3rd. Annual Australian
Letterheads Get Down..ah..Under!
No other group of Letterheads has been more supportive of The
Letterhead Website than the over 100 Australian shops that have made this website their
second home. Those of you who are regulars on our IRC chat channel are no strangers to the
enthusiasm and friendship these wonderful people display. Gail Beattie, also known as T2-,
of Taurus Signcraft is one of these special
people. We want to thank our Aussie friends and Gail in particular, for their unselfish
acts of kindness, their willingness to share and their desire to carry The Letterhead
message to others in their corner of the world. All of us are truly blessed to call them
our friends. Gail and her husband Dave recently attended their first Letterhead meet and
took some of their valuable time to share their experience with the rest of us. All of you
are encouraged to do the same whenever you have something to share.
Steve & Barb
Canberra was the place to be on September 15, 16 & 17 this year.
"Gee! Why don't we do this more often?" was the most commonly heard phrase all
weekend at the Third Annual Letterheads Meeting in Canberra, A.C.T, Australia. The
Australia Sign Association and hosts Ron Andrews, Darrell Andrews and Bob Koster of Sign
Design combined to present an educational and inspiring event that none of us will ever
forget. I'm sure everyone has their own special memories. Here's a few of mine.
Dave & I arrived late for the three day event hosted by Ron and
all the wonderful folk at Sign Design. We had family commitments that delayed our
departure from Newcastle until sometime after 10pm on Friday. The first day of a
Letterheads meeting, we were told, is usually the time for "get to know you's"
and learning what was on the menu, so to speak. Drinks on the Friday evening to get
everyone over their shyness didn't hurt the mood either, I discovered. Having missed that
part, our moods were more over tired, over excited and over anxious at being the 'new
kids' at the party.
With 2 hours sleep under our belts, we ventured forth into the
unknown. Driving down the street where Sign Design is located was our first surprise.
There were signwriten cars, vans & ute's parked all up and down the road. People were
coming and going into the shop with armloads of gear, a regular beehive of activity. I
figured no one would notice a few stray sign-ees creeping in. Wrong!
Jenni Johnson, from the Sign Association, was the first of many
smiling faces we saw. She greeted us with our commemorative T'shirt & cast alloy
badges, (my badge will look great on my new brush box). From sign-kits to a 30 foot wall,
everything in the place was being transformed. As we looked around the first room, all the
surfaces were full of photo albums, sketch books and samples of this years logo,
faithfully reproduced by students and old timers alike.
I figured pretty quickly that it would take the whole weekend to
just drool over this room without even taking time to peek out the back. We could hear the
music, laughter and general commotion coming from the workshop. Dave couldn't resist, and
I was right behind him. We just had to check out what was happening!
The wall was well under way, as was a banner being lettered to send
over to Ireland as a gift for their Celtic Brushfest next month. Jim Frederickson said
that the postage cost of the banner alone would be pennies compared to the cost of sending
the paint on it. That banner ended up with outlines on outlines. Then someone figured a
shadow around that would look cool; "Let's do it!" everyone screamed! Talk about
a project growing. The end result was outrageous. We all loved it!
Upstairs the hot wires were ripping through the styrene foam. I
watched in awe as Ron Andrews and his team hand carved and shaped this years logo head
from glued together sheets of foam. When I mentioned that I wanted to make my own hot wire
someday, Ron was quick to say, "There's a couple over there on that workbench you can
try if you want to get a feel for them."
I was rapt. I'd lost Dave by then. He was off meeting people and
swapping info with John Hadfeild from Hadfeild Signs, Sydney. The talk was of routers,
customer relations, quality assurance(everyone is doing it over here) and all the other
stuff we want to know about each other. What a knowledgeable man John is, and so happy to
help people coming up the ladder with his ideas and insights. A true Letterhead!
It wasn't long before they were comparing price lists and suppliers.
I saw the air brushing and naturally gravitated toward the choice work that was evolving
on the wall before everyone's eyes. 'Big D' was the man in charge of this project, and I
don't think I've ever seen a more talented craftsman. He has a freehand style to kill for!
This bloke can fly an airbrush as easily as most of us sign our names. He's one of the mob
coming from "Up Over", as opposed to downunder. D gave an exhibition of his
work, and generally spent the day knocking out project after project, answering questions,
and demonstrating just how easy it all can be done!
Just about this time, huge trays of donuts arrived and people
diverged on the coffee & tea. I felt a tap on my arm, and a grinning stranger said,
"Are you Gail?" That's how I meet Jackie, who has a shop in Canberra. We quickly
discovered we had something in common apart from our professions, the Letterheads Website.
Jackie had bought her computer to the meeting to demonstrate the Letterhead Website, as
well as our IRC live chat channel. This was a wonderful opportunity to show everyone just
how big our cyber family of Letterheads really is.
It always seems that just when you really want to impress someone
with a new thing you've found, things didn't go exactly to plan, but we persevered and
whallah. Success at last!
The questions were just as thick in the office around the puter as
they were throughout the rest of the shop. This is further proof that when it comes to
being innovative and always ready for a challenge, sign folk are right there at the front
of the line. Don Lopez, from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, was on-line chatting with
an old friend, who called himself Uncle Arthur on IRC, as was EmpY, a sign artist from the
Chicago area. Empy entertained everyone with his own brand of humor, and I told everyone
that if they had any questions or trouble with IRC, EmpY was the very man to help them
with this stuff, hehehe. I suppose I should apologize to him for volunteering his time,
but i won't. Steve Shortreed from Ontario, Canada even made an appearance to share some
news with all of us.(grin)
Gabe, a talented second year apprentice from another local Canberra
shop, was busy talking onlookers through the IRC process while chatting to the world.
Don't you love how easy it is to keep the Letterhead experience alive 24 hours a day via
the Internet and Letterhead Website? Lots of handy tips and tricks, as well as shop
profiles by real sign people who share the same challenges as we do. Somehow it is
comforting to learn that others experience the same ups and downs we do in this crazy
business and it is inspiring to see how they deal with them. Everyone was very impressed
with the Letterhead Bulletin Board, as well as all the neat links to other sign industry
resources. It's surprising more suppliers have not yet discovered this site.
Out back the glue chipping and gold leaf had everyone buzzing.
Michael from Newcastle was invited to lay some leaf, and loved it so much that he later
told me he intends to practise so that he can do the gold demo next year. That's the kind
of enthusiasm we felt was being generated all weekend.
Saturday finished with a great meal at the revolving restaurant on
top of the Telstra building, located on Black Mountain. Ron took along the foam head
mascot to keep us all company. I have a real aversion to heights, but the view over
Canberra at night was worth the sweaty palms and wobbly legs. Or was it all the Southern
Comfort that kept finding it's way to our table? hahaha:)
Simon, one of our own multi gifted Letterheads, took over the piano
and played some terrific jazz and blues for us all. Dave and I had been in town for less
than a day and already we felt right at home. Over dinner we talked to Mark & Ray from
Snowy Mountain Signs, the hosts of last years Letterhead meeting. They related how the
snow was so abundant that everyone took to making snowmen out front of the shop. Then
someone found a spray can of flouresent paint and well, I'll leave the rest to your
imagination. Ray told us the effect was certainly unique.
Sunday arrived early and bought the sunshine with it. We couldn't
wait to get back into it. Ron's office was full of "Netterheads," as he had nick
named us Internet Letterheads. They were chatting to all the people at another Letterhead
meet in San Jose, California, halfway around the World. What a tremendous communication
tool the Internet is. Never before have sign shops possesed a better tool to unite us all
as a unit. I watched the fun for awhile, then headed out back to see what else was
Big D was checking out his project of the day. A bar fridge was
going to be first prize in the big raffle, and it was D's job to customize it for the
lucky winners. In no time at all, a beautiful rendering of a roaring lions head appeared.
Big D is an amazing artist! Dave asked him about running classes for those of us who
wanted to learn more, and he promised to host some workshops just as soon as his new shop
in Darling Harbor is up and running. Hopefully that will be in February and I, for one,
can hardly wait.
The wall was Dave's next stop, where he and Skid (marx) from
Goulburn, NSW, got together to highlight and sink the script on the logo. The pinstripe
race track was also drawing a crowd, as pinstripers showed off their speed and precision.
Vinyl that had been splattered with paints and then rolled to give a dappled look, was
used for the next demo. Morrie had everyone laughing with his most efficient weeding
donstration! We all agreed that leaving the centers IN was a viable alternative, but he
finally opted for a more traditional approach and removed them. Old timers, as well as
new-comers, got a real kick out of the "I remember when stories."
The speaches came next and turned into a wonderful history lesson on
our sign associations almost thirty years of accomplishments. Ron Bidwell, who was
involved from the start, shared with us how far we really have come, along with the
challenges overcome, to get us, the next generation of sign painters, to this point in
time. One of the many stories Ron told was about an old timer he knew way back when who,
like many of his kind, absolutely hated the new fella's trying to make it in this
business. His paranoia about protecting his market was so bad that when one of Rons kids,
a little boy, passed the old blokes house one day, he growled and grumbled about it to his
wife, "He only appears to be a nice little boy. He's really a spy!" haha(grin)
It's people like Ron who remind us that this business, perhaps more
than many others, is really about people. Learning to deal with customers is really just
about communicating with other people. By sharing our knowledge and skills, we are helping
to make our industry a better place for all.
I learned a lot, and really enjoyed Ron's talk, as I know everyone
else in the room did. We all appreciate that Ron and the others like him cared enough
about our trade to get involved all those years ago so that we can make a better living
doing what we all love, painting signs and creating graphics.
The last job of the day was to sign the guest panel, Dave took his
brush and shuddered at the thought of lettering that small. We have been spoiled by the
technology that now does the 'little stuff' these last few years. Mr. Computer does much
of the work we all used to do by hand. Like a brave man on the battle field, Dave gritted
his teeth and got into it, silently hoping that no one would notice just how out of
practice he really was. Just as he finished, another bloke asked Dave if he would please
do his while he was at it, cause 'man, that's way too small'. Dave was happy to find out
that he wasn't the only one to feeling a bit insecure about his skills.
I put a tiny Santa under our shop name. Fiona Dewis and her partner
Rod finished their name with a cute rose bud. Fiona not only won the "Most
Enthusiastic Newcomer Award," but then went on to win the weekends big prize, the bar
fridge. Some people are just born lucky!
Rod Tickle from South Australia signed his name upside down on to
document the way his beautifully signwriten ute ended up just out of Canberra. Rod and
Darren lost control of their vehicle in a monster hail storm on the way too the meeting.
Amazingly, both walked away with just a few bruises. Rod told us in the bar on Sunday
night that even his tooth brush was bent at right angles. After seeing the pics of his
ute's remains, I can understand why! Dave remarked that there are easier ways to make a
The wall was all but finished when we just ran out of time. We
couldn't wait any longer for final photos since many had to be home for Monday's start of
work. Some had already left. We had to do something! The lettering had already been cut,
but it took 11 people leaning over the railing upstairs to sort of hold it in place.
Someone grabbed the big logo head at the last minute, held it in place, and the pictures
About all that was left to do was to discuss the location of next
years big meet. After 3 years in the cold south, many of us are eager to head to the sunny
north next year. I liked the sound of Coffs Harbor myself. Sunshine, beaches, and the big
banana tourist attraction. It makes me wonder what effect 70 or more wacky Letterheads
could have on a 100 ft. yellow, concrete banana? I guess we'll all just have to wait and
All praise has to go to our hosts at Sign Design and to the sign
association. The food, the company, and all the other details were put together expertly.
I know that this was our first Letterheads meeting, but I can guarantee you, it won't be
our last. Come and join us!
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