A FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND EXHIBITION
OF MORE THAN 60 WOMEN SIGN PAINTERS FROM 9 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD OPENING RECEPTION - September 8th 6-9 pm PANEL DISCUSSION - September 9th 2-4 pm OPENING HOURS - Sat. 12-5 pm Sept. 9th - 23rd CLOSING RECEPTION - September 28th 6-9 pm
“NOT TO BE MISSED” EXHIBITING SEPTEMBER 8th - SEPTEMBER 28th 2017
Curators Meredith Kasabian is a writer, editor, curator, and sign painter based in Boston, MA. She runs Best Dressed Signs with her husband, Josh Luke, and is co-founder and curator for the PreVinylite Society. Meredith holds an MA in English Literature from Boston College and is constantly expanding her research on the ways in which historical signage and applied arts inform the culture of our day. She often gives talks on the cultural and historical contexts of signs and is currently working on several Pre-Vinylite Society projects.
Shelby Rodeffer is a Chicago-based painter and commercial artist. Raised in Nashville, Tennessee, she embraces the human hand in both her personal and professional work. Her influence comes from folk art and representational art. Shelby’s most recent work deals with femininity, connection, and isolation through the use of female figures, structures, and letterforms. She is also fascinated by traditional sign making as a means of communication and as a practical form of artistic expression. Currently, Shelby can be found painting signs and participating in various public art projects.
Curatorial Statement The Pre-Vinylite Society is proud to present a group art show celebrating the work of more than 60 women sign painters from 9 countries around the world! This show, the first sign painting exhibition to feature women only, displays the talent of an international array of female sign painters with a wide range of experience and skill. With the current political climate in the United States and beyond, this exhibition offers a vital feminist statement that pushes back against the common belief that the field of sign painting, like many skilled trades, is the domain of men alone. The name of our show—The Pre-Vinylette Society: An International Showcase of Women Sign Painters —is a tongue-in-cheek reappropriation of the grammatical “ette” suffix, which typically denotes a female or smaller version of a male or more substantial (read: better) thing. As language is at the forefront of sign making, this show allows for more female voices to be heard than most historical and even recent surveys of the trade have acknowledged. By re-appropriating the “ette” formation, the women of the Pre-Vinylite Society are asserting their rightful place in the long tradition of sign painting and the lettering arts. The Pre-Vinylette Society’s International Showcase of Women Sign Painters features text-based works in enamel and gold leaf on wood, metal, or glass. The exhibition also showcases several murals on the exterior walls of the Chicago Art Department gallery, painted by a group of more than 20 international women sign painters (nicknamed “wallcats”). A panel discussion/audience Q&A with the curators and selected artists from several countries highlights the artists as working sign painters making a living in a historically male dominated field.
Editor’s Note As co-curator of this exhibition, it’s my honor to present the Pre-Vinylette Society’s Artist Catalogue for the International Showcase of Women Sign Painters. This catalogue includes interviews with many of the artists exhibiting in the show, who all answered the same six questions: •
How and when did you get started working as a sign painter?
What is your favorite thing about doing this kind of art and/or being in this trade?
What is your least favorite thing?
What does the future of sign painting look like to you?
What advice would you give aspiring women sign painters about making it in this field?
Do you have any other talents or interests outside of sign painting?
In editing these interviews, I was struck with the common threads that weave through them, despite the sign painters’ wide range of age, experience, and location. Some of the common themes are specific to the female experience, such as the need to balance home life and mothering with the demands of sign painting, while others are specific to skill and the meditative quality of pulling the perfect stroke. Several women learned the trade from their fathers and painting signs helps to keep the spirit of family close to their hearts. But the most common theme I noticed throughout the forty-four interviews in this collection is the positive and encouraging outlook on sign painting, as experienced by the women practicing the trade in several countries around the world. The spirit of camaraderie and support for their fellow sign painters comes through in every interview and the drive to be the best they can be is apparent in their words and their work. The future of sign painting is secure in the hands of the Pre-Vinylettes.
Alex May Hughes, London, UK
Alex May Hughes - UK Towards the end of my degree in 2012 I did a project about sign painting and was hooked. From there I found some London based workshops run by Sam Roberts at Better Letters and got an apprenticeship with Pete Hardwicke. I started working predominantly within the glass and gold leaf aspect of sign painting. I love using my hands to create things. I also really enjoy the wide range of tools and materials within the
craft. I find working with gold leaf truly captivating. I work with glass everyday which has two major drawbacks: smashing and glass cuts. But nothing too bad has happened yet! The community support and network aspect of sign painting is incredible. Itâ€™s great to meet more and more people (and more women) in this field so I hope it continues to expand and evolve.
I think itâ€™s really important to remain open to ideas, processes and jobs. Iâ€™ve found that saying yes to as much as possible often leads to bigger and more exciting things. I am Londoner born and bred and my biggest passion is exploring the city. I love learning about the history of buildings and different areas and seeking out the older pubs for beer and signs!
Alicia Jennings, Signs by Alicia, Spanaway, WA
Alicia Jennings - USA While attending Los Angeles Trade Tech College, taking the Sign Graphics course, the restaurant I worked at had a fire. It forced me to jump feet first into the sign business. Fifteen minutes after I lost my waitressing job, I had my first truck lettering job. My favorite thing about this trade is the freedom of being self-employed and using my God given talent to make a living. Other than accounting, I would say my least favorite
thing is when a customer doesn’t allow me to give them the design I think would work best for them. As for the future of sign painting, I would say mainstream sign work will be done by machines: cutters, printers, and online cheap signs, such as printed banners. But if we keep on painting signs, the market for the painted sign will continue because of the art form of the painted letter and its ability to evoke emotions.
A well painted sign grabs your attention like a beautiful woman walking down the boulevard in a red dress. It’s the old line, “Made you look!” My advice to aspiring women sign painters? Here it goes, “Hey Girl, get to work, get it done on time, and supply your own equipment!” I cook, garden, work on my trucks and I am as sweet as cherry pie to my husband of 25 years.
Alicja Polachek, Los Angeles, CA
Alicja Polachek - USA I started painting signs in 2004, some guys I knew worked in a sign shop and I was fascinated by the work they were creating. At the time I didn’t realize it could become a career, I just wanted to make things that I thought were beautiful. I was obsessed. I started painting and playing around with letters and I never looked back. I love that everyday is an opportunity to improve or apply my skill set in a new and exciting way. Receiving positive feedback from
a client, especially if the commission was a surprise, is also something I find extremely rewarding. I work mostly with glass so sometimes a piece may break during production or I’ll give myself a nasty cut. I’m learning to be more careful. I’ve been seeing a lot of modern color schemes applied to Victorian lettering lately, as well as the introduction of non-traditional materials being used in signage. With the booming resurgence, it’s given sign painters the
opportunity to take bigger risks with their designs. I’m looking forward to seeing more and more signs that are a little out of the box, for lack of a better term. The best advice I’ve ever received was to not take the work so personally, don’t get attached— just keep painting. IOAFS. And as with anything, don’t give up and take no shit! Sign painting rules everything around me but occasionally I like to get out and go for a ride on my motorcycle, read a good book or throw some knives.
Anna Weber, Astoria Signs, Astoria, Oregon
Anna Weber - USA My Dad is a sign painter so I grew up around the trade. He first had a studio in our garage, so I spent a lot of time with him as a young kid.
creative. I also think it makes a positive difference in a community to have hand painted signage. My least favorite thing is the paint fumes.
Our yearly family vacation was usually to a Letterheads meeting. I was always interested in what he was doing as a kid, so I picked up on a few things. I didn’t consider sign painting as my primary profession until my late 20s.
I’ve been really excited about more and more younger people becoming interested in sign painting. When I was in my early 20s, I was always by far the youngest person at sign painter meetings and now there are a lot of people my age and younger.
I like being able to work for myself doing something
My hope is that there become more ways for
young people to learn sign painting and continue making it into a career. I advise aspiring women sign painters to make it a point to reach out to women like Elaine Wallis and Nancy Bennett, who have spent their entire careers as sign painters. Right now my primary focus is my two year old daughter. I’m also in the midst of helping my brother restore a historic building in downtown Astoria, Oregon. It’s also my first year of having a garden.
Anne McDonald, Signs of Art, Christchurch, New Zealand
Anne McDonald - New Zealand At age 17, I worked as a sign shop assistant in the computer cut vinyl department. After 10 years I took on an apprenticeship as a screen printer. At age 30, I had had enough of the chemicals so I went to work for a vehicle graphics firm. While working there I heard about The Letterheads and attended my first meet in 2004. I met Jon Jordan, who showed me how to gild on glass and I was hooked!!! Over the last 13 years I have taught myself on weekends and through workshops. My passion is glass gilding and
I now teach while continuing to learn more myself. It’s a joy to share what I’ve learned and I’ve met the most incredible people. The trade is so varied and full of so many talented artists. My least favorite thing is being told that my female “assets” have helped me get work, or hearing that I’m unqualified because I haven’t done a traditional apprenticeship. I think the future will continue to be a collaboration of old and new techniques with advances in technology such as 3D printers and environmentally friendly
signage options. Modern vinyl and digital sign production has a huge waste problem with a large environmental footprint. Painted signs are generally kinder to the environment and I believe this will help keep them in vogue. “Never let the turkeys get you down!” Know your own strengths and weaknesses, stay focused on your goal and be the best you can be. I do lots of things, including embroidery, gardening, and public speaking. I also play Croquet competitively.
Ashley Fundora, San Francisco, CA
Ashley Fundora - USA Growing up in Miami, I was inspired by the Art Deco signage in Miami Beach and hand painted signs in Key West. It began informing my art from a young age. In 2012, I moved to San Francisco and landed an apprenticeship at New Bohemia Signs. I was eager to learn and they were seeking apprentices: timing was right! Learning from Damon Styer and my fellow sign-painters in the New Bohemia family created the strong foundation for the sign painter I am today. I love the fact that I am part of a larger brotherhood and
sisterhood of artists. We are carrying on an old craft and building a more beautiful community and landscape with hand painted letters.
painting having an even larger sisterhood and community of women sign painters passing down the craft to their daughters.
I love the physical challenges of sign painting at times. I believe it makes for a well rounded sign painter. The positions I have put my body in to get the perfect stroke are laughable. That being said, painting half inch letters on my stomach, backwards on glass, in the middle of the afternoon with the sun in my eyes: not my favorite.
My advice: work hard but donâ€™t be too hard on yourself. Practice the trade with respect, seek out support from your fellow sign painters and keep practicing and drawing letters by hand!
I see the future of sign
When Iâ€™m not painting signs, Iâ€™m painting people or watching films, surfing, taking hikes with my puppy Murphy, and playing tricks on people with my twin sister.
Christine DeShazo, Spectrum Graphics, Murphysboro, IL
Christine DeShazo - USA In 1977 I was a sophomore in Graphic Design at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. A fellow student told me the sign shop he worked at was looking for another designer and he thought I’d be a perfect fit.
degree at SIU was to train me to be an art director and illustrator, I found that I’m not good with repetition and sitting still. I love using my hands, whether brush or power tool. The sign business allows me do that.
I was hired and after designing a couple of logos and signs, they put a lettering brush in my hand. It seemed a natural from the start.
While I like making money, my least favorite thing is dealing with pricing. The future of sign painting is bright and making a wonderful resurgence. The passion that I see in young talented women and men coming into the trade is exciting! For women looking
My senior year, 1980, I left that business and started my own company. While my
to this trade I say explore all avenues and all of your talents! I have survived in a rural area, raised two children, and while not rich by monetary standards, I am so richly rewarded with the business I’ve grown, the friends I’ve made, and the self sufficiency and hard work ethic I’ve set as an example for my daughters. Outside of business, I like time with family, travel, all things creative, working with the Walldogs, and meeting outstanding artists from around the world.
Crystal White, San Francisco, CA
Crystal White - USA I only recently realized I wanted to paint signs. I’ve been practicing for a little over three years now. I grew up in a household full of lettering and gold leaf. Both of my parents are artists— they actually met in a sign painting class. I guess you could say it’s in my blood! My favorite thing about this trade is all of the people I have met along the way. Everybody is so weird and interesting. Everyone wants to help each other become better! Nobody keeps secrets and I have been trying to sponge up as much information as I can
and never stop learning. My least favorite thing is painting all day with the sun beating down. I never knew I could get so sweaty and smelly! I feel we are reaching a time when everyone is interested in having handmade and one of a kind items. My hope is that hand lettered signs reach past family owned businesses and more corporations use our services. A hand painted world would just look so much better. Don’t be afraid to do something even if you don’t know how to do it. There have been too many times
when I have been afraid to start a project or technique just because I didn’t want to mess it up and be thought of negatively by my peers and mentors. But you can’t move forward if you don’t let yourself. My interests outside of sign painting include cats, tea, and knitting. If I didn’t enjoy hiking so much I’d call myself a grandma at 22. Most of my time is spent practicing sign painting, but if it wasn’t, I would submerge myself into animal rights awareness and activism.
Darla Dee Hagensick, Darla Dee’s Hand Painted Signs, Corpus Christi, TX
Darla Dee Milner Hagensick - USA I was born a sign painter’s “snapper’s” daughter. As early as age 8, I patiently watched my father work. It wasn’t long until it was noticed that I showed a strong aptitude for the art. My willingness to diligently practice caught the attention of many burly sign men who were anxious to teach a little girl all they knew about the trade. I started an apprenticeship without knowing. I couldn’t get enough of all the dirty and unpleasant jobs they challenged me with. Without wavering or complaining,
I cleaned their brushes, swept shop floors, etc., all with one goal in sight. My fondest wish was to become a sign painter. By age 14, I accomplished that goal and worked alongside my father until his death. I feel closest to my father when I have a brush in my hand. There is something about a well painted, hand lettered sign that is simply magical. My biggest disappointment is that the general public doesn’t appreciate the art form.
After more than 57 years practicing the trade, I am optimistic with the renewed interest in quality sign painting. My advice is not to get discouraged when the general public doesn’t see value in the work you are producing. Stand your ground, get your price, and don’t give your work away. I have tried my hand at many things, but I always returned to hand lettering. I currently operate an airbrush t-shirt booth in Corpus Christi, TX and have built a very loyal following.
Debra Styer, San Francisco, CA
Debra Styer - USA I started learning about sign painting when I met my husband, Damon Styer, who owns New Bohemia Signs. Although I have a degree in illustration, I didn’t learn anything at school about sign painting or lettering, but have picked up little bits and pieces in the years since.
a space. There is a certain feeling of pride when I see one of the signs we made, bringing a business to life. As someone that works mainly behind the scenes, I think few people understand what sign painters actually do. We really need to educate clients about the process.
I became more involved with the business of sign painting when I started working as the assistant manager at New Bohemia, about three years ago.
More people are starting to crave things handmade. They’re understanding how much a good sign makes a business stand out.
I love seeing how much a great sign can totally change
It would be amazing to see what a difference great
sign painters could make, spreading art and design throughout the world. Keep at it, practice. Learn the history of the craft, and keep looking for inspiration. It is a lot of work, as the job incorporates a lot of different skills, but we’re fortunate to be part of a community that offers and values constructive feedback. Remember to share your work with others as much as you can. I’m also an illustrator and portrait painter with a love of history and literature.
Elaine Wallis, Signature Sign & Image, Niagra Falls, ON
Elaine Wallis - Canada In 1982, I graduated art school as a commercial illustrator at the height of one of the worst recessions in decades. Out of desperation, I lied my way into a job painting window posters for a local grocery chain, replacing the sign painter who quit in haste, leaving his kit behind. I wish I had the chance to thank the fellow for his brushes, maulstick, and handmade wooden kit, which I still have today. I have been faithfully active with the Letterhead movement since 1989 and it was the BEST thing I ever did. I am forever
indebted to this incredible network of colleagues and lifelong friends! I really hate dealing with customers who insist on using a bad design or make poor decisions based on low budgets and short sightedness. They never survive! As much as I’m excited to see a resurgence of hand painted signs, I fear that the masses will still seek fast, cheap solutions. I hope that those who do hand painted work seek TOP dollar for a craft and skill that few can master! NEVER devalue this art! Don’t be afraid to work outside of your
comfort zone. I rarely say no to opportunities. It stretches you to grow and learn. Don’t try to do everything. Find what you are good at and be GREAT at that! As my career in the sign business evolved, I went from sign painter to designer and art director. I really missed art—the paint and brushes. I opened a fine art studio where I work with acrylic paint on canvas, finding my way into abstract forms of expression. I have had the privilege of designing and leading 9 mural projects since 1997 with Letterheads and Walldogs.
Hannah Sunny Whaler, Bristol, UK
Hannah Sunny Whaler - UK I discovered sign painting towards the end of my degree in Illustration. Once I started getting into it, everything snowballed. After graduation, I was painting by day and working in a bar by night. I quit pouring pints two years ago and I’ve been full-time solo sign painting since. I love the variety, the client, location, requirements of the job, every sign is different and presents a new challenge. I’m constantly learning, building knowledge and experience. Learning feeds my creativity, as does being around people, working outdoors, and painting. It’s a very
expressive and therapeutic activity. The winter months can be really grim. Also, being self employed can be a battle. It’s brilliant 80% of the time, but there is an immense amount of pressure and stress. Sometimes I have to have a word with myself and remember: I.O.A.F.S! There’s so much energy and positivity in what we’re doing. Sign painters are growing out of many different backgrounds now—graphic design, illustration, scenic art, graffiti — this is creating a diverse and multi-skilled scene which lends itself to so many different jobs and
formats. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re a woman, just treat yourself with respect and confidence. Yes, you may get the odd hoot when you’re up a ladder, but if you do your job with skill and confidence people will soon forget to notice you’re female! I have to fill my head with new things and express myself creatively to stay sane. Having a busy schedule makes me realise that it’s about enjoying the simple things and remembering to pursue the personal stuff: spending time with interesting, inspiring, good people, reading, researching,
Heidi Tullmann, Handsome Hand Design, New Orleans, LA
Heidi Tullmann - USA When I was 22, I moved from Philadelphia to Panama to pursue farming. Financial planning wasn’t a strength yet, so when the farm was sold, I was left to barter. One of the hostels on the island needed signs, and I had drawn my fair share of bubble letters--though had never really painted. Over the next 5 years I lived in places like New York City and Detroit, where old hand painted signs are everywhere. They were my teachers until I met Eve at Mystic Blue Signs in New Orleans, who helped refine my craft and contextualize the process. My dad built me
an electro pounce around that time, and here I am! Helping someone legitimize their small business in a beautiful way can be an intimate thing, especially if they are trusting you with full design. I love the relationships I’ve built with people through collaborating around their passions. I love working with color! What I hate is the chemicals, absolutely. I hope the demand for handmade crafts continue to increase...Quality over quantity! I’d like to see the trade become accessible to formerly incarcerated folks as a way to earn a living
wage after coming home. Don’t worry about keeping up or getting good right away; get in touch with what you love about design and develop that; A good layout is more important than perfect letters; Find an older teacher and ask them for an apprenticeship. I’ve just been studying plant medicine and am trying to kick the city life. I recently got a vehicle, so my plan is to drive around the States for a spell, picking up painting gigs as I go. I’d love to sail and to grow things… my path is some sort of marriage of wind & earth.
Jennifer Konanz, Kobanz & Co., Alberta, Canada
Jennifer Konanz - Canada In 2013, I bought a few brushes and started messing about. I found a local sign painter who was looking for a part-time helper so I started out with him. About a year later I started my own business and now do a combination of design and painted work all over Alberta, Canada. I like being able to make other people look good! I like the collaborative design process, figuring out how to best transform the client’s design into a gilded window piece. Hand painted or gilded signs make a good
design look even better and I love the excitement on people’s faces when they see their sign. Because we have a definite cold season here, most of the gilding and outdoor work gets crammed into a few months between April & September so I run off my butt in the summer and then have a break when it gets cold. I think there will always be a demand for things done by hand. I see it moving from a trade-oriented practice to more of a high-end, artistic
endeavor, which is alright with me. Don’t undersell your work. Learn whose advice is worth listening to, and whose isn’t. Don’t underestimate the power of practice. Be open to challenges they’re opportunities for you to learn something new. I used to do copper etching and I would like to get back into that. We’re slowly setting up a permanent studio for both printing and painting. When I can, I like to get out to the mountains or take the canoe for a paddle. I also have 2 cats, Lionel and Leonard, whom I love dearly.
Joy Kjer, Art on Display Signs, Lincoln, NE
Joy Kjer - USA I took Computer graphic design classes at a tech college and loved it but didn’t really know where to go with it. In 2001, a fledgling sign business came up for sale so I dove in and bought it.
without these meets and the amazing, talented people I have met through them. I love that many projects can be multi-media.
It started as virtually all vinyl and some digital printing, but I discovered Signcraft magazine and wanted to start broadening my skills. Then I went to my first Letterhead meet and the world of possibilities opened up!
There are so many ways to provide a client with a sign: painting, carving, incorporating architectural details, etc. I refuse to stick to one medium. The more skills you have the more creative you can be. My least favorite aspect of this trade is when clients don’t place any value on design work.
The next step was a Walldog meet. I can’t imagine my life
I have been leaning towards more large scale wall painting
and really enjoy it. I’m thrilled that exterior painted signs are making a comeback! Go to a Walldog meet and interact with as many of the artists as possible and absolutely put your brush to a wall! The internet has exposed me to a lot of great sign artists and it’s a delight when I actually get to meet one of them. Outside of sign painting, I like to garden and create spaces in my backyard that provide a respite from the world. I also bicycle for exercise and pleasure.
Jules M, Heavy Letters, Los Angeles, CA
Jules - USA In 2015, I enrolled in the Sign Graphics Program at L.A. Trade Tech. I had no prior experience in lettering and didn’t know what to expect, but once we started learning how to paint our first gothic alphabet I was hooked! My favorite thing about being in this trade is the part where I get to paint. I also love that sign painting is creative but also practical. I like to feel useful. Having to work with mineral spirits and enamel paints is my least favorite thing. The fumes are a major downside.
There’s always going to be a need for signs. I want the art of hand drawn, hand painted signs to continue to flourish.
tradesperson. Remember, you’re the expert. Don’t let men project their doubts onto you.
I would particularly like to see it flourish outside of a niche for upscale (and gentrifying) urban neighborhoods. I feel optimistic about it; the beauty of hand painting is that anyone can do it.
I’m an herbalist and amateur botanist. I spend a lot of time in the mountains hiking with my dog and looking at plants.
Be confident and assertive when doing business. As with all trades, men dominate the field and sometimes as a woman I feel like I’m not being taken seriously as a skilled
I’m interested in woodwork and construction. For the last three years, I’ve been working at a woodshop that makes furniture by hand from salvaged wood. I love to draw, and I do handpoked tattoos. I want to make a comic this year.
Julie Auclair-Eikmeier, Graphic Jules, Santa Cruz, CA
Julie Auclair-Eikmeier - USA I’ve been a chalkboard artist since 2001. In 2012, I took a sign painting workshop at New Bohemia Signs. Once I started brush lettering, I was hooked and started incorporating it into my freelance work. Besides really getting into the zone and focusing on creating, one of my favorite things is giving the piece to a client. I love their reactions! I tend to be my own worst critic but they always come through with the biggest smile and praise. Seeing their dream through to completion is what gives me the most satisfaction.
My least favorite thing is prepping surfaces. Sometimes I just want to jump in but it takes time to seal, prime, and properly paint the background before you even begin lettering. Even though it’s my least favorite thing, it’s also one of the most important things and I never overlook it. A lot of companies want to show they care and put in extra thought about how a hand painted item will communicate to their customers. Taking the extra time to source an artist to make their sign or paint their windows shows that they
care for their business and support their community as well. Just go for it, start practicing. Find books and video for reference but don’t be shy about asking for help. One great thing about this community is everyone is very helpful and willing to offer advice and guidance. Besides sign painting, I love to learn new things with drawing, painting, and digital design. When I’m not making art I’m either in the Redwood Forest Mountain unicycling, rock climbing, or going for a coastal ride in our old VW Beetle.
Katie Cooper, Dapper Signs, Bristol, UK
Katie Cooper - UK I’m an arts producer (more specifically a theatre & performance producer), which basically means working with artists to make their ideas happen. Back in 2009, my partner James Cooper set up his sign painting business. I wasn’t involved, but I heard him talking about it, all the time— over morning coffee, during dinner, at the cinema. He was passionate and good at it but I could see the gaps in the business. It made me think “you need a producer” and that’s how I started. It was inevitable that I picked
up the brush along the way. My favorite thing about being in this trade is being creative. I’ve also met some amazing people from all over world doing this. I love being part of the community; it feels special, unique. My least favorite thing is the lack of understanding between graphic designers and signwriters. There has been a cultural shift towards independent, hand-made, local consumerism which links nicely with handpainted signs. That ethos looks like it is here to stay. Don’t be afraid to blag it.
Dapper Signs started out by making one sign then making business cards with “sign writer” written on them. Generally I think men are better blaggers than women and that sense of misplaced confidence can get you places. I like experiencing the world through artists and their work. I am constantly inspired and in awe of them. I like playing netball. I play for a team of ageing ravers called the Cowgirls and I love each and every one of them immensely and I love our sisterhood.
Kelley Bell & Shelby Wenzlaff, Ohio Sign Painters, Columbus, Ohio
Kelley Bell & Shelby Wenzlaff - USA Kelley ran away from home and joined the circus at 17. After a short stint as Houdini’s great granddaughter, a knife thrower’s target, and a snake charmer, in the early 1980s she was accepted as the showpainter’s apprentice. For the next three years she worked with many of the best commercial artists, sign painters, and airbrushers in North America. Kelley later returned to her hometown and partnered with her mother, Patricia Kelley, to open Kelley’s Designs. The mother/daughter team produced signage and print materials for the tradeshow industry for two decades. When Pat retired, Kelley’s
daughter Shelby began her apprenticeship. Kelley’s favorite part of her career is being part of a three generation team of women business owners. Kelley’s only complaint about the job is arthritis. Shelby would prefer the stability of a regular paycheck, a 401K and health insurance, but is learning to build her clientele and manage the cash flow. She loves being an entrepreneur. The hand painted sign industry is experiencing a grand renaissance right now. People want a local connection to the places they shop. Because of this, and because so many millennials are rejecting traditional
career paths in favor of rewarding entrepreneurial experiences, we have a perfect recipe to not only revive the trade, but take it to new heights. The keys to success in this business are multi faceted. It requires talent, drive, business sense, the ability to do sales, and a desire to learn. Connecting to your business community and collaboration with other artists are essential. Outside interests Kelley has include martial arts, guitar, water sports, camping, and travel. Shelby loves creative pursuits, jewelry making, fine dining, good friends, and board games.
Kelly Spencer, Wellington, NZ
Kelly Spencer - New Zealand I’d worked as an illustrator for some time and my work suddenly steered towards lettering and type. A super talented friend of mine sparked my interest in signs, and together we went straight to enamels on glass for a local coffee shop. From there I was hooked, and was fortunate to already have a broad client base willing to be convinced they needed hand painted signage. My favorite thing about sign painting is taking my workspace out of the studio and into other people’s worlds. I also love
the process of drawing a brush loaded with paint of perfect consistency along a smooth surface. My least favorite thing is the chemicals: enamels, brush cleaners, thinners. I can’t speculate on the future, but for now, I see society crying out for that which is made by human hands. Technology is capable of wonderful things, but I’m happy to be a part of re-strengthening our connection with the handmade. It helps to keep our hearts warm. Practice as much as you can handle,
start making personal work which aligns with what you want to get hired to do, show it to the world, and never under charge (unless it’s for your friends or charity). When people ask what I do I tell them I’m an illustrator, sign painter, artist, letterer, muralist. One day I will work out how to answer this in a way that doesn’t make their eyes glaze over. I also recently discovered an obsession with pottery— possibly my first creative hobby ever which isn’t also my job.
Kelsey McClellan, Heart and Bone Signs, Chicago, IL
Kelsey Dalton McClellan - USA The first sign I painted was for a friend’s bicycle shop in 2007. I continued to make signs, paint chalkboards, and produce other commercial work without realizing it was a trade. I studied painting and it seemed natural to use those skills to pay rent. Together with my partner, who had a similar background, we turned our skills and passion into a business in 2012. I love the practicality of sign painting and knowing that anyone can engage in the work. I also enjoy working outside, with my hands, and working with small business owners. I’m inspired by the individuality of the brush
stroke and its permanence. Playing bill collectors sucks. Other than that my main complaint is permitting. I’d love for sign painting to be an accessible and expandable trade for communities. There is a tone of novelty in the trade right now, but there are important design components in sign painting that can be applied in many circumstances. I’d like it to replace a lot of the bad vinyl you see peeling everywhere. Practice using the quill, practice patience and don’t get ahead of yourself. Take time to learn and listen. There are many people who
have been in the trade for a long time and your work is a continuation of theirs so it’s important to take an interest in them and the trade’s history. I’m a painter so that influences most of my creative outlets. I just finished graduate school and am interested in the use of signage as a tool of economic impact on small business districts throughout the U.S. I recently received a fellowship through the Academic Advisory Council for Signage Research and Education and am currently working on research related to that topic.
Liane Barker, The Brush & Pen Design Studio, Brisbane, Australia
Liane Barker - Australia I grew up around signage; my Dad started his business when I was four and I spent most of my spare time helping him in his workshop. I started my apprenticeship in 1981, as one of only a handful of female sign apprentices in the country. After winning top apprentice for Queensland, I went on to own my own business at 24 however I still had to prove my ability when working on the job..! I owe so much to my Dad, he instilled my passion for this amazing craft, he is my
mentor and best mate. The flexible hours and the ability to create something unique is the best thing about this trade, it’s definitely an ego buzz seeing your work on display. I hate that price wins over good design; the vinyl age saw many unskilled operators produce cheap and unsightly signs however I love the resurgence in traditional signage offered by so many talented and passionate signwriters determined to keep the craft alive. I believe this is our point of
difference from the ‘cookie cutter’ sign shops. I am grateful to have a successful career in signage, graphic design and now teaching so my advice is to find a mentor, ask questions, practice, practice, practice and attend as many letterhead meets and workshops you can find. I love all things creative; it’s oxygen for my soul! In my spare time I work with my daughter making props, costumes and displays for events, pageants and burlesque performances.
Marissa Cianciulli, Super Signs, Philadelphia, PA
Marissa Cianciulli - USA I opened Super Signs in 2016 as the first woman owned sign shop in Philadelphia. Super Signs was an active sign shop in the 70s but had been vacant for the past 10 years. I renovated the building and sorted through 30 years of old material, paint, paperwork, invoices, receipts, rubbish, and more. When the neighborhood saw that I had remodeled the storefront and was putting in work, clients started rolling in the door. Watching myself grow over the years has been very important for me. I love being
a local neighborhood sign shop. Meeting new people and working with some of the most wonderful people I have ever met has made a huge impact on me as a person. My least favorite thing is figuring out when to put the brush down and get some rest. One of the most difficult things about working as a single business owner is finding a system for juggling emails, phone calls, walkins, quotes, ordering, mockups, painting, delivery, and installation. Even since I started painting in the last few years Iâ€™ve noticed a wide
range of younger men and woman taking courses in sign painting and showing more respect for lettering and hand-crafted art over digital. There is no real right or wrong way to paint. Constantly practice. Donâ€™t be humble, just go for it. You are only going to keep improving. Wear a mask, seriously. Iâ€™ve always had a passion for vintage anything and everything. I have a 1982 Harley Davidson Ironhead and a 1971 Chevy C10 pickup truck, an 80s power ram, and a late 70s Chevy van project.
Meredith Kasabian, Best Dressed Signs, Boston, MA
Meredith Kasabian - USA My background is in English Literature — I never painted or even thought of painting until I started working with my husband, managing our business, Best Dressed Signs, in 2010. Although I’ve always been interested in art and my grandfather was a sign painter, I never thought about doing it myself until necessity overpowered insecurity and I began painting to help make deadlines. I now paint and gild large scale and on-site projects and I love it but I don’t have
an interest signs.
their way is the rule of law. You know who they are.
My favorite thing about doing this kind of work is getting to hang out in different places for a period of time. Boston has so many interesting and odd neighborhoods and it’s great to spend some time getting to know the locals before heading off to the next job somewhere new.
I think the future of sign painting looks amazing! Look at all the lady sign painters in this book!! I think the world is so inundated with digital everything that humans inevitably crave objects made by other humans and sign painting fits right into that.
My least favorite thing is prep work. I know, I know, it’s the most important step but it’s so boring! I also dislike egomaniac and bully sign painters who demand that
Outside of painting signs, I like to think and write about signs! I also love to cook, go to concerts, and hang out with my husband and cat.
Michelle Nguyen, San Francisco, CA
Michelle Nguyen - USA While I was in design school, I worked part time at a grocery store and helped with chalk signage. From there I found more chalk gigs — hitting up bars, restaurants, and special events. Paint was an intimidating medium for me so I never tried it until two years ago when my partner enrolled us in a sign painting workshop at New Bohemia Signs. After that I was hooked! I’m currently working at a grocery store again, but now I’m sign making full time. My favorite thing is the camaraderie.
People are so willing to teach and share advice, especially to those of us that are fresh in the game. I still have a great deal to learn and the community has yet to turn me away, even for the simplest of questions. Not having the availability and resources to have a mentor is my least favorite thing. I wish I didn’t have to worry about paying the bills and could have a master sign painter whip me into shape. I guess what I’m saying is I need to get better at whipping
myself into shape! People are coming back around for sign painting, painters and clients alike, enough that it should be more than short-lived hype. With sign painting so accessible these days (books + internet + hard work), I’m confident the community of painters will be more colorful than it’s ever been. Reach out to each other, ask a million questions, and don’t stop learning! I’m right there with you!
Miranda Ensink, Amsterdam Sign Painters, Amsterdam, NL
Miranda Ensink - Netherlands In 2011, my good friend and I painted a shop window with oil-based paint, not really knowing it was actually sign painting. In 2014, I joined a beginners’ course with Mike Meyer and Ash Bishop. From that day I was hooked. Together with the best mates in the world, we formed a group to start practicing and take on jobs. Our first assignment was the signage for the Volkshotel in Amsterdam. We practiced and studied, joined the Letterheads Meet in Rochester, looked for jobs and opportunities, and after
a few months it started to roll. The best thing about this job is actually making a design by hand. When you pull the brush on the last stroke, it’s finished. You get to interact with clients, make something beautiful for them, and not hand it over by computer. And although striving for the perfect result, it will always have that human touch. My least favorite thing is when I want to make or finish something in a certain way and know I will need some more training to do so. I would like to see sign painting taught in schools
again, to have it as a common profession and art, there on the streets as part of everyday life and public space. My advice is to just be there. Don’t pass on jobs of which you think men would do better. Work hard, study, practice, and most of all, have fun on the job. Other than sign painting, I like looking ahead and trying new stuff. I enjoy a variety of crafts like bookbinding, letterpress, and screen printing. I also like organizing events, business, and I’m very interested in food.
Olivia Trimble, Sleet City Signs, Fayetteville, AR
Olivia Trimble - USA I’m a second generation sign painter. I grew up watching my step dad paint signs, but never considered picking it up myself. After my second child, I took a hard look at my life and the desire to paint signs hit me like a freight train. I’ve been incredibly lucky with the jobs I’ve landed and I’ve 100% embraced faking it till you make it. There’s a certain dignity that comes with working with your hands. I love tackling a project that intimidates me and then working out the kinks! Coming out on the other end with a feeling of accomplishment is what
I thrive on. Ladders are my least favorite thing. EVER. The future of sign painting is female, duh. There will be times when it sucks. There will be times when it feels like hardcore manual labor. There will be sunburns. There will be sore legs. You might be patronized on job sites. Your knowledge will be questioned when you place orders or deal with a clerk in a lumberyard. Use those difficulties to fuel your journey. You’ll end up feeling empowered after you nail a hard project. You’ll feel empowered after showing that you DO know what
you’re talking about. You’ll feel proud that you’re kicking ass in a trade that has traditionally been dominated by men. Take the plunge! I’m passionate about local politics. I’m the state secretary for Arkansas NOW (National Organization for Women). I run an indie craft show where I give weirdo artists a platform to sell their art. I have a side project where I paint quilt blocks on the sides of buildings and panels. I like doing all the things, sometimes to the detriment of my sanity.
Rachel Millar, Glasgow, Scotland
Rachel Millar - Scotland I got into sign painting in my last year at Edinburgh College of Art in 2016. In my third year, I spent a semester at MassArt in Boston where I took a class in Hand Lettering for Design. I was taught the basics of constructing letters, calligraphy, and chalkboard lettering. With this solid foundation I had the confidence to paint letters and I haven’t looked back since! I love that every project and client is so varied. Learning new skills from every job makes it so exciting. Most of
the time I work in solitude. I would have loved to work in a sign painting shop years ago where apprentices and experienced sign painters worked side by side. At the moment there are very few experienced women sign painters for younger women to learn from. I hope that in the future there will be a balance of older male and female sign painters so that younger women see that it’s not just a male profession. Be confident! Don’t think
that there’s anyone more qualified to do a job than you, and give it your best shot! I spend a lot of my weekends climbing mountains and camping in the Highlands of Scotland. A friend and I started a group of women hillwalkers called ‘Mountain Burdz’ (bird means woman in Scottish dialect) to connect women who want to explore the Scottish wilderness. Now with more than 20 members we hope to see it grow further and encourage more women to get outside!
Remedios Rapoport, Portland, OR
Remedios Rapoport - USA I’ve always had a fascination for letterforms. After a cold winter, the gold leaf lettering dried and fell off the windows of the café/pub where I was showing my art and the owner asked if I could repaint it. I did the job with 1Shot paint, clear coat, and gold powder. That was in 1978. I like exploring interesting and creative ideas that help shop owners do well while making their location more beautiful. I enjoy drawing and coloring designs with lettering and decorative elements that will be satisfying to paint and see hanging in the community. Being on a wall job when it’s too hot or too cold and
I’m tired and need food, but I’m pushing to get the day’s work done. Then something happens to make the job go even slower, or some friendly person comes to chat and you need to be nice but not get distracted because the sunset is imminent! I think sign painting will continue as a handcrafted option because it’s effective and affordable. To me, it’s a form of public art but the message is driven by the client’s needs and then massaged by an artist to be effective and attractive to the community. This direct connection to the community will keep sign painting desirable.
Look for jobs where you can utilize imagery and letterforms you like. Play with design options that excite your creative interests. I have continually nurtured my fine art painting career while working as a sign painter. Over the past 30 years I have created a body ofwork called “The Gentle Revolution,” which advocates for positive change to protect our Earth and culture from destructive practices. My paintings are sculptures or layered panels, with found objects and motion, where I can use my sign painting skills to engage people with socially mobilizing work.
Remy Chwae, Los Angeles, CA
Remy Chwae - USA I started the Sign Graphics program at L.A. Trade Tech. in Fall 2012 and finished Spring 2014. I got my first official sign job during summer break in 2013 and have been hustling ever since. My favorite thing about this trade is being able to work for myself doing something that I love and make a living at it. My least favorite thing is when clients want you to compromise your expertise for a design aspect they want to include. Also, sign making is one of the most under-appreciated, yet most important things in the world. Without signs, you wouldn’t
know where you are or how to get anywhere. I’ve thought about the future of sign painting but it’s hard to say. The old-timers didn’t see the trade almost dying out but then it did, and then they didn’t see it coming back but it did. I’m just embracing and learning as I go, constantly trying to do the best and most honest work I can in the name of sign painting. Don’t be afraid to keep learning. As the only woman in my semester in the Sign Graphics program, comments like “She got an A
because she’s a girl” or “Do you want me to cut that wood for you?” pushed me to want to learn more, take more workshops, woodworking classes, etc. so I could be the best sign painter I can and to show those people that I earned that A. Also, keep practicing and honing your skill in layout. Outside of sign painting, I do solo long-distance thru-hiking and camping (anything outdoors, nature, and without internet or cell service), woodworking, portrait painting, and taking photos of ghost signs.
Artist List Alex May Hughes, London, UK
Jennifer Konanz, Alberta, Canada
Remedios Rapoport, Portland, OR
Alice Mazzilli (The Brushettes), London, UK
Joy Kjer, Lincoln, NE
Remy Chwae, Los Angeles, CA
Alicia Jennings, Spanaway, WA
Jules M, Los Angeles, CA
Shelby Rodeffer, Chicago, IL
Alicja Polachek, Los Angeles, CA
Julie Auclair-Eikmeier, Santa Cruz, CA
Suzanne Bircher, Dunn, NC
Anna Weber, Astoria, Oregon
Katie Cooper, Bristol, UK
Suzy Currell, Constantine, Cornwall, UK
Anne McDonald, Christchurch, New Zealand
Kelley Bell & Shelby Wenzlaff, Columbus, Ohio
Tone Emblemsvåg, Oslo, Norway
Ashley Fundora, San Francisco, CA
Kelly Spencer, Wellington, NZ
Trenely Garcia, Los Angeles, CA
Christin Louth (The Brushettes), London, UK
Kelsey McClellan, Chicago, IL
Tricia O’Neill, Gloucester, MA
Christine DeShazo, Murphysboro, IL
Liane Barker, Brisbane, Qld, Australia
Vanessa Power, Dublin, Ireland
Crystal White, San Francisco, CA
Marissa Cianciulli, Philadelphia, PA
Wendy Ibarra, Los Angeles, CA
Darla Dee Hagensick, Corpus Christi, TX
Meredith Kasabian, Boston, MA
Yvette Rutledge, New Orleans, LA
Debra Styer, San Francisco, CA
Michelle Nguyen, San Francisco, CA
Zara Gaze, London, UK
Elaine Wallis, Niagra Falls, ON
Miranda Ensink, Amsterdam, NL
Zulma Ruiz Diaz, Los Angeles, CA
Hannah Sunny Whaler, Bristol, UK
Olivia Trimble, Fayetteville, AR
Heidi Tullmann, New Orleans, LA
Rachel Millar, Glasgow, Scotland
Shelby Rodeffer, Finer Signs, Chicago, IL
Shelby Rodeffer - USA I majored in illustration in college, and I discovered lettering as a way to integrate words into my artwork. My obsession with letterforms grew as I apprenticed at a letterpress shop in Nashville. Once I became aware of the resurgence and need for hand-painted signs, I knew that was the right path for me. My favorite part is getting to affect my community. I get
to work a lot with local small businesses, and itâ€™s an honor anytime someone entrusts you with the responsibility of giving their project a visual voice. Muraling is a huge passion. Itâ€™s such a democratic form of art. My least favorite things are pricing signs and dealing with Chicago weather, which is rarely ideal for working outside.
The future looks more diverse. I think we will discover more genres of sign painting. Find the parts about sign painting that you love, and carve your own unique spot in the industry. I make hand-sewn and hand-painted masonic regalia banners, hand-built ceramics, and paintings as a part of my personal art practice.
Suzanne Bircher, She Paints Signs, Dunn, NC
Suzanne Bircher - USA I apprenticed in two commercial sign shops in Charlotte, NC in the mid 1970s and then started my own one-person sign business. In 1988, I closed my business to be a full time stay at home mom and help my husband with his machine shop bookkeeping. When I tried to start my sign business again in the early 2000s, I was in for a rude awakening. Sign painters were no longer in demand and computerized sign shops had completely taken over the industry. I spent a few years doing bookkeeping for a local sign shop and was
only asked to paint one sign while I was there. I love the satisfaction of creating a design or a layout that wasn’t there before. I also love the satisfaction of customers being happy with my work. Having creativity in one’s job and being self-employed is a real blessing, even if it isn’t always easy. Micro-managers that want to control every part of the creative process are so aggravating. I have no problem with trying to meet requests and acknowledging input for collaboration, but control freaks are exhausting. Sign painting used to be a common trade skill, like
electricians or plumbers; now it has shifted into the arts. Even though sign painting is shifting and changing a bit, I hope the new sign painters will cling to the standards of the past. The people that hire sign painters now are more discerning. Do what you love. Don’t do any job just “for the money” or the work will suffer. Sign painters can be women or men, I see no prejudice in this regard. Outside of sign painting, I enjoy wood working, sewing, cooking, and crafts. My biggest passions are sign painting and horses.
Suzy Currell, Muddy Creek Signs, Constantine, Cornwall, UK
Suzy Currell - UK I painted the name on the boat I was living in and really enjoyed it, so decided to be a sign writer. I had no idea how much I didn’t know!
do apprenticeships or come up through trade schools, but this working-out-how-todo-it-from-scratch is also a strength.
My favorite thing about sign painting is being able to spend most of my working time on my own. My least favorite thing is having to spend most of my working time on my own.
We have so much to learn from the traditional way things were done, and I wish I’d had more of a grounding in the traditional skills, but making stuff up as you go along is a great driver of creativity.
There’s a bit of grumpiness from some of the “old guard” about up-and-coming sign writers not knowing the “right” way to sign write, in the sense that they didn’t
I think more of us nowadays are ex aspiring artists and/or graphic designers, bringing in a great rush of new enthusiasm for lettering
styles or colour. Also, the internet means we’re sharing new styles and influences and work from all the corners of the globe so much more easily, and customers are also full of enthusiasm for exciting new ideas. My advice for aspiring women sign painters is to start a good decade or two before you have kids... like I didn’t. My other talents or interests outside of sign painting? Revolutionary politics and fomenting sedition. I also grow prize winning courgettes, I mean zucchini.
The Brushettes, Christin Louth & Alice Mazzilli, London, UK
Alice Mazzilli & Christin Louth - UK In 2014, the Brushettes were formed at a sign painting workshop in London. Following the workshop, we continued to meet up to practice. After a year of honing our skills through workshops and practice, we started taking on jobs and the Brushettes have been leaving their mark on London since! Some of the things we like best are those moments between you and the brush when you pull out that perfect stroke. It’s so satisfying to be able to construct and paint letters in ways that have been done for hundreds of years. As for the trade, you
can’t beat the international community of signwriters. They treat you like family by welcoming you into their group, taking you under their wing, and sharing their amazing skills, all while being the most humble, talented people you’ve ever met. Our least favorite things are bad kerning, labeling scripts and hand lettering as fonts, and of course vinyl! We think we’re at an interesting turning point where people are starting to appreciate the craft of hand painted letters more than the value of vinyl stickers. We hope the momentum carries on and that people continue to want
signs with that human touch. Pick up a brush and practice, practice, practice. Befriend every signwriter you can find and join groups on Facebook. Consider traveling to meet them and spend some time working with them if possible. It helps to have a network of signwriters to lean on. Alice is a full time calligrapher, palaeography geek, literature enthusiast, and enjoys walking. Christin enjoys studying lettering, collecting sign and letter books, hunting for the best coffee, and raising her creature (toddler daughter).
Tone Emblemsvåg, Oslo, Norway
Tone Emblemsvåg - Norway I trained as a display and set designer for theatre so writing letters has always been part of my work, both in my commercial work and in my work as a mural artist.
painted sign. My least favorite thing about sign painting is badly painted signs, bad typography and layout.
I don´t make signs for a living anymore; I work as a designer and artist but I am still exploring my hand lettering skills and how I can keep using it as part of my artwork.
Even though it´s not so often anymore that I paint signs for shops, painting letters will always be part of my work. I am also very inspired by the fact that the trade lives on through the talented sign painters of today and in this exhibition.
I love them, them. time I
I think the new trend in restaurants and shops is to see the value of a hand painted signs and good
letters: the shape of drawing them, writing My heart jumps every see a beautiful hand-
looking chalkboards. I’d advise women in this field to work hard, always keep to the deadlines, and sometimes it´s better to do a couple of jobs without getting paid than to not paint anything at all. Keep at it, look at other peoples work and use your inspiration to produce. Although my everyday job now is Head of Design in a commercial agency, I still try to find time to paint murals, draw and make animations, VJ and sometimes also DJ.
Trenely Garcia, The Clover Signs, Los Angeles, CA
Tre Gee - USA My mentor Blosm needed an assistant for a job and she knew I was taking the Sign Graphics class at Trade Tech so she approached me about it. It was March 2015. I was in my third semester and she called up my instructor and asked for me to be excused from class early for a live job. For the next few days, after I finished my class work for the day, I took off and that was a wrap. I began working with her and getting my own live jobs after that. My favorite thing about sign painting are the brushwork, being face to face with the
wall, and getting to design beautiful layouts and color schemes. My least favorite things are lettering a bad layout and stubborn and indecisive customers. Ugh, really grinds my fixed gear! The future of sign painting looks like art, like something sacred I would say. My advice is to keep that brush wet and keep it moving. Sketch daily and have an alphabet for breakfast. Stand your ground and respect yourself and the trade. A good friend told me good things
come to those who hustle. So paint with confidence, xicas! I tattoo and paint real/ surreal/psychedelic/ abstract murals with both brush and aerosol. I love photography and recording, silk screening and comic strips. I love writing. I love sharing my skills with all the younger people in my neighborhood. I am part of a W.O.C collective called Ni SANTAS. We create a safe space, rewriting our stories through socially conscious art. We are all about love and sisterhood, nurturing our artistic skills.
Tricia O’Neill, Signs Unique, Gloucester, MA
Tricia O’Neill - USA I had a strong desire to earn a living in art and began studying calligraphy after high school. In 1981, I discovered that Butera School of Art in Boston offered a two year program in the art of hand lettering and quickly enrolled for the following year. I like the fact that each day is different. I enjoy, even revel in, being in different environments—consistently inconsistent suits me perfectly. Plus I love being able to support myself in a creative realm. As I get older I don’t enjoy how physically demanding sign painting can be. When Fenway Park underwent its
expansions, I did all the hand lettering in the park. The demanding schedule, the cold, and all the equipment I had to lug around took a toll. I was thrilled to be there—it is Fenway Park after all—but it took me ages to recuperate each spring. The recent resurgence of hand lettering leaves me optimistic about the future of sign painting. It seems there’s a balance between modern and traditional techniques—both are needed and relevant. My advice is to work for yourself. Although it’s daunting at first, going out on your own affords you such freedom, both creatively
and personally. The difficulty of being a woman in a male dominated career has subsided greatly. I think that women who’ve been sign painting for many years have helped break down those stereotypes. After many years in the sign business, I decided to get my undergraduate degree in photography. My sign business funded my education. Now I’m working on a project documenting old signs along U.S. Route 1, paying my own photographic tribute to the sign makers who came before and who are every bit the artist as anyone with a fine arts degree!
Vanessa Power, Signs of Power, Dublin, Ireland
Vanessa Power - Ireland I started working as a sign painter in 2015. I was working in web design and needed a career change so I put down the mouse and picked up a brush!
surfaces, and challenges. I can’t get bored.
I always had an interest in type and lettering.
I think the future of sign painting is looking pretty bright, most certainly in Dublin.
I was drawing words and phrases while sitting at the computer so it seemed like a natural transition for me. I just love working with my hands. And I love how every job is so different—different artwork, locations, clients,
My least favorite thing about the work I do is painting on unprimed old brick walls!
There’s a real appreciation for the craft again, which is fantastic! And there are more people getting into sign painting. The more people painting
signs the better, I think. Just go for it! Practise loads and tell everyone you meet you’re a sign painter and ask them if they need a sign. The work will start coming in. I love reading and travelling, exploring new cities, discovering their signs and checking out the galleries.
Wendy Ibarra, Piña Signs, Los Angeles, CA
Wendy Ibarra - USA I started working as a sign painter when I started the Sign Graphics program at LATTC in 2014. Being around paint is relaxing for me. I also enjoy being able to work at different places doing different projects rather than being stuck in one place. I don’t like routine.
My least favorite thing is when I accidentally spill paint on job sites. It seems like more people are appreciating a hand painted sign over a banner made with vinyl. The future of sign painting looks promising.
I’m just beginning myself, but the advice I would give is to go for it and don’t doubt yourself. You can do the job! Outside of sign painting, I would like to learn more about custom culture like metal flaking.
Yvette Rutledge, Mystic Blue Signs, New Orleans, LA
Yvette Rutledge - USA In 1973, I walked into a sign shop in Burlington, VT and said: “I could learn to do this.” The owner of the shop said, “Here’s the brush, here’s the paint, here’s how they work together. Now go home and learn Helvetica.” I had always been interested in handwriting and had done brush and pen calligraphy so I never saw a separation between the different branches of lettering, and integrated them all into my work. My favorite thing is the variety—every customer needs a different kind of image so the challenge is finding that image and making
it work in all the contexts the customer needs. My second favorite thing about this trade is cheerleading for hand lettering. Every day I get to talk to people from other places about hand lettering and the tactile and organic elements that make it so different from digital graphics. My least favorite thing is that now I have to wear glasses and be careful about sunburn. Also emails because I don’t type well. I prefer direct contact. As long as people are interested in learning the skills and the public supports our work commercially, I see
no reason why sign painters can’t continue. If we don’t want to just reproduce what graphic designers bring us, we have to develop a reputation for our design. First, know that being a woman is an asset. Don’t let anyone pretend it’s a liability. Second, learn the basics and take the advice of other sign professionals with a grain of salt, especially if it begins with “You can’t…” I hand engrave and make jewelry and do commissioned calligraphy. Since 1993, I’ve been making music with my husband, Vince, in a band that blends reggae, AfroCuban, jazz, and folk.
Zara Gaze, London, UK
Zara Gaze - UK My father was a sign writer so I grew up around hand painted lettering. I loved his unapologetic mess of a studio: reference all over the walls, paint spattered everything, music always playing. The only vinyl in his space was his extensive record collection. By age 21 I was working as a sign writer full time. Just as my enthusiasm for it was taking off, my dad died. Despite being one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known, he said he felt like he had never done a day’s work in his life. I inherited that love for it, and continuing the
craft feels like I’m keeping him close by. I like that sign painting can branch off into pictorials, murals, or glass gilding, while continually holding my interest. But the absolute best thing for me is the trance-like state of calm painting can induce. My least favorite thing about sign painting is unattractive fingernails. The enthusiasm of the artists and the willingness of the experienced to share knowledge through online groups, social media, and international meets means the already high standard in sign painting can only power
ahead. The sky’s the limit! Become obsessed. Learn all you can from books, online tutorials, and other painters but nothing compares to what you will gain from practise. Also, think hard about how much you need to charge to make it viable for you. Once you know, don’t ever sell yourself short. I’ve travelled extensively with my work as a sculptor. I make large-scale ephemeral sculptures at festivals and expositions using sand, snow or ice. I’m also a single mother of a six year old boy, who is easily my finest creation.
Zulma Ruiz Diaz, Che Signs, Los Angeles, CA
Zulma Ruiz Diaz - USA I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina and I’ve been living in the USA for 4 years. I’m in the LA Trade Tech sign painter program.
things every day, learning techniques, and meeting people who love this as much as I do. I never cease to marvel at the talent of others.
My fabulous and talented teachers, Doc Guthrie and Carlos Aguilera, offer their knowledge without receiving anything. I started in 2016 and I will finish by the end of the year. I have done some work but I am still not dedicated to sign painting full time.
As I am very new in this field, I think that the thing I like least is to get clients. I have something like panic since I have been in this country for 4 years and my English is not very good. But I have to be brave and go out and get them!
My favorite thing is to paint! But also discovering new
I think sign painting has a lot of future! I hear many times
that it is an art that is dying in the hands of vinyl, but I believe and see that it is now in full growth. Who does not like to have something unique and made specially, that has added value by being made by hand? Being new, what I can advise is what I am already doing, studying and learning from the painters who are already doing it. I spend all my life at sewing and I can say that I’m very good at it, but I hope to be better as a sign painter.
BrUSH LIKE A GIRL
rightwaysigns.com | email@example.com
Catalogue design by Liane Barker, Queen of Layout, Prop design and Pin-Up Costuming
traditional signwriting | graphic design | hand lettering
instagram | @brushandpenstudio
email | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Pre-Vinylite Society is a loose network of self-ordained sign enthusiasts and advocates for a renewed interest in craftsmanship and the aesthetic built environment. The aim of the Pre-Vinylite Society is to encourage sign painters, sign enthusiasts, artists, writers, business owners, and the general public to be more aware of their aesthetic surroundings and take pride in their neighborhoods by creating, commissioning, writing about, and appreciating quality signage, art, and architecture.
The name “Pre-Vinylite” is derived from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of 19th century English artists and writers who rebelled against the academic conventions of their day. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood defied the tradition passed down from Raphael that taught a strict approach to producing paintings. They felt that merely conforming to the conventions of previous masters made for art that was devoid of emotion because it lacked a sense of humanity and creativity.
The PRB detailed their ambitions in four simple declarations, a) to have genuine ideas to express, b) to study nature attentively, so as to know how to express them, c) to sympathize with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote and, most of indespensable of all, d) to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues. The Pre-Vinylite name also connotes the period before vinyl technology nearly decimated the hand-painted sign industry in the 1980s and serves as a commemoration of this pre-vinyl era, but not a wish to return to it. Despite the emphasis on a bygone era that “pre” suggests, the Pre-Vinylites are not a society of Luddites, shunning technology or advocating for a return to a “simpler” time. Pre-vinyl does not equal antivinyl. The Pre-Vinylite Society aims to inspire a sharper cognizance of the aesthetic built environment and a desire to create and appreciate new, forward focused art that respects the traditions and techniques of the past. Much like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood from whom we derive our name, the Pre-Vinylite Society is made up of members who are observant of the aesthetic world around us and resistant to traditions that dictate easy, quick, and careless ways of making our art. Also like the Pre-Raphaelites, we Pre-Vinylites are writers and artists, striving to make our mission heard as well as seen. Ultimately, the Pre-Vinylites believe that artistic vigilance in the face of mass conformity can deliver us from a homogenous existence.
We are aware. Pre-Vinylites Unite. www.previnylitesociety.com
Cover design: Shelby Rodeffer Layout Design: Liane Barker Editor: Meredith Kasabian