November '20

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IN THE TRENCHES R I C K W I L L I A M S 1 0 G R A P H I C S P R O N O V E M B E R 2 0 2 0 G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M I took a large piece of cardboard and painted enough white latex paint on it to temporarily make it waterproof. Using a small image of a waving Mickey Mouse I'd found as a reference, I drew the famous rodent in pencil and then painted him in full color with 1 Shot sign enamels. Once dry, it took two passes with a sharp X-acto to cut the contour shape of my fa- miliar cartoon and it was ready to install. It would be going up on a large and very visible political sign placed in a prominent curve on Methvin Street, which led to the town square. Anyone headed into downtown from my side of the tracks would not be able to miss it. Things were different back then in 1974, and the incumbent of a race for a County Commissioner's spot could afford some nice signs, even ones with a likeness of him on them. But back then the portraits had to be hand-painted. There were no plotters, printers, or digital anything, and CNC meant "cash and carry." These convincing portraits were cre- ated by another local artist and sign painter, Brad Horner. I had watched him do some of the painting, and he was good. While he was working for Commissioner Bill, I was hand paint- ing political signs for Bill's competi- tion, sans any portraits. Brad was so concerned about his politi- cal works of art that he made them detach- able, and as soon as the election results were in, he rushed out and took down the most artistic parts of these signs, leaving several mini billboards with a framed portrait area conspicuously blank. And that's why, in secret, I took time out to make a new portrait to fill that space, with an arm and hand extending beyond the oval framing, making it look like my smiling Mickey was waving his gloved hand at every passerby. Mickey became Bill, and Bill never looked better! I put my cutout cartoon up quickly in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon. There were no cell phones back then and I took no selfie. In fact, the term "selfie" didn't even exist yet. After the fastest sign install of my career, I jumped in my truck and sped away. But after a while, I returned and casually made the block a time or two, slowing only slightly to admire the work I'd done, joining others who were cruising that block to view the new version of old Bill. Well, things have sure changed a lot in our business over the years. At one time, Horner, Hughes, Molina, Couch, and Wil- liams (that's me), plus several others could not keep up with the local demand for the hand-painting skills we possessed. Our tal- ent and effort were needed to advertise ev- erything from Coca Cola to used cars, from political campaigns to cold beer. Yet today, not a single person in the whole county makes their living hand-painting anything, including me, except for the rare occasion when some client wants a grand- sized sign or logo painted on a building or oil storage tank. The sign guys that changed with the times survived, and the others slowly rode off into the sunset. My, oh my, what a technological revolution was in store for all of us if we could manage to keep up! But it seems one thing never changes, and that's the grimy nature of politics. Commis- sioner Bill was re-elected, more than once, but barely stayed out of jail for making un- ethical deals with suppliers to the county. Tom Welch, the sheriff that we elected about the same time, served two terms in office, and about the same term in prison for racketeering and conspiracy to murder. And he was kept company in the big house by another commis- sioner and a deputy or two. I went from being the youngest sign maker in Gregg County, Texas, at age 19, to possibly being the oldest, and perhaps the only one left who still knows how to do it all the old way, with paints and brushes, pounce pat- terns, and Stabilo pencils, a dubious claim to fame but true nonetheless. Change, for the most part, is good of course. And we can only go forward. Those who adjust and embrace new possibilities will prosper, and I hope that's you. The graphics business, in all its variations, is still fun and full of challenges, and from where I'm sitting, it sure beats politics. Have a great month. RICK WILLIAMS owns Rick's Sign Company, a com- mercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business and Sign & Digital Graphics since 1986. Contact Rick via email at PORTRAITS AND POLITICS

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