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Discovery '98...A Brush With Nature
by BC Donna



gi.jpg (7857 bytes)I was asked to do a write up for the Letterhead Website on the latest meet held. So here goes, and here's hoping it entices others to try their first meet soon!

The Discovery 98, A Brush with Nature meet held in Banff, Alberta Canada Oct 2, 3 & 4 was my first meet ever. And although the timing was pretty tough on me (we had just moved the household 4 days before), I'm extremely grateful I pushed myself to make the trip.

I was ready to give up on the idea of going simply because of exhaustion, but there were two turning points. One when chatting on the #Letterheads chat channel, hearing words of encouragement from the others to go for it. And while I had been unpacking, I stopped for a short rest picking up my new SignCraft not yet out of the wrapper. While admiring my new address on the cover, I cracked open the plastic and opened up Mike Jackson's article about sign meets and it was that very article that felt like an omen at a weak point, giving me one last shot of strength to get packed

The rest is history. Here's my diary.This is the way the meet fell together for me. So grab a coffee, as it's kinda wordy, but I simply couldn't leave out a thing. Everything that happened appeared to be for a good reason. I hope you enjoy the story.

Thursday Oct 1, The Arrival and The Wait

I flew in the day before the meet at 1:30 pm to ensure I didn't miss a thing. Larry Whan's open house at his shop didn't start until 7:00 pm, so I had abit of time to catch a nap, then do some shopping. The excitement grew as I paced the shops, anxiously looking around at anyone and everyone, seeing if I'd recognize who the posters or chatters were. Bear in mind I hadn't met anyone yet in person from #Letterheads chat channel or the Letterheads Website Bullboard. The butterflys in my stomache were sure active that afternoon. From the incredible scenery to the beautiful shops and signs, it was like being in a different world. I returned to the room and waited for Samantha Bork's arrival as she was my roomie. When I finally realized I was starving, I grabbed some take-out dinner, and as I walked into the lobby again, there she was accompanied by Cam Bortz! I finally met two chat buds. No sooner did we meet when we got a call right in the lobby from Larry Whan himself, inviting us to get on over to the open house! The butterflies immediately split and the excitement started.

The Open House

Cam was kind enough to drive us to the open house. (thank goodness, it was dark and cccccold out there!) When we arrived at the shop brimming with our friends, I forgot about my uneaten KFC chicken and headed straight for the crowd. My eyes darted from one person to the next, trying to find a familiar face only seen so far by emailed and dcc'd pictures. One by one our friends finally imerged in person! There were hugs and laughter and jokes and a whole lotta teasing that whole evening. The feeling I had near the end of the evening was relief and an overwhelming sence of being right where I belonged. I had never travelled alone before, and being with these folks was actually like catching up with your dearest friends you've known for years. I knew I wouldn't be alone another minute more during my travels. :)

After the open house, a few of the chat pals among others headed out for a late dinner together. We had alot of laughs and great food and I knew right then and there that the memories were starting and to cherish every moment I was there because this time was about to move fast. Special thanks to Cam, Mike and Sam for being my bodyguards. :)

Friday Oct 2, Meet Day 1

Getting There Having the meet start at noon was right on for Sam and I. We got to sleep in abit. :) We first went out for breakfast and grabbed a bagel down the street, and who do we meet at the bagel joint but Duncan and Laurie, aka SignDog on chat. We had a great time, took pictures of each other, and they were kind enough to drive us over to the meet. These free rides were really workin' ok for us. :)

The Startup

This is where it went fast for me. Everything was happening at once. Meeting more friends, catching seminars that were nonstop, trying on those funky warm vests, going through the goodie bag that everyone received.

The Seminars

The seminars kept popping up one after the other. The first seminar I caught was Elaine Wallis on Wall Murals. I knew Mike Lavallee's Pictoral seminar was at the same time, so I caught some of both. I couldn't stand the thought of missing anything! Then came Butch Anton's Vinyl & Paint. Now that I could relate to my business and after his seminar, many of us returned to his display area and got to try a panel of airbrushing vinyl with Krylon. After dinner I also caught Russell Kelly's seminar on Composite Leaf. What beautiful work!

And there was Larry Whan, running from one seminar adjusting the sound, to another seminar adjusting the lights, to everything else in between. That guy was tireless. And Tanya was no slouch herself. She was the one that greeted everyone at the front door with a huge friendly smile, giving us our vests and treats. If anyone was meant to be natural hosts at a meet, it was these two and their crew.

The Atmosphere

Relaxed, organized, exciting, nonstop. You could be as busy as you wanted to be or sit upstairs in the lounge and enjoy a few drinks with friends. You could drink coffee all night while painting panels or leave anytime and go for a walk or rest in your hotel. This meet was catering to all of everyone's needs and there were people coming and going at all hours of the day.

The Panels

Never having really held a brush in my hand before, I felt the need to prop up my glass panel of the meet logo everyone was given and get a start on it, but my tired body was telling me maybe I'd do a better job the next day, so I listened. Off I went admiring everyone's panel before leaving, when I came across Sara Straw (aka Lazy Edna or LE) working on some pinstriping. As I drooled over her work, she handed me a brush and encouraged me to go for it. Nervously looking around first, I started striping a panel. I wanted to cover up my work as everyone walked by but the more I got into it, I gave up on hiding my work and allowed myself to enjoy what I was doing. I knew I was getting somewhere when LE gave me those awesome words of encouragement, "I hate you." :) Other panels were starting to happen all around us, and at this point I knew what I was there for. To try the unknown.

A firetruck had been started near the back of the room as well, so whenever you needed a rest, it was neat watching others at work. Kent Smith was getting everyone going with the gold leaf and Cam Bortz was striping up a storm in no time.

This place was much like Las Vegas, where you lose all track of time. I knew it was time to leave when I was slurring my words without alcohol, so lucky Sam and I got yet another ride to the hotel from LE.

Saturday October 3, Day 2

The Getting Up Part Seminar at 9:00 am? Who planned this? :) Ok, so we had to get up abit earlier this time. And thanks to LE, we got there on time too. And HOW did we get up in time? By LE banging on our door. Oops, looks like my watch alarm didn't cooperate.... or ok, maybe it was me, I forgot about the time difference. All I remember at this point was BANG BANG BANG, and Sam saying "But we have to look good." and LE saying, "I can't relate." and the door slamming. Hahaha! But we sweetalked her into coming back and picking us up less than an hour later. So she and Jay were just way too kind and went for breakfast while Sam and I got our act together in time to make the meet.

The Seminars

The first seminar I caught was Jeff Wallis' Business, Make Signs, Make Money. It was fantastic, and what he spoke on touched on all businesses, big or small. Then came Jay Allen's Installations/Structures with his detailed tips on sign installations. Mike Jackson's seminar on glue chipping and viewing those incredible samples was overwhelming and easy to understand.

Dan Sawatsky putting LE on stage? Then came Dan Sawatsky's crew, and with cement slinging, jokes flying, the crew got right to work and displayed the magic they create in malls worldwide, which are painted cement structures normally in the form of a whimsical play town for kids. Sara Straw (aka LE) was a lucky chosen and got to help the crew. She was a great sport, slinging that cement on a display board that Dan was holding up, however something wasn't quite right here....the cement kept falling off.

It sure didn't help when LE bent over to gather more cement and Dan suddenly banged the board down, causing what little cement was desperately clinging to that board to fall off very nicely. At that point, LE pushed the board more on an angle, nearly knocking Dan over and as SHE held the board, threw that cement right back on. Dan then says, "You've got a little bit of an attitude I see." Gales of laughter ripped through the crowd. Then Dan summoned up a fresh bucket of cement....this one WITHOUT all the sand like in the last one. Then Dan proceeded to turn the board at the right angle so this time the cement would stick. So, looks as if our own LE got set up. Watch your back Dan. :)

Group Photos

Larry then called all of our attention to the group photo that was to happen outside. As the big bay doors opened before everyone, we all filed outside to an incredible mountainside, the perfect spot. A beautiful sunny day, with a cold nip in the air, we all pretended our teeth weren't chattering while we posed for the group photo. Then the chat pals stayed behind and got a few great shots of that gang.

Following the photo shoot, Sam and I purchased some brushes and started our glass panels beside Janette and Craig. I wasn't impressed with my work of a fancy fade I was trying to create, so after 4 tries, I sorda gave up and wiped the panel clean. As I wiped my panel clean for the last time, Mike Lavallee came around the corner and stated, "I KNEW IT!" Hey, are you saying I'm predictable? :)

All throughout the meet, there were door prizes being drawn for the crowd, as well as trophys being given out. There was never a lull or a dull moment. The curling mural being worked on against a wall was really coming together. Carol Chapel (LetterC) even got paint on her hands and showed us her incredible talent.

Saturday Evening

At dinnertime, a few of the chat gang decided to go out for dinner to Melissa's MisSteak, which turned out to be a real treat and another memorable time. Steve and Barb Shortreed, Mike Lavallee and Rhonda (aka Spyke), Janette Balogh and Craig (aka Nettie), Sam Bork (aka samazon), and myself all sat down in a rustic vaulted ceiling restaurant where the steaks were great, with the hot Bumbleberry Pie really hitting the spot at the end of the meal. Fine food, great company, does it get any better? And then it did.

Mike Lavallee's Magic Upon returning to the meet, Mike Lavallee with his neverending patience, got a few of us started on hand painting a realistic feather. A crowd started to gather around Mike's instruction, and all I could see were complete strangers grabbing a blank panel as fast as they could, so they could join in. Being a first time painter, I was amazed how with the right brush, the right strokes and the right paint consistency, just how natural painting could really become in time. I was delighted to look at my project and know it was done by none other than myself. Mike's instruction was excellent and he paused and explained each step so we could really understand and grasp what we were doing. I'm very grateful Mike took the time and showed the experienced and nonexperienced a little about the true meaning of the Letterhead spirit.

Being the proud owner of a feather panel, I carried it off to my own corner and grabbing a fresh panel, threw it Steve Shortreed's way and asked him to do something on it. Once I "convinced" him he HAD to or else, he did a beautiful job at handlettering a casual script! This guy's really holding out on us. His work is incredible and of course he made it look totally easy. I snagged the panel making big plans for it. Then Sam, Nettie, Steve, Mike, Rhonda and myself painted up a storm.... Sam on her glass panel, Nettie working on her incredible racoon, Steve lettering another panel with my name on it, Mike creating yet another fantastic panel, Rhonda working on her awesome bunny, and me creating a special Banff g-string for Steve. :) Craig and Barb were our official inspectors of our works of art. No trophys though. That evening was alot of fun. Everyone was working on something, swapping stories, enjoying lots of laughs. This really was what it's all about.

Sunday October 4, Day 3

Wow. What a morning. Sam and I got up at 6am, gulped down our wholesome breakfast, went for a hike up some mountain, ran into the odd elk, you know, normal type of morning. Well, that's what we invented to tell everyone. We actually slept in even longer and were forced to WALK to the meet this time. What nerve LE didn't wait for us until noon. :) The last day of the meet, and we miss the morning seminars. However, we made it for the closing ceremonies and after a few heartwarming speeches, we all started to help out with the cleanup.

After the Meet Officially the meet was now over. I looked across the room and it felt like the end of something really important as the cleanup was being done. There were lids to be matched up to what seemed like hundreds of 1-Shot cans of paint, tables to disassemble, you name it. The big curling mural was being hung by many volunteers. It was absolutely beautiful. It was now time to cruise Banff abit and see what was outside the building.


What an incredible town Banff is. The scenery was breathtaking with every turn you took. The mountains were steep, more like close-up cliffs rather than rolling hills studded with trees. The buildings all appeared brand new and had the same theme throughout the whole town. And the SIGNS. What a feast for the eyes. It was easy to point out Larry Whan's work. The norm was gold leaf, sandblasted or carved signs wherever you looked. That was an inspiration in itself.

Dinner & After

Many of us met for dinner at Steve and Barb's hotel. We met up with Si Allen (Dihaan) and his wife, along with Steve Shortreed's parents and had a wonderful evening. Nettie even tried her first Canadian caesar!

After dinner, a few of us headed off to an english pub for a few drinks. There we met many seminar hosts and others from the meet. The place was full of Letterheads. Jokes, laughs, great stories we all shared. I wanted to check out LE's sketching abilities, so I found a pizza sized coaster, flipped it over and LE sketched Sam and myself. Now that lady's good!

LE, Sam and myself also ran into John Rogers (MacElite) and Sonny Franks (O-Zone), and from there we shared a table and had a great time. We ended up closing the place down, so off we went, where John and Sonny introduced us to Aardvark's Pizza. LE was to leave at 5:00 am the next morning and we were still eating pizza at 4:30 am. I doubt she got much sleep. :) This evening proved to be so informal and fun, I often reflect back on it wishing we had a few more just like it. One thing I suggest is, when going to a meet, allow yourself an extra day if you can to simply enjoy your friends and the area you've flown to. The hugs were nonstop, the goodbyes difficult and prolonged, however we all knew we'd see each other again sometime soon.

Monday Oct 5

Wow, it was time to head for home already! What a great time! And definately looking forward to the next.

Special Thanks

A special thanks to Steve and Barb's Letterhead Website for encouraging so many new signmakers to try their first meet. And where else can you read about the meet and hear about it first hand from those that attended? This place is like no other. If any of you haven't realized it yet, this website is bringing more and more signmakers together that would never have met before. Now that's the Letterhead spirit. Way to go Steve and Barb! You make it look easy when we know it's not, and I'm always proud to say I visit your site and encourage others to visit it as well. Here's hoping that the Letterhead Website has many more and very successful years ahead. I can't imagine anyone else willing to give so much of their own time on a mission geared to unite signmakers worldwide. You guys are the best!!!!!

Bear in mind folks, I didn't mention all of the seminars or all of the new friends we made. Trying to remember every detail is impossible as there's so much going on. For many of those I didn't mention, I apologize. I feel honored to meet so many folks I've only heard about through magazines, the #Letterheads chat channel and the Letterhead Website. It was amazing meeting those you chat with on a daily basis. You really did feel like you knew them. Thanks everyone, for making this such a memorable event. See you next time!



Banff, Alberta

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Open House At Banff Sign Co.

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Day 1 At The Meet

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Day 2 At The Meet

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Jeff Wallis   Golden & Nettie

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Jay Allan & Mike Jackson

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Working On The Mural

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Edna & Dan Sawatzky

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Group Shot

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Chat Pals At Play

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Mike Lavallee's Project

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A Chat Pal Dinner.

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Elaine Wallis with her finished mural.
An army of Letterheads later installed it on
the Banff Curling Club wall.

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