Signs of the times
This magazine documents an interesting time for the art form and craft of sign painting, that recently went into decline due to digital age. Traditional sign painting seems to be making a comeback with younger generations getting involved in the craft, working alongside the acclaimed masters that are still painting signs today; this issue focuses on the contemporary scene in Bournemouth, UK. We hope to raise awareness of this craft and to encourage revival of it in the community.
ISSUE 1: BOURNEMOUTH Free CONTENTS 03 05 12 20 24 28 30 INTRO STEVE BLACKWELL ULTRASIGN PAUL MAHONEY THE CROOKED BOOK MR BARBERS SIGNBLANKS 1 INTRODUCTION The purpose of this magazine is to document an interesting time for the art form and craft of sign painting, that went into decline due to the digital age, but is making a comeback somewhat in certain places around the world. But in particular, we want to document what is going on with sign painting in the UK, and this issue focuses on the scene in Bournemouth, in the hopes to kickstart appreciation, enthusiasm and an interest in sign painting in this community, and to encourage a revival here like what weâ€™re seeing over in the States and certain cities in the UK. 3 The first time I met Lee Jones he told me his story and how sign painting had been passed down through the generations in his family from his grand father, to his father and then down to him. We discussed my project and how I wanted to produce a magazine based on the sign writing scene in the Bournemouth. Lee was very keen on the idea and gave me lots of info about the what was going on in the sign industry in Bournemouth currently, and shared his extensive research and knowledge of sign painting as an art form. I then went to visit his studio to meet for the second time, where I was able to speak to his father Vaughan Jones who gave me an insight into what sign painting in Bournemouth was like in the “golden age”... Vaughan: “Back in the old days there were loads of sign painters. I’d be working at Bournemouth football ground and there would be other sign painters working across the other side of the pitch. i’d see a lot of the same faces but there was never any rivalry. It was like a community, we used to borrow each others paint. Back then if a van was to get re done, you would have to rub it all down and get it resprayed before you could even start painting it. Thats the beauty of vinyl I suppose, its just so much quicker. Hardly anyone wants to wait that long for their signs, they want it in vinyl the next day, and think that even a weeks too long! Nowadays people just seem to be impatient. 4 - Before vinyl was the good old days, when people had more time But before vinyl was the good old days, when people had the time to get a nice sign painted, they took pride in their business, and invested in their signs. I never thought I’d get involved in this (vinyl), I was stubborn. but we were struggling trying to earn a living. My dad and I started painting signs for Goadsby estate agents - i’d be working AT BOURNEMOUTH FOOTBALL ground, and there would be other sign painters working across the other side of the pitch. IT WAS LIKE A BIG COMMUNITY, WE USED BORROW EACH OTHERS PAINT not long after I’d left school, fifty years ago, when they just had the one shop. Now they have twenty. I lost them as clients initially when vinyl came around, but then we started Ultrasign and got them back. Since we started doing vinyls in Ultrasign, that allowed me to keep doing the hand painted signs when that work came around. Vinyls kept me in the game essentially, otherwise I would have done painting and decorating. A lot of the old sign painters have retired or passed away now. Signwriting companies like Tucks and Clarkes, and signpainters like Ken Hughes and Freddie Herbert. Ken Dibley was good. I remember he would sign his work at the bottom - “Dibley did it”. Ultrasign must be one of the oldest sign business’s still running. We’ve always tried to keep FR Jones & Son going even when we changed to Ultrasign. We used to joke about changing it to VF Jones & Son, or FR Jones & Son & Grandson. At the moment work wise, we’re doing a lot of hand painted signs, it’s so unusual to be so busy, but the hand painted jobs are usually weird ones nowadays, usually for people who want something out of the ordinary, which I guess is what hand painted signs are now. But I still love it, I never got bored after all the years.” 9 Steve invited me to his home where he had turned his garden and a spare room into his studio space, which were both home to overlapping amounts of signs both finished and in production, resembling the fast paced work rate that this self taught sign painter has adopted. He showed me an impressive photo album full of photos of hand painted signs he had taken on his travels and a portfolio of his own signs to match. After meeting Steve I feel as if he has shown me a way into sign painting just by teaching me a few of the techniques he uses and I feel as if sign painting might be a bit more accessible than I had previously perceived at the start of this project. Steve has established himself as a prominent figure in the Bournemouth sign painting scene on his own in a short amount of time. Steve: “With no car, I often find myself having to smuggle paint on buses, and riding my bike to jobes, carrying ladders and signs I’ve painted on big wooden boards on my back. Business and shop owners have instantly said no when I’ve asked if they’re interested in me painting some signs for them, but if they catch a glimpse of the signs I’m carrying with me, thats what usually grabs their attention. And then they have a proper look at the signs and this is usually how I end up getting most of the jobs that I do. - subconsciously, PEOPLE can see the human touch and are drawn to it. - 13 It just goes to show that in this fast paced society everyone will overlook investing in some hand painted signs for their businesses because they know they can get it a lot quicker with vinyl. However when they are willing to look into it deeper they generally do appreciate the time effort and love that went into the art and recognise that their business will benefit from it. Sign painters really analyse letters and hand painted signs and can see from a mile off when they are hand painted and really appreciate it, whereas someone who does not share the love of letters and hand painted signs may not know difference between hand and vinyl. Although I believe that they will still appreciate the hand painted sign more because, subconsciously, they can see the human touch and are drawn to it.” - WITH NO CAR, I OFTEN FIND MYSELF HAVING TO SMUGGLE PAINT ON BUSES, AND RIDING MY BIKE TO JOBS, CARRYING LADDERS AND SIGNS I’VE PAINTED ON BIG WOODEN BOARDS ON MY BACK - Steve taught me about a number of techniques he uses, the most memorable one for me being his version of pouncing, This is a technique he uses to transfer a sketch of a sign design on a piece of paper onto the desired surface. Usually, a sign painter uses a piece of equipment called a “Pounce Wheel”, which allows them to make tiny holes on the outlines of their letterforms. They will then place the sketch paper onto the surface the sign is intended to be painted on, and dust chalk or powder over it to seep through the holes to create a faint outline for them to use as a guide to paint over. However, Steve showed me a way where he uses a more similar principle to that of tracing paper, where he dusts the back of a sketch with chalk, then lays onto the surface and lightly traces the outline of the letters with a pencil. A sufficient alternative for someone with no experience with a Pounce Wheel. 17 I first met Paul by coincidence at the Brunswick Pub in Charminster, Bournemouth. I walked past and saw that he was painting and A-board to go outside the pub to advertise new summer deals etc. It was the first time I had seen a signwriter at work, and I noticed a toolbox full of paint and chalk pens, covered in lots of different colours. I spoke to him about how he got into sign painting and what he knew about the scene in Bournemouth. Paul: “I got into signwriting purely by coincidence, whilst working at B&Q and it’s just word of mouth and coming across lucky opportunities that has kept me in the game since. It’s just something I do on the side for the love of the art. My style of signwriting is a bit different to the traditional stuff, I dont use brushes, just paint and chalk pens, and mine tends to be more fast paced signs I paint rather than big shop fronts etc. Being a cartoonist as well I try to bring in elements of that into my sign work.” I went to The Richmond pub in Bournemouth to catch up with Paul for the second time whilst he was painting some A-boards for them there. This was when I really saw the work that goes into these pub signs that Paul does, which clearly he has had lots of practice doing as he improvises all the artwork on the spot and is super fast at putting down lettering in his signature calligraphic style. Using the lines that natural arm movements create to produce letterforms, with a confidence gained through years of practice. It was good to see one of these boards done from start to finish, as you usually take for granted how they are done. 21 - I got into signwriting purely by coincidence, and itâ€™s just word of mouth and coming across lucky opportunities that has kept me in the game since - 22 The Crooked Book in Boscombe is an independent coffee shop / book shop with a vintage twist run by Jamie Miller and Eloise Leyden. I went to visit Jamie at the shop to have a look around and have a chat with him about the signage that Vaughn Jones painted on his shop front. Jamie: “ I do think theres a bit of a revival going on in the sign painting scene in Bournemouth. I wanted hand painted signs to go with the style inside the shop. I just thought it would fit nicely with the furniture and decor and the vintage collection and books we have. After speaking to Vaughan about what I wanted done, he was able to do some designs the next day, and the first one he showed me happened to be perfect. He just understood what I wanted for the shop. I do think having the hand painted shop front has improved business, and probably brought more people in. I guess the shop is individual and the sign fits in with that. It wouldn’t work if it was vinyl letters. Vinyl printed letters just reminds me of big chain stores, and they all look the same. - THE SHOP IS INDIVIDUAL AND THE SIGN FITS IN WITH THAT. IT WOULDN’T WORK IF WE HAD VINYL LETTERS I love sign painting, I think there’s a nostalgia for hand crafted designs. It reminds me of the traditional hand painted canal boat signs, and the old hanging pub signs”. Check out The Crooked Book for some good coffee, and a brilliant collection of books and vintage things. 25 Mr Barber Gentleman’s Grooming on Southbourne Grove is no ordinary barber shop, Jason Bailey the owner has decorated the place outstandingly with all sorts of rare and vintage furniture and paintings, and has stayed true with the traditional gold leaf and hand painted signs by Vaughan Jones and Steve Blackwell. I went to visit Jason to have a look around and have a chat about the signage he’s had done. Jason: “I’m very happy with my shop signs, the fit in well with the vintage look of the place. After I got the signs done, I found it had a knock on effect down the high street with other shops starting to get hand painting signs and gold leaf. And the amount of people that stopped and came in to watch Vaughn when he was doing the signs was incredible. Vintage is in at the moment, and I think that people do want to find the craftsmen that do things like sign painting. Hand painted signs are original, you can try and copy it with vinyl, but it will never have the same effect. Each hand painted sign is different. The shops that have painted signs do have that certain one-off look about them. With vinyl you don’t 28 get that reassurance of quality. They can be put up in an hour or so, whereas with my window for example, Vaughan spent a week doing the gold leaf sign on that alone, making sure it was perfect. Now my friends that own shops say, “I’ve gotta have my window like that!”” Check out Mr Barber for a very Gentlemanly haircut or just to check out the authentic signs and decor of the place. WORDS BY: LEE JONES, CURATOR OF SIGNBLANKS BLOG These days, with few opportunities to attend practical sign-writing courses other than one-off workshops, many practitioners of hand-painted lettering are self-taught. Of course, knowledge is often just a YouTube or Google search away, but for many the procurement of good reading materials on the subject is essential, and with a lack of new written texts being produced on the subject, finding good books can become something of an achievement in itself. With that in mind, if you chance upon any of the following, grab ‘em!……. Sign Painting Techniques by Ralph Gregory (ISBN: 978-0911380293) First published in 1973, this encouragingly thick volume covers a wealth of information to help the fledgling sign painter get off the ground. Admittedly, for a book that’s forty years old, there are certain ideas which seem a little dusty and outdated, but for the essentials - getting started, equipment requirements, preliminary practice brush strokes, introductions to different lettering styles and the mechanics of basic layout - it’s a hard book to beat. Signwritten Art by A.J. Lewery (ISBN: 978-0715392737) This book won’t give you much in the way of practical instruction or teach you any new skills. Instead it presents an historical appreciation of the British signwriters’ craft 32 through the ages. Written by Tony Lewery, who has himself worked as a coach painter, signwriter and canal boat painter, the book is illustrated with many fine photographs and reproductions of signwriter notebooks dating back to the early 1900’s. It places us in a world decorated with painstakingly handpainted haulage lorries, gilded church boards, ornately lettered canal boats and eye-popping fairground rides, with the author affectionately arguing the case for what he considers an undervalued modern folk art. File under inspiration. Mastering Layout by Mike Stevens (ISBN: 978-0911380682) First published in 1986, this volume has gathered a strong reputation amongst sign painters. Once again, concessions could be made due to its age - ideas on design are prone to progression after all - but the lessons presented here still make a lot of sense. It’s the go-to guide for achieving effective sign layouts - taking in composition, spacing, mixing typography and design elements, negative space etc………. Sign Painters by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon (ISBN: 978-1616890834) We now arrive bang up-to-date with the 2012 released “Sign Painters” - a book that accompanies a documentary that appears to be spearheading something of a revival in the sign arts. It’s an extremely valuable book, not least because contemporary writing on the subject is so rare, and judging by its reception it should go on to inspire a new generation of devotees to go pick up a brush and start practicing. Essentially dealing with sign painters from the USA, presenting a series of artist profiles that are rich in insight. It manages to be both forward-thinking and nostalgic, funny and philosophical. How To Paint Signs & Influence People by Colt Bowden More of a zine than a book, I feel special mention should go to this worthy new addition - a series of handmade instruction pamphlets on getting started as a sign painter. Volume 1, released 2013, looks at how to paint your basic Egyptian alphabet along with guidelines on your basic tools to get started, all presented in a nicely hand-drawn, illustrated package. And cheap too! Cheers! Look out for this and future editions on the Colt Bowden etsy page - Beard and Butter. 33 Thanks SPECIAL THANKS TO LEE JONES FOR HELPING OUT WITH IDEAS AND SUPPLYING ME WITH INFO AND KNOWLEDGE, AND all his contributions toward the project. big thanks to steve blackwell for inviting me to his studio, teaching me a number of sign painting techniques and helping me OUT with photo shoots. thanks to VAUGHN JONES for an insight into sign paintings golden age. THANKS TO pAUL MAHONEY, JAMIE MILLER, & JASON BAILEY FOR THEIR HELP. Editor: Brandon Taylor Contributing editor: Lee Jones Photography, Illustrations & Layout Design by Brandon Taylor Brandon Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com