When Scott Vaughn Owen was growing up in Columbiana, art education wasn’t a part of his school day. Now at age 58, he recognizes how lucky he was that his mother saw his natural artistic talent back then. “I had an infatuation from the time I was little bitty with lettering, and she encouraged it,” he says. “Like, for birthdays, I’d get drawing paper and stuff.”
By the time her son was 12, Betty Owen had connected him with an older gentleman who painted signs on the side. Mr. George Starcher visited businesses and created window splashes. “All the stores in downtown Montevallo would put designs on their front windows to welcome the college students back,” Scott recalls. “He would push his wheelbarrow through downtown and paint on all those windows.”
Scott spent weekends following him from window to window. “He’d show me how he was lettering signs – way before computers,” Scott says. “He’d tell me about his career and show me how the process worked… That encouragement as a child made me realize there was something there for me.”
Scott went on to attend college at the University of Montevallo and, not surprisingly, took art classes since he knew he could draw. When he ran out of money trying to pay his own way through school, he decided to look for employment at a sign company in Birmingham. He got hired to sweep the floors, but it was a blessing in disguise for Scott. “Those four months, I looked over the shoulders of professional sign artists,” he recollected. “They showed me how to use the right brushes, and I’d come home in the afternoons and I’d practice until I felt confident branching out on my own.”
At lo and behold at age 20, Scott started a sign business out of the back of his car. “I’d go to school and spend the rest of the day lettering people’s trucks and windows,” he recalls. “Eventually, I was bankrolling my tuition, my apartment, had cars and was doing all this on the side!”
Scott says he’s grateful he was young enough to understand technology was going to be a major factor in the sign industry. In the mid-80s, he went to Oklahoma to participate in the beta-testing of one of the very first vinyl cutting machines ever made. He knew he had to have one, so he made a trip to the bank to borrow money for one.
It ended up being a quality investment. Case in point: when he received a call from one of the contractors building the Galleria in Hoover. “I cut out every vinyl letter that went in the Galleria!” he says, shaking his head. “I was just this 25-year-old guy, but I helped usher in what everyone now thinks is the common way to do signs–way back in the ‘80s!”
By 2008, the big development boom ended, and Scott found himself sitting still for the first time in a long time. So he picked up a pencil and started to draw again. Today he’s a contemporary artist, sign maker, lettering guru and graphics artist—what he considers a fantastic blend of artistic endeavors all based in his studio in Columbiana.
If you press him to pick what’s most interesting to him these days, he will tell you it’s his contemporary work. “It is of me, for me,” he says. “It’s simply not about the money. It’s about the fact that I was given a gift or ability to do something and, by George, I’m just going to do it!”
But of the thousands of projects he’s built over the years, the artist can’t pick just one to be the most proud of. “They’re like children, birthed through my brain and I appreciate them for what they are,” he responds when we asked about it.
At this point in his artistic journey, he wants to share what he knows too. “The lettering skills are especially important to share,” he says. “These skill sets and techniques that we’ve used in this craft over the last thousands of years all over the world are going by the wayside because technology is so much simpler and easier to do.”
He is especially grateful for the mentors he’s had and for his family. His mother started fanning the flames of his artistic passion, and his wife, Taylor, kept it burning. “She’s the reason that the contemporary artwork exists,” he says. “She gets the fact that art is part of who I am, not just a job.”
He’s also valued the involvement of his sons, Parker and John-Thomas, and his brother Frank, and Frank’s wife, Letty, as great supporters and helpers. “I’ve been a lucky fellow in a lot of different ways. I sure can’t complain.
“You never know the difference you might make in someone else’s life. Nobody is an island. The encouragement I’ve gotten from everyone else is a big deal.”