Petaluma Sign Painter, Petaluma Muralist, Petaluma Artist, John Ton

Rewind to 1972 ... when John Ton was known to cut other classes so that he could hang with the artsy types in the art wing of his high school. They talked about the things that fascinated him: balance, color theory, layout, design, composition ...and they exposed him to all kinds of new methods of visual expression: screen printing, etching, charcoal drawing, oil painting, even some advertising layout exercises. Soaking all this up like a sponge, he found himself winning an art contest or two. What a little slice of heaven! What could be better than being around people who "spoke art"? Ton got his answer when his counselor suddenly appeared one day, and asked him -almost in the same breath- where he was SUPPOSED to be at that moment, and how would he like to make some money painting a sign (provided he thought he was up to the job). The scrawny Ton fairly fell off his art stool at the chance to earn some actual money; he assured his counselor that he could paint any sign and do a darned good job of it to boot!

It turned out there was a new antique shop in town, in need of a sign to announce their presence. Ton scurried over to the new enterprise, charmed the socks off of its owners, and all agreed upon the princely compensation of fifteen dollars to paint the word, "ANTIQUES" on a piece of Masonite. Now Ton knew right away, a project of this scope would require some logistics: materials were needed; delivery could pose a problem since Ton was only 14 and had not yet been conferred the Holy Grail of a driver's license; there might be an issue, too, of exactly how in the heck you paint a sign, anyway. He came up with a grand plan to complete this project, on time and on budget. Financing was handled by the Bank of Mom -- ten dollars was loaned, without collateral, at an interest rate of 0%, balance to be paid upon receipt of payment for product delivered. Off he went to the lumber yard and paint store. Who knew what this goofy kid walking around town with a half sheet of Masonite was up to...

That first sign was a success. Mom may or may not have been repaid; the record is not clear. The sign stayed up, and weathered well for 17 years! The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked the Bay Area destroyed both building and sign. Within a few years Ton was the leading sign painter in town. He taught himself hand lettering, gold leaf work, woodcarving, screen printing; you name it. Ton was lured into a "real" job at a large sign plant when he was only 20; his boss and mentor there was one of the best and taught John more priceless skills and techniques, and a little about running a business. He couldn't help but grow in knowledge and confidence. The world was his oyster.

Whoosh! There went the '70s! -- Then the '80s! -- Oh, no! -- What's this? "Personal" computers? in SIGN SHOPS?? Many good old sign painters, including Ton with 20 years' experience under his belt, flinched a little when they found that their trade might soon be made obsolete by those technological marvels. But then another mentor -- a voice in the wilderness -- the late, great Mike Stevens, sign painter extraordinaire, pointed out that the computer is only an extension of our creative talents. A brilliant man, and author of several books on sign craft, he predicted, "Progress like this can only help our profession!" What vision!

And help us it has, indeed! Now you can email your digital file to the sign maker, wait a day or two, and voilá! Your perfectly produced sign is ready for outdoor, indoor, boat, banner, fleet, trade show, exhibit, window graphic, freestanding or wall sign installation. Need a hundred copies? No problem, they'll all be identical. Need slight copy changes on each one? -- A cinch. East Coast signs need to look like those made by someone else on the West coast? Piece o' cake.

Although it is true that any boob at a keyboard can now call himself a "sign designer", people are learning to distinguish between Good Design and Bad Design. John Ton understands this. He believes that ANY SIGN could stand improvement. You can always stand back and say, "Gee... does my sign really represent the quality of my business?"

If you're starting a business, you really should talk to John about sign design. If you own an established business, take a good look at your sign (at night if it's illuminated). Does it tell people who you are, and what you're selling? Is it readable? Is it beautiful? Are you proud of it? Customers really DO form their first impressions from your sign.

Petaluman John Ton is a Licensed California Sign Contractor, and is qualified in the Permitting process. See his portfolio and current projects on his website: Design, fabrication and installation -- he does it all. Call him any time at 707-322-0009.


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