Type Trends: Hand-painted

Another method of letter making worth its own look, as we discuss the rise of manual processes in design, is sign painting. Though sign painting fits into the catch-all category of lettering, it remains independent largely due to the requirements of the job. In lettering, one can work on a small scale, recompose with tissue paper, or work partially or entirely digitally with endless back and forth in one’s workflow. Sign painters practice months and years in some cases developing the required eye and muscle memory before touching client work unsupervised. Though touch-ups are sometimes necessary, the process is understood to be permanent, and the workflow linear, so there’s an appropriate emphasis on getting it right the first time. Thus, where there’s a need for hand-made letters done at a large scale, sign painters will be the ones to answer the call.

In its traditional role, John Downer’s poster advertises to young designers the chance to have their faces critiqued by masters of the type and design industry. The casual but tight brushwork suggests a relaxed, yet accurate critique.

More and more, sign painting is turning into art and being presented as such. The work above is Heather Diane Hardison’s, a sign painter in San Francisco. Her carefully reversed window painting in monolinear script and gothic caps contrasts the speed letters of her above meat cut labels.

Emphasizing the art of the sign painting trade, the above piece from Robert Curry separates the form from its content by overlaying several recognizable logotypes in transparent colors. Both this and the below shot of master sign painter “Doc” Guthrie are production stills from Faythe Levine & Sam Macon’s forthcoming book and documentary film on the sign painting trade.

All this talk about sign painting makes me itch for a chance to pick up a brush and mahl stick and get busy painting letters. Our series continues next Thursday with a closer look into hand lettering and its growing role within graphic design.


  1. Posted November 3, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Permalink

    Love this stuff and looking forward to Sam and Faythe’s book. I’ve also just published my own book about hand-painted lettering but from a very different part of the world, Cambodia: http://kratie.ghostsigns.co.uk

  2. Posted November 3, 2012 at 10:31 PM | Permalink

    PS. Not forgetting the wonderful world of yesterday’s hand-painted advertising a.k.a. Ghostsigns: http://ghostsigns.co.uk

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