'Some jobs I did for free just to get experience - I just wanted to work'

Vanessa Power quit her job in web design – to launch her sign-painting business, Signs of Power.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

JUST OVER TWO years ago, Vanessa Power quit her job in web design to become an old-school signwriter.

“I wasn’t enjoying my job any more and I knew I had to change careers,” she tells Fora. “I’ve always loved type and lettering. I used to write words at my desk and in my spare time.”

She decided to enroll in a signwriting course in Ballyfermot. She packed in her job and packed up her paint brushes – only to discover that the training course had been cancelled.

Nevertheless, Power decided to “just keep going” and teach herself the craft with the help of veteran signwriters Tom Collins and Peter Herbert.

It took about 12 months to grow more comfortable in her painting – although she’s quick to mention she still has “lots to learn”.

“Pretty much straight away I realised that I had to start making money from this.”

Through her contacts in the industry, Power got offered one job, then another and “it just snowballed from there”.

“I’ve been busy from the get go,” she says. “There is definitely demand out there and an appreciation for the craft again.”

‘Personable’

From a shared studio in Crumlin, Power set up her business, Signs of Power. The self-financed startup specialises in producing hand-painted shop signs, window designs and external wall displays.

Her portfolio includes a display for Facebook Dublin, signage in the Guinness Storehouse and lettering on the wall of a Fresh supermarket.

But for the most part, Power’s clients are small retailers looking for something quirky to make their shopfront stand out.

“I think it shows that a business is taking care,” Power says. “It’s hand-crafted, which takes a lot of time. It’s not just a quick thrown-up sign.

“I think it’s a lot more personable. I think it reflects really well on businesses, and customers do notice nice signage.”

In this video by Fora, Power says she’s often approached by punters when she’s on-site with a job – and many of them heckle her when she’s up on the ladder.


To help supplement her signwriting business, Power has started hosting workshops through community group, TheLocals.ie.

“I think the more people painting, the better. The more hand-painted signs out there, the more businesses will see them and say, ‘Hey, I want that for my shop.’”

thelocals_loveletters-15 A signwriting class
Source: TheLocals.ie

Lessons

One of the biggest lessons Power learned since setting up her business was how to properly price a job.

“When I started because I didn’t have any experience. I was self-taught. I felt that I couldn’t really charge properly,” she says. “Some jobs I did for free just to get experience and some work in my portfolio.

“That was until another signpainter told me that that’s not a good thing to be doing, because I lower the value of the trade in general. I didn’t realise. I just wanted to work. I think most people are like that starting out.”

As she built up more experience, Power learned how to properly value her work and charge a fair daily rate.

The fee varies from job to job, but Power says her hand-crafted signs cost half the price of a machine-made one.

“The first three jobs I did, I didn’t get paid, even though I invoiced for them. So I learnt to invoice promptly after your finish a job, follow them up after a month and hound them till they pay you.”

But perhaps the most valuable lesson for Power came from one of her mentors, Tom Collins.

“There was one job I was doing, and I was really panicking about getting it right,” she says. “Tom said, ‘Vanessa – it’s only a fucking sign.’ That’s an acronym among signpainters: IOAFS.

“Just relax, it’s a sign. We’re not saving lives.”

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