Charleston, North Carolina
Hi there fellow Letterheads! My name is Andrew Levay and I am a 22 year old sign artist and designer from Charleston, North Carolina. My family is originally from Los Angeles but we have lived in this area for 10 years. I love this part of the country and have no desire to return to California. Swamp Fox Designs is the name of a new sign business I started in February of this year. Business seems good so far and I really enjoy working for myself.
I sort of just fell into the sign business after art school. My parents have a business and the local sign company that did their work was in need of an artist. I jumped at the opportunity for work even though I knew nothing about the sign business at this point. The work was fun and made every effort to learn as much as I possibly could. What I couldn't learn there I taught myself from books and lots of practise. Most of the work in this shop was computer generated and I soon found myself longing for more opportunity to use my hands more. Following I personal problem, I decided a change was in order and moved on to another shop.
The next shop I worked in was smaller. I continued to learn but I had a real desire to do things my way. The only way I could do that was to open my own business and I made a decision that someday I would be my own boss. The future came faster than I ever dreamed when my present employer decided to close the shop for December last year. Out of a job, with no income, it was time to really think about the future.
I'm fortunate to have several things working for me in taking the plunge at this time. First of all my parents are a great source of encouragement and support. Living at home and being single has its advantages when going into debt too. My father continues to help out by handing out business cards and they both are handy at assisting me with my books. I have a brother who always finds time to help out at car shows and a sister in school that offers me lots of moral support.
My shop is 1500 sq. feet in size and about 1/3 of the space is used as an office and showroom. The large 16 ft. overhead door is perfect for large trucks and a spray booth comes in handy for coating out signs as well as automotive work. The shop is located a bit off the beaten path, but the rent is decent at only $400 a month. Our computer is a Pentium 100 with 32 meg of ram and a 1 gig hardrive. We're using Windows95 as an operating system and Casmate Pro as our cutting software. An Ioline Studio 8 cutter/plotter completes the package.
My shop specializes in the non computerized things like hand lettering, pinstriping, automotive graphics, etc. I use the computer when I need to, but I really like using the brush and paint whenever possible. Some of my favorite work would include this mural I just finished. In the beginning, I was hired to repaint the mural so it read Alligator Jacks. Next someone came up with the idea of painting and airbrushing bubbles on the interior ceiling. Despite my protests, I soon found myself playing Michaleangelo. How did he get the paint to stay in his brush?
Another project I really enjoyed was flaming my truck. I've always wanted to try this technique and this was a perfect opportunity. The lettering is all done in 1-Shot and the flames were done in lacquer. As an advertising tool, I've found my truck to be the best silent salesman I have ever tried. It never fails to turn heads wherever I go.
What has surprised me the most in working for myself is the way other people will help you find business. I never expected that at all. My favorite part of the business is the designing and actual production of the various projects. On the down side I have always disliked sales and coming up with quotes. I'm turned off by cheap customers and others in the business who price their work too cheap. As time goes on, I really don't plan to add much more computer equipment, although a Gerber Edge would make a great tool. I've used one in the past and really enjoyed the time it can save when working with vinyl.
Someday I would love to specialize in automotive and motorcycle work. That's my favorite type of project. I still enjoy doing artwork although it is only a hobby now that I do for fun. When I'm not swinging a brush, I like to surf, snow ski, play golf and tennis. Any kind of auto or motorcycle racing is also a great passion of mine.
Finally, I'd just like to say thanks to Woody Nelson of Nelson signs for all he taught me about this business. If you get the chance and can find the means to get out there and go it alone, you really need to try it. You'll get a great feeling of freedom that comes with it. Brush on!