Friday, 5 December 2014

☜ Sign Writing for Beginners ☞

I've always loved lettering, when I was a teenager I used to fill pages with 'bubble' lettering and draw letters with shadows and reflections. It was my way of doodling. A friend's father who was an artist said I had a real talent for it and I was secretly thrilled. I used to covet other people's handwriting  and I was a seasoned signature practiser. All of which, I thought, would make me a perfect candidate for a sign writing course. I had no idea how beautiful and difficult it would be and I am now completely hooked.

I dream of signs; I spot hand painted signs everywhere and now I am aware of how much skill and thought goes into them I spend quality time looking at them. That person peering upwards, giving herself neck ache? Probably me. Reverence where reverence is due, I say.

Day 1 of my sign writing course and I'm full of thrill and nervousness. The excitement compounded by the signs I see everywhere, all beautifully executed.
I love fairground horses~gallopers. These were all being repainted.

Tools of the trade ~ 
Half the reason I love crafts of any kind is for the tools and the materials.
The stick like a giant ear bud is for steadying your hand, a Maul stick 
and the paint shelves are a feast of drips and splash..

It occurs to me that I may be in over my head. The other participants are professional tattooists, sign makers, illustrators, designers and a genuine Punch and Judy puppet maker and performer. Our tutor Joby Carter is a wonderfully natural and talented 'letterist' demonstrating in a few sweeps of a brush how he has his 'eye in'. 
We are set to copy Roman alphabets onto exercise paper like children. 

The place is quiet apart from a few sighs.
The sighs turn into grunts and then the real swearing starts.
It's not as easy as you think.
I finish mine and feel as though I nailed it when Joby points out that my serifs are too short, my O's too narrow, my thins are not thick enough and then I see, really see, just how easily things can drift.
Then we have to draft out words and letters with pencil and ruler.
Hours of it. Hours of breath holding, sighing, tea making, biscuit eating, grimacing and swearing.
I thought this looked totally brilliant. Once upon a time. 
But now I can see just how bad it is. 
I'm posting it here as a reminder to myself that I'm capable of vast areas of improvement if I apply myself to something diligently and faithfully for a week.
I spent a couple of days on thrashing around with a pencil.
I like Es Rs and Ws. I am not keen on Os and Cs.

Being shown how to really sign paint is enlightening. It's a real skill...watching a master at work is fascinating and educational. We go for tours of the yard, the course is set in a winter yard for a fairground and all of the rides and vehicles get repainted here... all very thrilling.

Then we get to start with real paint and brushes, but it's baby steps for everyone. Painting lines and circles, rubbing it all off with white spirit and beginning again. Hours and hours of silence and concentration. And swearing.  

I got admonished for my brush handling skills. 
"Sign writing isn't colouring in." 
"It's not a fucking watercolour"
"You aren't holding anything correctly"
"Sit up straight"

I progressed slightly.
I swore a lot.
So did everyone else.
The smell of paint and white spirit all washed down with tea and chats. The chats were small though, everyone was studying hard.


I was fairly pleased with my first whole painted word KINGDOM but it was full of mistakes.
I loved doing it. I felt entirely at home and in my element.
Always a good thing.

I was a bit disappointed every time I spent hours on a word and then had to scrub it all off and start again. But it was good for me.
Practice Practice Practice
Where have I heard that before?

Then it was the last day and we had to make a completed sign, well, we didn't have to, I was desperate to take one home though, so I stayed up half the night planning and plotting my words. I had spent so long wondering which word was going to be The Word I Would Paint. It took a week to come up with something and then I got the lightbulb idea. 
The phrase just fell into my head. 
As though it was whispered into my ear.
A typical sign phrase.
But with a lovely double meaning.
Encompassing freedom and bookbinding and with it's original practical purpose.

 Ta daaah!
Out of Bounds.

It still needs varnishing and tweaking and it's full of mistakes but I love it as it is my first born and I will not part with it, not even to Rumpelstiltskin.

Lady Sign Writer For Hire

I thought Out of Bounds would make a splendid Book Bindery name. 
So I announce that I shall call my new studio / business venture 
Out of Bounds 
and you heard it here first. 
More on that soon.
But someone has the flipping domain name and isn't using it but wants £800 for it.
Errrrrrr. I will pass.



Anonymous said...

Your first sentence is ME.
I'm channelling my lettering love into learning hand-lettering at the moment, sign-writing looks AMAZING though.

Sarah said...

I am so impressed with your signs. They may be full of mistakes but I can't see them! At the risk of sounding like a bit of a copycat, I also love lettering and have a secret feeling that I am quite good at it. Having read this post I may be wrong. This course sounds great though and I am interested in possibly taking it myself. If you have the time, could you email me the details please? My email is
I am trying to think of how you could change OUt of Bounds slightly but in a clever way that made sense. So far nothing but if I think of anything I will pop back!

Julie Kirk said...

What an interesting workshop to attend! I'm not sure I could have coped with all that 'constructive' criticism though!

I love the new venture name too - pity about the domain [that happened to me once ... then I bought a few others ... and yet I still don't have a website!]

Lizzie said...

Oh wow... what a super-amazing-exciting thing to be learning! Would love to try this myself (wonder if I have the patience...).

I love your new Studio Sign. And the photo of Louise too!

How about domain name " / com" - is that available? There's usually a way round these problems.