Presidents Post – The Old and the New
I started my sign apprenticeship in 1986, yes with paint and brushes… Wow I can almost hear the younger readers, sigh and flick back to TikTok or Instagram, so does that make me “Old School”? Quite simply HELL NO! Over the years technology has changed our trade both for the good and bad, most signees who have lasted have had to evolve with the technology and constantly up skill to stay current and this learning is still what’s needed today for modern sign makers. When vinyl plotters arrived on the scene many traditional guys saw them as a threat rather than a new tool, same can be said about printers, with many talented tradespeople having left the industry. Whether you believe technology damaged the trade or made it, there is one thing that remains constant and that is learning. If we don’t keep learning we fall behind.
I have heard and read comments on social media between “old school” and young sign makers about which is best, the brush is dead…. computers took the soul out of signwriting… anyone can cut vinyl letters, etc etc.…. unfortunately, I think they are missing the point. Sign Makers or Sign Writers whatever you call yourself, are storytellers in a way, communication is what we do, we use our skills and tools to communicate a message. I believe a good Signee uses all the tools in his toolbox to do just that. The sign of a great Signee is how well he or she uses those tools not which tool is used.
Hand lettering, vinyl cut letters, digital print, fabrication, and illumination are production techniques utilized with tools to create a final product, being able to utilise the full range of these tools and skills is what defines a great sign shop in my opinion. So what we need to concentrate on is learning or upskilling for the future of our tradespeople and ultimately our industry.
There is no cheaper way to produce large lettering or graphics on concrete walls and the like, than hand painting, so why not learn how. Photoshop is the quickest most effective way to edit that unwanted part of an image, so learn it, and wow how the list goes on. Each tool has its strengths and being able to utilize as many as possible makes our job easier and also cements our value to our employer and or customer.
As I have spoken about before, modern production techniques seem to revolve around specialization of production jobs, which is what I believe is watering down the industry’s skill base. A lot of young signees simply aren’t getting exposed to a diverse range of skills and varying procedures so they get bored and they fail to develop a passion for what they do and become dissatisfied with their job. As responsible business operators we must do what’s best for the bottom line, but as a responsible signee we need to protect and maintain the skills required to keep our trade alive so we maintain the skill base needed to keep that bottom line.
Encourage learning, promote diversity in all aspects of our sign shops. If your shop needs a skill learn it or teach it. Promote pride in what we do, there is no other trade that requires as many disciplines as Sign making to make a good tradesperson now, with everything from Graphic design, wrapping, fabrication, installation etc.… we should be proud of what we do and encourage our younger peers to do the same rather than argue which tool is the best.