Mayo Pardo...Signs By Mayo
Hi all you Letterheads, Pinheads, Airbrushers, and CyberSurfer nuts! Some of you know me as Al_Phabet or eMPy (my online nickname). My real name is Mayo Pardo. I was named after my grandfather. It's a Spanish name, although I don't speak Spanish. I live in Elgin, Illinois and I've been making signs since 1978.
Here's how I got into signpainting: I was living with a girl whose mother worked at this "Lettering School" and I was working in a greenhouse doing seeding, transplanting, etc. The owner got so sick from the chemicals he was putting on the plants that he had to be hospitalized. I decided to get a new line of work.
There was a program by the State of Illinois that paid you minimum wage while going to school to learn a new trade. So I applied for the program and was accepted. They even paid for all supplies! I went to The Institute of Lettering & Design in Chicago to learn signpainting. The owner of the School was a man named Sidney Borden, but everyone called him Uncle Sid. He had this great way of taking a relatively simple-to-explain concept, and embellishing it with all kinds of anecdotes, and made a story out of it that would last 2 hours.
My lettering teacher was Les Medley. I really enjoyed learning from this man. He was a great teacher, and a great letterer. I often wonder what he's doing now. The last thing I heard he was working for a Hospital in Chicago in their graphics department - or something similar. We did the cafeteria graphics job together - all those stripes!
Lettering school was 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for a year and a half. First speedball pen and ink, then brushwork. Pages of up and down strokes, horizontal strokes, diagonal strokes and then curves. Then we started with layouts, and then on to actually painting signs. Whoever imagined it could be this involved just making signs? When I graduated, I thought I was great. I look back on those first signs and wonder how I ever got paid!
My first sign job for pay was while I was in Lettering School. I actually hand lettered people's names onto miniature bagels for the Lender's Bagel Co. at a Frozen Food Convention. They said "We'll supply all the brushes and inks - don't bring anything" Of course when I got there the one brush they had was the dime store variety with half the bristles missing and the rest of the bristles dried with black India Ink. The bagels had been pre-painted to have little boy or little girl faces on them, and a rope necklace to wear it around your neck. I personalized them while people waited and we were the hit of the show. Afterwards, Murray Lender himself thanked me and told me I did a great job and gave me 2 cases of frozen bagels! (In addition to my pay ...$12.00 an hour!) I have a letter of thanks also which he sent the following week.
My other "brush with fame" was doing lettering on a set for a TV commercial. I wasn't in the commercial - just my lettering for a Gingiss Formalwear store window. Actually it was a 3/4" sheet of clear plex that I lettered in reverse with the company Logo. It was fun seeing how a commercial is all put together. This guy that had climbed up the John Hancock Building using mountain climbing gear was the star of the commercial. He talked about the formalwear and then proceeded to walk up the side of the formalwear store. What really happened was, as he raised his foot to start climbing, they rotate the entire set sideways with the camera. He continues to step onto the side of the building, which is now becoming the floor. From the view of the camera though, it looked like he just walked up the side of the building! It was really cool!
My sign work is now all designed on computer, then I either make paper patterns and paint, or I cut vinyl and stick it, or I make a digital print on our 3 foot wide inkjet printer. I also do a small amount of simple silk screen work. 4 color process is definitely not something to attempt with wood frames, hand stretched silk, and little knowledge. I know this now. I was much crazier some time go.
We do paper signs, showcards, banners, aluminum, plywood, windows & doors, vehicles, boats, a little sandblasted wood and glass, gold leaf occasionally, and digital imaging on various materials.
I'm the first to admit my signwork looks plain and boring for the most part, but that's the kind of clientele I have developed. They don't want to spend any more than they have to, so I give them plain looking work with an occasional shadow or outline, and usually nice clean layouts with easy to read typefaces. When they bring in their own artwork (suitable for the round file of course) I can't control the overall look too much. I try and suggest more effective options when necessary. It's hard not to insult them when artwork really stinks.
I don't really like where my business has wound up. I get lots of calls from people on the phone and their first concern is "how much is it going to cost" and their second concern is "when can you have it for me?" People actually expect me to give them prices when they don't know what size they want the sign, they don't know what they want it made of, they haven't decided on what wording they want on it, but "just give me a price"!!! Really! I used to try and cater to this kind of customer and I'm finally realizing several things: 1. No matter what price you tell them, someone else will do it cheaper. This happens because the other shop will use completely different materials, or they will be pricing low because they need the volume to pay their high strip mall rents and franchise fees. 2. I can suggest methods and materials I think will be suitable for their purpose, and after figuring all this out, they go ask three other shops for prices on what I suggested. 3. When I "just give them a price" invariably they will come back to the shop with several additions like more wording, bigger size, more colors, etc. and then they expect me to do this for the same price. Then I have to nicely explain why they are going to have to pay more. I don't like playing these kind of games!
I can't believe I let myself get into this rut! I have one customer that wants sketches of every poster I do for them. They always have 2 or 3 revisions, and it's always a last minute rush. I've started charging them for every revision now.
Now I'm starting to try and develop or seek out customers willing to get something more exciting looking than red and blue helvetica bold on a coroplast sign blank. I'm going to sell more sandblasted and gold leaf work. I'm currently bidding on 3 glass panels that are about 2'x10' with some matte center lettering, some simple painted artwork, and fancy borders. This will be a fun project to document if I get the job.
Our 1995 was absolutely horrible on the money end of things. We lost our biggest account because they went bankrupt. The money they owed us, plus the work they usually gave us caused our gross income to drop by about a third. There is increased pressure from the franchise shops taking more of the work we used to do. The bills keep piling up and it seems like my suppliers and the utility companies are the only ones making money. I feel like we're spinning our wheels and just getting buried deeper in the mud. I seem to spend lots of time on little jobs that don't amount to enough money. That's why I'm trying to start doing the jobs that will allow me to make more money per hour. I can't wait to see some of the customers faces when I tell them I won't pick up a brush for less than $50.00. Go to an instant shop please! I have just about all the same equipment as they do, I'm just making the choice to say no on jobs that are marginal money makers.
Tools: Har-arr-arrr! Our equipment includes the Mutoh XPC-620 plotter/cutter. This really is scary how fast this thing cuts vinyl. I can cut jobs literally in seconds that used to take several minutes on the old Gerber IV-b. We have an old version of SignLab. We'd like to upgrade, but first we need to trim away some of the debts we've accumulated since things got slow.
I have two scanners. I use the Canon flatbed scanner for logo scanning and we have a Hewlett-Packard flatbed scanner for digital imaging. It has 30 bit scanning and captures more detail than the 24 bit scanners. The computer I use for designing and cutting vinyl is a clone I assembled myself. It is a 486 DX2-66 with 20 megs of ram, two hard drives from a previous 386 I had, a 2x CD-Rom, and a 15" monitor. The other computer for digital imaging is an Acer Pentium 100 with 16 megs ram (it should really be 32 megs min.), a 4x CD-Rom, a 1.2 Gig hard drive, a 17" monitor, a 28,800 modem, speakers and sound card. I have another computer at home for doing the bookwork on. It's a 486 SX-25 with 12 megs ram, a 28,800 modem and a 15" monitor. It's great for the IRC Chat channel!
I made one of those vertical panel saws from a kit, and although it took a day to do it, it was one of the best things I ever did. I save 15 to 20 minutes every time I make a cut on this thing. I used to have to clamp a straight-edge down and measure two or three times and then run my circular saw along the straight-edge every time I wanted to cut plywood or aluminum. I never got perfect results. Now I do! You can spend $1000.00 for a ready-made one, but I think this works just as good for my purposes. I spent about $150 to $175 for the kit and extra parts. I already had everything else!
I'm not sure where the sign business is headed anymore. Like other trades from the past, technology has changed signmaking drastically. Some of this I like - the speed, the ability to save jobs and make them later at any size just for the press of a button, the ability to incorporate full color images, the ability to alter typefaces and photos, it's all great. I don't like it that now anyone can do perfect looking lettering and because of their lack of training, they have bad layouts or bad letter styles for a particular message, or bad color combinations etc.
There are machines now that allow you to create a greeting card while you wait. You have several on-screen choices, type in the wording you want, the machine starts drawing and bingo! Out pops your custom made card. How far off can this be for signmaking? I wouldn't be surprised to see a sign vending machine next. The superstore people like Office Depot and Sam's Club (Wal-Mart's membership only branch) are already offering custom made signs by special order. When I saw this I felt nauseous.
You can get a pair of magnetic signs 12"x24" for $45.00 and yes, it includes the wording too! Or an 18"x24" Aluminum sign for $21.50 including the wording!!! Or a 3'x10' banner for $75.00. This was one of the motivating factors in my decision to stop selling the same crap that everyone else around me is selling. I hope in a year's time, I will have a new profile and a new outlook. I'm sorry if I bummed out any of you, but Steve told me to say what was on my mind. I guess that change sometimes hurts.
I really like the Letterhead Website and especially the live chat group. It's an absolute blast! Sometimes we get really goofy and obnoxious, and other times it's serious business stuff. It's fun to have a place to let off steam with other people in the same profession. If you haven't been in the IRC chat group, you're missing a fun time! You can talk with other people all over the world. Check it out!
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