Sign language

My first real job was painting signs for an imports store in Westwood Village, a block and a half from UCLA, where I went to college. I made $2.00 an hour, and I worked in between classes. I would paint between 15 and 30 signs a day — little ones to price bracelets and incense burners and toys. Big ones to announce sales, call attention to collections and promote specials. I did window displays, and often painted giant signs right on the glass. Once I covered an entire window with a wild exotic sun design and left a peephole in the center so people could look in at a display of brass serving ware from India. Then there was the time I was cutting out a series of small signs and managed to slice off the side of my finger with a matte knife. (Not recommended.)

I also moonlighted by making signs for a few retailers around the Village — an awning here, a big metal sign there. And I learned a few tricks of the trade from a ridiculously generous local professional, Bob Carter of Westwood Sign Service. Bob must have known that some college kid was not going to be serious competition. He kindly showed me how to thin One-Shot paint with kerosene to create just the right amount of drag on the brush, where to buy the right supplies and tools and how to create a pounced pattern for a really large sign. I learned to letter quickly, and to control my strokes around the curves. I never got great at it but I loved the process, and it helped me log some of the 10,000 hours I’d need in order to become adept at graphic design.

So my ears pricked up when I heard about this new documentary on 99% Invisible and found the trailer on Vimeo. Looks pretty damn cool to me. Maybe it will to you, too. Over the weekend, I’ll lift a glass to these amazing talented crazy people who make our visual lives a little richer. Can’t wait to see the film.

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