Sign & Digital Graphics

April '18

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80 • April 2018 • S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S This month's interview is with Roger Cox, owner and operator of House of Signs in Frisco, Colorado. Q: What was your path to becoming a sign maker? I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, with a very art influenced fam- ily. My mother was the director and one of the main instructors of the Arts & Crafts Center at University of Colorado. I spent my youth going to the arts center after school and dabbled in everything from pottery, wood-carving, painting and drawing. We also had a cool art studio at home (my mother is also a stone sculptor) that I spent lots of time in. During my teen years I started gravitating to more graphic-design styles, rather than abstract or fine art, and spent lots of time drawing and doo- dling. When I learned that the Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design offered a specialized program and degree in sign mak- ing, I was immediately drawn to this craft. Some of the original Letterheads taught at the college (Earl Vehill and Mark Oatis) and their talents were so inspirational. Q: Who were some of your influences as you were creating your own signage style and how did they help shape your career. As I was getting started, Gary Anderson, Mike Jackson, Mark Oatis, David McDonald, and a few Canadian sign companies (Banff Sign Co. and Sign It). I studied and followed the work of all of these talented artists, and any chance I got, took classes from them at Letterheads meets. Gary Anderson was respon- sible for us going to a completely water-based paint-finishing process in 1998. More recently, Dan Sawatzky has been a big influence. Through the workshops I took at his Canadian-based shop and my friendship with him, he has given me the guidance and motivation to keep carving out our niche product with our own distinctive style. Q: A few years ago, you created a second sign company, SignTech. What are the benefits of having a second company rather than just expanding House of Signs? Over the years, House of Signs has become synonymous with dynamic award-winning three-dimensional signs. I started turn- ing down all other work just to keep up with the demand of our niche product, and focus solely on the House of Signs brand. The problem was that many of our customers have multiple needs for branding their business, and we were turning them away with no good alternative company to handle their vehicle graphics, storefront windows, interior signs, etc. After a few years of plan- ning, I formed a sister company (SignTech) under a new brand and location, so the House of Signs brand could remain intact as one of the leaders in dimensional sign-making, and SignTech could build its own identity as a custom design and vinyl shop. Q: How has technology changed the way you make signs since you began your career, and what piece of machinery created the biggest quality-of-life upgrade for you? In my early years, I would generate all patterns by hand. This meant tracing fonts out of a Letraset book, sketching a sign design and enlarging using an overhead projector. I then traced the entire design to full-size, followed by tracing again with a pounce wheel to perforate the design, which allowed you to rub a charcoal-filled sock over the pattern and onto the substrate you were going to use. All signs were cut from hand power tools and hand-painted from the charcoal image described above. Even vinyl signs were hand-cut from film with an Xacto knife. In 2000, I went to a CAD-based design system and invested in our first CNC machine. This really changed the business, not only for its far better work flow and efficiency, but really started the upward growth of creating unique dimensional signs using all the traditional skills I had learned but combining that with the vast realm of technology. Q: If you could give advice to a young person looking to become a sign maker, where would you tell them to focus their education or acquire the necessary skills? I was never fortunate enough to have worked for another sign company and everything I learned was through trial and error, taking specialized classes and reading every trade magazine on the market. Getting a degree in graphic design would be a very good start to develop a good sense of design, proportions, color etc. Getting hands-on experience in a creative sign company would be the best way forward. Unfortunately, the number of traditional sign-making schools or programs offered around the country has dwindled over the years. Q: You've made all manner of signs for restaurants, salons and boutiques. Of all the signs you've done, which one are you most proud of telling people that you created? There are certain signs we've done over the years that become visual land- marks and are talked about often. But I think the Vintage Gas Pump we created for the 2016 Sign Invitational Contest will always stand out. This design / build had over 400 hours of labor and incorporated virtually every technique we had learned over the years. Q: If you had never become a sign maker, what do you think you would be doing instead? One of my first job commissions as I was getting started in 1989 was painting truck door logos for the local fire department. I spent three days at the station doing the job, and was intro- duced to the fire service. I was very intrigued, and the chief urged me to become a volunteer. I enrolled in the required specialized classes, and eventually got my EMT and firefighter certifica- tions. I worked my way up to a paid Lieutenant position after four years. As my sign company was building and flourishing, it became very difficult to manage both effectively and I had to resign after nearly six years with the service. Chat Matt Chat WITH Matt Matt Dixon Managing Editor Roger Cox Matt Dixon is the managing editor of Sign & Digital Graphics magazine. He can be reached at mdixon@nbm.com. SDG

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