Out of This World
Mars Bravo is the owner + sign designer of Signs from Mars (Los Angeles).
Your name is very distinctive. What are its origins?
When I was younger, I played in an all-girls punk-rock band. We would rock out and I would get extremely red from screaming, sweating and just being a punk-rock kid. A friend of mine started calling me ‘Mars Attacks.’ It stuck and everybody started calling me ‘Mars.’ My last name is [Bravo], so I combined them together. So, it was initially a stage name for me during my punk-rock days and I kind of went with it. And now, that’s what everybody knows me as.
How has the pandemic affected your new company, which you apparently got off the ground in December?
It was always a dream of mine to do something on my own. I had a really well-paying job doing graphic design, and I was just not happy. It was boring and not what I expected, so I said, ‘I’m going to venture out; maybe it’s just this place.’ I stumbled upon a sign company. Before that day, I had never thought about a sign. The minute I walked into that shop, it hit me like a slap in the face. I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is it!’ I worked for a couple of sign companies that were not good experiences, and others where I had the opportunity to learn and grow, until finally I felt that itch again.
I decided to pull the trigger because I felt the need to grow. It wasn’t so much, ‘Oh, I want to do it my way.’ In December, I did it and started off really strong. I had been doing a lot of stuff for band tours and signage that they take on the road. With the pandemic, all the shows got cancelled. That stopped a good amount of work for me. I just switched the perspective on it and said, ‘This is happening. It isn’t something I can control. How can I make this a positive thing?’ Because everything slowed down, I paid more attention to my marketing and my online presence – I do my own video, photography and writing. It allowed me to create a cool foundation, where I felt happy with the content that I was putting out there.
It’s both, and one more. A lot of other companies’ videos ... promoting their signage, you often see them already made or installed. I like to show the more intimate moments of sign production and the process. I’m doing it to raise awareness to the process of signmaking, so that people can appreciate the pieces as an art form, rather than something random that you order. That was my first purpose, and it developed into, ‘Well, I like promoting my work this way.’ That led to providing that service for my clients as well. I can show the process of making their sign, so that they can reveal their identity.
According to your website, Signs from Mars offers sign design, and sign fabrication of both illuminated and non-illuminated signs, among other services.
Sometimes clients don’t necessarily need something to light up, or their budget doesn’t allow them to have a sign light up. It doesn’t have to light up in order to be impressive. A lot of it is just creativity. When I see someone’s logo, my brain starts to create different signs. I already see it in my mind. My next step is to communicate those ideas to the client.
You’re able to visualize the sign in your brain just from seeing a logo?
Yeah, I think that’s one of the skills a sign designer needs to have. When you’re fabricating something and have knowledge of materials, you know how far you can push certain things and what is possible.
Is neon something that you have gravitated to?
Before we had LEDs, we were using neon to light a frontlit channel letter. Now, if it’s going to be canned inside a letter, then you would use LEDs. And now, if you’re going to incorporate neon into your sign, it has to be exposed. You have to be able to appreciate it and see it. I got involved with neon because I was getting random orders. I became really good friends with my neon bender, and he’s taught me so, so much. I think some companies are maybe afraid of dealing with it because it’s fragile and the maintenance is pretty hectic. But now I love it so much that if I can incorporate it into my work, I will.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.