August 24, 2011

The Hand Lettering of a Master Sign Painter

Here's an amazing example of the lost art of sign painting. I came upon this old sign in a rental shop and stared at it to see if it was really hand lettered. Estimating it to be at least 40 years old, back then all signs were painted by hand. Computers weren't around to make cookie-cut vinyl letters.

Consider the "O" and how his stroke made a relatively perfect circle each time. Look at how his "A"s and "E"s all look the same! Unbelievable consistency here and on top of that, his lettering shows personal style. Its just beautiful!
Compare the actual Brush Script font here to the sign. It is so true to the font that I had a difficult time believing it wasn't vinyl. It's not! It's just incredible how he made those strokes perfectly and with flare.

When I was young, I had the privilege of being tutored by such a master sign painter as this. The method is to dip the paintbrush into the heavy enamel sign paint, then work it on a palette to get just the right amount of paint on the squirrel hair lettering brush, while mixing in just the right amount of turpentine in order to achieve the right consistency that makes the paint flow onto the metal sign. Too much turp and the paint drips. Not enough turp and the paint skips and gets gummy. The brush must be loaded with just enough of this mixture to perform each stroke with one pass and without stopping. The artist has to watch both edges of the stroke at the same time and move with the same consistent timing. His hand has to stay the right distance from the sign. Move the hand closer and the stroke gets wider. Move the hand away and the stroke gets thinner.

This was an art, and THIS guy, whoever he was, was truly an expert. I can tell by the flawlessness of the thin letters. Every stroke of every letter was done with one pass. A master doesn't need to go over the stroke a second time. Like many things, this art has been eliminated by technology. 'Faster, cheaper' has moved it aside and another piece of soul has been lost. What a shame!

1 comment:

  1. great reading! Glad i found this!