Profile: Mr. Sign
One of the biggest characters in the sign painting industry.
Dave Arnold a.k.a Mr. Sign of Montreal shares with us how to gain exposure,
advice on learning the craft and doing work for baby clients. Enjoy.
TSM: How long have you been painting signs?
I’ve been painting signs professionally for just over four years, but drawing since I was a kid, and painting for about six years.
TSM: Who were your inspirations/mentors in learning the craft?
The inspiration wasn’t so much sign painting as it was old advertisements and typography. I’ve always liked that old fashioned look, and once I figured out how to paint, I decided that sign painting would be a good way to commercialize the new skill. As for mentors, I took a weekend course at Pierre Tardif’s place in Quebec City in the early days. It was nice to see a real master at work, but he basically just said “keep practicing” then kicked me off his property.
TSM: I think its safe to say that you are quite a character with a great personality. Do you tone it down when talking with potential clients?
I don’t really tone it down for clients. It’s actually one of the only highlights of this job, the ability to do and say whatever you want. You don’t wanna be an ignorant son-of-a-bitch; nobody likes that, but if someone’s current sign, for example, looks like total shit, I don’t see anything wrong with saying it in those terms …….unless the client’s a baby. Then I’d maybe say “Sir, your current sign looks like total poopie.” I guess that’s the only time I’d tone it down. For baby clients.
TSM: How do you approach potential clients on investing in a hand painted sign?
Shockingly enough, I haven’t approached anyone for sign work for about three years. Each job seems to lead to the next one these days. In the first year though, I was dropping off a homemade flier to the managers of every type of business I could find. Just walking in the door, asking to speak to the manager, then explaining what I was doing. Some people understand it and appreciate it immediately, and other people look at you like you’ve lost your mind. You just have to track down all the people who appreciate it. As for the people who don’t appreciate it, just slander their name all over town. That’s my trick.
TSM: Any suggestions on how to make the transition to do sign painting full time? Or just go for it!
Making the jump is a pretty terrifying move, and you need to be mentally prepared for about 1000 days of poverty until you start to get some momentum. The best advice I can give is, get your skills as finely tuned as you can before hitting the streets. If the first three signs you drop are shitty, you’re reputation is shot. If the first three signs are breathtaking, the word will start to spread.
TSM: What is the best way that you have found to get your name out there to get exposureand to get more work?
The best way to get exposure and more work is do good work, every single time. Every sign is as much or more of advertisement for the sign painter as it is for the business that’s paying for it.
TSM: On the technical side, what is the hardest part about lettering with a brush?
Everything about lettering with a brush is hard. Even after four years I’m nowhere close to the point where I can have some fun with it and drop some sweet, swooping lines while having a chat with a client. Every job is different, and it takes considerable focus to make sure you don’t fuck the whole thing up. There’s so many bloody steps that have to be done perfectly to get a nice looking sign, and all the steps take some practice to get them nice……….. actually now that I’m explaining it, this job is a goddamn nightmare.
TSM: Any advice for those wishing to learn the craft?
Advice for those wishing to learn the craft!!? DON’T DO IT!! RUN AWAY NOW!! No, seriously though, run away now. No, but seriously, run away. I’m just joking; run. Seriously though, I would say don’t make ‘sign painting’ your first step. If you can’t draw a circle, you probably can’t paint one. Get used to drawing some shit. Once you get the hang of that, get used to painting some shit. No signs; just whatever. Paint a fuckin’ tiger. Paint a little monkey wearing a hat. Just get used to a brush, and not a fancy brush; just a shitty brush. Signs are just straight lines and curved lines. Get used to that, and THEN start looking at painting signs. Or, just run away now. Seriously though. I am starving to death.
Mr. Sign c/o Dave Arnold