignManiac,

    That is one of the best posts I have ever read on this or any forum pertaining to signs.

    Thank You !

  27. #27
    PhD skyhigh's Avatar
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    Great post.
    Also, I would love to see your shop some day. What time of the day do your snakes generally take their nap?

  28. #28
    Merchant Member Fred Weiss's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SignManiac View Post
    Fred, after 26 years I'm fairly sure that your layout skills are quite good even if you are only doing basic signs as your mainstay work.

    I can't imagine you ever condensing Helvetica by 50% or using all uppercase Brush Script on an ark? These are mistakes that newbies make all the time because they were never taught otherwise.

    It's easy to make money in the sign business but that doesn't mean you need to make easy money on ugly signs.

    Every one of us does simple basic work. Ok, so I don't but...I think most here would love to do the nicer and more profitable fancier work if they had a choice. And they can if they really want to get better at their craft.

    You have two types in this business. The ones where its just a job and the others who are passionate about the artistic side. There's a lot more fun to be had being creative rather than just pushing buttons.
    I agree completely and I almost always end up doing more than the client expects.

    What I was trying to communicate in my own case is that I started out with a taste for what is pleasing to the eye and effective that was reinforced by my original clients. That particular taste includes a healthy respect for the designs of others. So I rarely squeeze or stretch a font and frequently use large font families that include condensed, normal and expanded members for my paragraph text. I also learned early on the value and superiority of hand tracing over auto tracing.

    Along the way one evolves like any quality control system evolves as mistakes are made, recognized and improved ... assuming one cares about pursuing excellence. Like you I think that anyone in this profession who is only concerned with financial return and cranks out schlock has no business in the craft.
    Fred Weiss
    Allied Computer Graphics, Inc.
    Lake Worth, Florida

    Expert Gerber Edge printing for the trade.
    Prices Slashed 50% to 80%! Clip art and seamless texture tiles, collections and individual images, lowest prices ever at www.allcompu.com. Come have a look.
    Our Latest Collection! Plotter Art™ Seamless Texture Tiles Volume Three is now available.

    fred@allcompu.com
    www.allcompu.com

    Always Remember ... STICKY SIDE DOWN.

  29. #29
    PhD Arlo Kalon 2.0's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fred Weiss View Post
    Along the way one evolves like any quality control system evolves as mistakes are made, recognized and improved ... assuming one cares about pursuing excellence. Like you I think that anyone in this profession who is only concerned with financial return and cranks out schlock has no business in the craft.
    No truer words were ever spoken.

  30. #30
    PhD SignManiac's Avatar
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    Thanks everyone, I'm glad I could contribute something positive to the forum. It can only help us all in the long run. The thing that many of us resent the most are newbies who undercuts us on price.

    There's two reasons for this. One is they just have no idea what a sign should cost nor how to figure it out on there own. If you take somebody who was once making $10.00 an hour and then decides to start his own sign business and the first job he sells, he makes the equivalent of $25.00 an hour, He thinks he/she has hit the lotto and rolling in dough. Well we all know that to operate a profitable sign company we need to charge a lot more than that. Especially if you want to grow and be able to afford new tools, printers, shops, etc.

    The other reason they under price there work is because of quality. If the work isn't up to par, there's only so much you can ask for. So in order to get any work at all in the beginning, it's all based on low price.

    If everyone would or could improve their design skills, then we would all be on an equal playing field and price would be a lot closer. The customer would then base his buying decision on which design he liked better, maybe your personality, or several other criteria that's important to him.

    The other thing goes back to aesthetics. Next time you newbies are driving around your communities, please take a real look at the signs you see and be honest, are you seeing appealing signs, even the basic ones, or are you seeing a ton of mismatched visual pollution? Do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

    It is within everyone's capability to learn the basics but you have to want to. Take a few minutes and browse through all the posted signs here and "notice" the signs you like and try to see what it is that makes them different from your work.

    One of the best things you can do is design your sign and then walk away from it for an hour, then come back and look at it again with fresh eyes. Learn to see balance. Typing in text on a square is very limiting. Push yourself to change what you've been doing. It can't hurt you really.
    Last edited by SignManiac; 11-11-2009 at 03:33 PM.

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