Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying “Every child is born an artist, the problem is to remain one once they grow up.” It seems the influential 20th century painter has also had influence on Scott Allen, a Fondren artist who never gave up on a passion that’s been growing since he was a child.
Allen’s dad was a collector long before cable networks began calling his kind a “picker.” As a kid, Allen says his dad’s fondness for hand-painted porcelain signs helped to foster his own love of logos and lettering. “(It) probably has a lot to do with what I do now,” he says from the conference room of A+ Signs, the north Fondren company he purchased from Dale Howie earlier this year.
In the sixth grade, Allen was asked to design his elementary school graduation program. It was his teachers who bought him books and told him he could be anything he wanted to be. “I wasn’t any better in art than anyone else as a child, but the fact is, I never quit doing it,” he explains. In junior high, he spent time in his bedroom drawing houses, dragons and graphic novel comics. He thought he may become an architect. But, by the end of high school, so called common sense almost lead him into another field.
Allen took two semesters of college with nursing in mind, but the sterility of a hospital wouldn’t do. “Like most artists, my family was probably trying to talk some sense into me,” he says of the direction into the medical field. “(Art) is a scary career path.” As fate would have it, Allen was doing well in his elective drawing classes and liked design. Fast forward with a change of direction, USM art education in hand, and Allen began a career that’s included sign shop work for the last fifteen years.
When A+ owner Howie, a former boss of Allen’s, decided to retire, the 33 year-old had been contemplating his own small business. “Taking over Dale’s (business) was more common sense than to start with nothing,” he tells us. “This was the right time and I was at the right age where I could take over.” In early 2013, Allen essentially gained a client list, a shop full of equipment and the good will that A+ had earned over the last two decades.
Allen’s A+ is more creative and more hands-on, focusing on custom work from vehicle wraps to welded, one-of-a-kind signs. “A lot of people are looking for more technology, but I’m looking to be more analog,” he says. While his shop has the latest cutting edge equipment, Allen says he enjoys making stuff with paint and wood. “A lot of what I do now is a mix in sculpture, graphic design and architecture.”
His current project, a molded, resin commemorative piece, celebrates the 50th anniversary of Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. Allen proposed a forty foot wing in the lobby for the occasion, but wasn’t chosen. “They did ask me to do a smaller version, though,” he says. 250 of them, as commemorative gifts, all individually cast, sanded, painted and adorned with images, all assembled in Allen’s shop. With a grandfather and father who were air traffic controllers, this project was significant to the South Jackson native, who could have himself been a 3rd generation controller.
Allen’s work can also be seen in a Midtown mural, part of an Our Town grant through the National Endowment For the Arts. You’ll find two painted traffic signal boxes, one at Court and West, and most recently at Terry and Raymond Road, sponsored by the Greater Jackson Arts Council. And, Allen says he has an upcoming Fondren project in the works.
Asking Allen to speak to the aspiring creatives soon to graduate high school who are being told they’ll never make money as an artist, he reminisces. “I heard that my whole life,” Allen says. “For the longest period of time, I struggled with it. But there’s something to be said for sticking to it and working hard at it. And you can make a living. Persistence, hard work and a little luck: don’t be afraid to sacrifice – and it will pay off. I’m doing what I think I would want to do — regardless. I’m doing what I love.”