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Matt (almost) black masonry paint on rendered exterior wall at Dundee Contemporary Arts 2018
Hand lettering is alive
Signwriting is more than painting letters with a brush. It is a craft; and when executed well, it’s extraordinary.
Similar to each individual’s handwriting, brushed lettering has personality. The aesthetic of painted letters will add character to an otherwise generic type design. Hand lettering will evoke a mood which is tricky to replicate solely with the aid of a computer. Countless ‘hand lettered’ digital typefaces are available, but they struggle to emulate the real thing.
Techniques used in producing traditional signwriting takes years to learn. Understanding how to paint letterforms of all varieties using these techniques, can take a lifetime to master.
Cutting in the big letters at Dundee Contemporary Arts 2018
Make your signs unique
In recent years, there has been a resurgence in interest for traditional signwriting. As well as demand by independent designers, agencies, shops and retailers.
The craft is recognised as such and injects a special touch for exterior signage, interior displays and visual branding. In addition to vintage and retro projects, pleasure vehicles and honours boards for clubs, schools and organisations.
Traditional signwriting in Dundee is rare but can be used to great effect, most notably for large exterior wall lettering. Often, there is no other practical or cost efficient method to create large lettering or graphics, especially on textured surfaces.
Another benefit of choosing painted lettering is that almost any colour can be matched. This enables an identical finish for the lettering when there has been other painted colours used in the lettering’s vicinity.
23 carat gold leaf laid on painted gold sized lettering before tidying and burnishing
Styles, effects and finishes
Most signwriters have a recognisable lettering style, unique to their own skills and preferences. Unlike computer generated lettering, nuances are apparent when hand lettering is examined. This can be intentional or due to the execution of the brush painted letterform.
There are also many effects which can be applied to painted lettering such as dimensional qualities, colour fades and a variety of shadow forms. These additional options can be widely used across decorative lettering. Especially popular for that fairground look.
Conversely, lettering can be closely replicated at scale from a minimal design when necessary. However, there is still the apparent hint of the craftsperson’s individuality and the warmth that the brushed letter portrays. This is the magic contained within.
Choosing finishes such as 23 carat gold leaf is also popular for adding a luxurious quality to the lettering or effect. Glass gilded gold and variated leaf is the pinnacle of hand painted lettering.
Hand lettered enamels on restored Morris van
Restoring original lettering
A perfect complement for the heritage of your vintage vehicle restoration, is reinstating hand lettering and pinstripes. Especially on commercial vehicles.
There is a certain distinction for vintage vehicles which benefits from signwriting. Researching typefaces used in the vehicle’s original era; how lettering and effects were designed and painted; as well as colour combinations which are all vital for authenticity. Special attention should be invested for show models which travel nationwide to delight enthusiasts.
Preserving this spirit is a salute to the tradition for all who have lettered them before.
Enamel on gloss painted fibre glass
Grasping brushes and mixing paints
Critical to the success of hand lettered signs is knowledge of coatings and how to use them. With so many different surfaces, it’s essential to select the correct materials to use.
Oil and water based primers, undercoats, gloss paints and varnishes are all readily available for most paint receptive surfaces. But not all are suitable for handling with a lettering brush. Equally, not all colours coat evenly or hold their brilliance in exterior conditions. The signwriters’ experience helps identify available alternatives.
Understanding how long painted signs and lettering can last in direct sunlight or exterior conditions, saves time and expense. In addition, it is wise to schedule maintenance or the inevitable rejuvenation of worn paint.
Refurbishment of an original fibre glass Dundee coat of arms
So much more than painted letters
Equipped with the knowledge which a signwriter possesses presents opportunities for bespoke projects which don’t include lettering.
Such as illustrations, murals, mirrors, glasswork and a multitude of lining and striping of surfaces. There’s even the odd occasion when an airbrush can be dusted off for highlights and blending colours.
For more information about signwriting, contact me to discuss how I can help with your next project. Or visit the Signmakers Guide for expert tips and articles to help you with your hand lettering.