In 1952, my father, Bryan Mills, set up his own sign writing business working from his home in leafy Surrey. His work, writing signs & vehicles of all shapes and sizes, coach painting, gilding and much more were all done using traditional tools and equipment. The skills he used were learnt during his employment at Fletchers, a sign company operating from Kingston-upon-Thames. During his time there he took several years out to serve in WW2, and even while in the army his brushes came in handy to write signs where needed, and paint backdrops for productions to entertain his fellow troops serving in India.
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When I left school in 1979 I began a five year apprenticeship with my father. During that time and for many years afterwards I attended numerous evening classes, covering various aspects of design, art and calligraphy. We continued working together as Bryan Mills & Son offering a traditional signwriting service for nearly 20 years. Our work took us far and wide; every job was a new challenge, something different.
In 1995 Dad passed away at the ripe old age of 68. One of the last things he said to me was when, whilst in his hospital bed, I showed him a job that had to be done involving painting some pictures of daffodils on the side of a Transit van. He said to me "get on with it... just get on with it". And with that in mind I got on with it. From then on until the year 2000 I carried on doing traditional signwriting, just as we always had.
I was born in 1961 and started working with Dad at quite a young age. I would go to work with him at weekends and during school holidays, mostly watching at first, fetching and carrying as required but as time went on I helped where I could. One of the things that teaches a young sign writer brush control is "second coating", and that is to follow the more experienced writer along as he writes a sign or vehicle, and make sure the paint being used has covered and the letters are finished correctly.
Dad worked for many companies large and small. Names that really stand out in my mind from those early days were truck dealers such as Keith & Boyle at Clapham, Kingston Hill Motor Works, Willments at Kingston and Alan Taylors in Wandsworth. Those and others kept Dad pretty busy for many years.
To enter the new millennium I decided the time was right to produce computer generated vinyl writing. More and more potential customers were leasing their vehicles and the leasing companies didn't want painted signwriting on them, so Bryan Mills & Son's "Millennium leap" was to provide a new service for our customers old and new. We could now take their sketches letterheads or business cards and with the use of our computer and a digital camera show customers how their details would appear on their vans, lorries or shop fascias.
It was a steep learning curve, but I have never looked back. Combining the new technology with the old skills of design and layout I am able to offer customer a service that's second to none. I always take great pride in any job I do and a good test is to stand back and look at the finished product and ask myself: "If it were mine, would I be pleased with it?"
The old skills still have a place in an ever computerised world. Honours boards are still hand written and gilded, just as my father would have done. Many pub signs are still hand painted, as are curtain-sided vehicles and banners, not to mention historical vehicles being restored. That's not to say that I don't still look for ways of producing great pieces of work at cost-effective prices. With the use of my large format printers, plotters and cutters I can produce really eye-catching designs on signs or vehicles.
So I think my Dad would be pleased to know that the skills he learnt before WW2 are passed on to me and still being used today, alongside and complementing state-of-the-art technology.
"I would just like to say thanks for doing such a good job."
- Allans Transport Services