Posted on Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
It wasn’t long after Raychel O’Donoghue first went to work in a sign shop in 1985 that she decided that she wanted to be a sign painter. Computers were not yet heavily involved in the industry, and she wanted to learn to hand letter. Raychel went on to attend the Butera School of Art in Boston to learn the trade. After school, she moved to Martha’s Vineyard for a while, then came back to the Boston area to open her own shop. SignCraft spoke with her between projects on a busy afternoon:
25 years and counting:
Lexington Signs and Graphics
2000 sq. ft.
Roland VG-540 printer/cutter
Graphtec 30-in. plotter
On Facebook as Lexington Signs & Graphics
It’s been a busy 25 years or so. I have a nice shop with two garage bays, and one part-time helper and lots of amazing subcontractors. I design and finish the signs, but I don’t actually build a lot of them. I do the designs and oversee the projects.
I do quite a few dimensional signs, but I don’t have a CNC router, so I sub that work out. I don’t have enough of that work to justify buying the equipment and add staff to operate it.
Deanne just started here recently, and she helps me with production. I also call on Rachel Svenson of Sublime Signs and Anthony Chromey of Ardor Creative to help out on an as-needed basis. It can be a lot when you work alone—it’s good to have a few more pairs of hands to help out.
The work and the market:
I do a little bit of everything—3-D signs, trucks, logos, windows, interior signage—but I prefer jobs where I can be involved with the design. Lately I’m pretty picky about what I do. If the customer has a logo, that’s fine, but I like to be able to design how it will be used on the sign and what the end product will look like. I still sometimes have to do signs that I am not crazy about, but I usually get some pretty interesting projects.
We’re about 10 miles or less outside of Boston, in an area that’s really booming right now. There’s a lot of new development and all the sign shops are busy here.
Educating clients can also be a challenge since everyone is a designer these days thanks to computers. I would say sign permits and difficult landlords. There are a lot of historic districts and restrictive sign ordinances around here. And many landlords are very particular about signs. It can really complicate things. Beyond just making an attractive sign, you have to work with the ordinances and the landlord’s requirements.
What would you tell a beginner:
There’s more to succeeding in the business than just producing signs. You have to spend the time learning, studying and practicing to develop your skills as a sign maker. There are a few schools with full sign programs, like Los Angeles Trade Tech College, that you could look into. I’d suggest you get to as many of the workshops for sign lettering and design that you can.
Learn to draw letters so that you can understand the visual relationships between the letters. There are few times that I use a line of lettering without messing with it a little bit—the spacing or the letters themselves. If you haven’t done lettering by hand, you may not know how to do that. Having learned to draw lettering has been a big help to me.
You need to learn the fundamentals of effective sign layout. It’s not just a matter of typing in the copy. And sign design is different than other types of graphic design. You see quite a few logos that look okay on the screen or on the business card, but they just don’t work well on a sign.
If you invest a little time in learning, you’ll have something to offer. Anyone can make a vinyl sign, or most any type of sign, with the help of the computer. That’s just the production side. The question is whether or not it will be an effective sign. If your work doesn’t stand out from the rest, you won’t have much to offer.
I like things the way they are here. I’ve always worked like this, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to get any bigger. I don’t like to take on more than I can do, and I wouldn’t want to lose control of the work. I may never get rich, but I sure like what I do.
I love to hand letter, and I’m so glad that there is a renewed interest in it. Who knows— maybe someday sign painters will be sought after again! (Laughing.)