Mike learned the sign business from his dad and now Mike’s son, Clark, carries on the Orr tradition in his own way. Clark told Growing Bolder that when he was young, he told people his dad painted signs for a living. While that was true, Clark never thought of his dad as a graphic designer or commercial artist. It wasn’t until Clark went to college to study design that the realization hit him.
“Oh, my dad does basically the same thing that I do,” Clark said. “Only I’m doing the 2000s version of it.”
Mike started painting signs in the 1970s in his hometown, DeLand, Florida, near Daytona Beach. That was long before computers created digital graphics.
“I hand-painted signs and cut out vinyl letters and shapes,” Mike said, “but I drew the line at transitioning to digital. Because I have the ability to still hand-letter, I don’t need to make digital graphics.”
When Mike did need a digital graphic, he called his son, Clark, who owns his own design business just outside Orlando. Growing up in his dad’s sign shop exposed Clark to graphic art from an early age.
“I wanted to be involved in the punk community in high school, but I couldn’t sing or play an instrument,” explained Clark. “The next best thing I could do was design their album cover or a shirt or poster. That was my way into a subculture I wasn’t fully a part of.”
Mike’s pride in his son is evident.
“He is a really fantastic graphic designer. He’s nationally known,” Mike said. “He’s done big work for Target, Johnny Cupcakes, Nike, Under Armor, NBC, Universal, the Discovery Channel — just tons of big and important jobs.
“I’m just a small sign shop in a small town,” Mike said.
Mike shared his philosophy of sign design, and life in general this way:
“Minimize, prioritize and emphasize,” he said. “Get rid of what you don’t need to say. Figure out what’s the most important and least important, and then emphasize whatever is most important.”
The father-son duo work separately most of the time, but they collaborate on a few projects each year.
“One of the things my dad taught me at a young age is to figure out what you’re passionate about and figure out a way to make a career out of it,” Clark said.
Mike, who turned 70 this year, found a way to follow his own advice.
“I could retire at any time, but I still enjoy what I do,” Mike said. “So, I’m going to keep doing it to some degree for a little while longer.”