For designers at Sequence, staying inspired is part of the job. When we’re not creating innovative design solutions for our clients, we’re sniffing out interesting things to see and do on our down time. An example of this constant quest for coolness is when a group of us recently took a crash course in the art of hand painted signs at New Bohemia Signs. The intense 2-day workshop took us through the tools of the trade, the basics of hand lettering, and how to go about designing and painting a sign. Under the wise tutelage of Damon and Caitlyn, we all walked out with our own hand-painted sign and a newfound appreciation for this fascinating craft.
After a quick tutorial on how to prepare our lettering quills and a rundown of some basic strokes, it was time to get down to business. Our first challenge was to paint “casual” letterforms. Slightly italic with nuanced widths, this particular style is versatile and meant to be painted quickly. Believe us, though: it’s harder than it looks.
The second half of the day was devoted to clean and austere Roman letterforms, which required even more care and subtle brush twisting to get those perfectly square terminals. I won’t say who, but some of us may or may not have had Roman letter stress dreams that night.
Day 2 was all about taking our sign sketches and turning them into the real thing. First, we took our sketches and scaled them to the size of the boards we would eventually paint. Some of us came prepared with Illustrator files that could be scaled up and printed out on the plotter. Others went old-school and hand sketched their designs.
After that, we stenciled our designs onto 10”x24” medium density plywood. To do this, we perforated the designs, using either the built-in setting on the plotter or the delightfully frisky-sounding Electro-Pounce (imagine a pen filled with electricity instead of ink), then “pounced” chalk over the holes. Pull away the paper, et voila, a subtle chalk outline of the design.
The only thing left to do was take the plunge and lay paint onto board. If this sign painting workshop was a Karate Kid movie, the previous day-and-a-half would resemble a synth-heavy 80s training montage, and this would be the final fight scene. Basically, the concentration in the room was so intense you could taste it.
And now, a few thoughts from some of the participants!
What drew you to sign painting in the first place?
Leslie (Sr. Visual Designer): I love typography and never seem to have enough time to practice drawing type. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn a specific type-related skill set.
Tom (Sr. Visual Designer): My love of typography and classic font styles and treatments.
Karin (Associate Experience Director): I love creating with my hands. In the work that we do these days, everything is done on the computer. I feel like using your hands to create engages our brains in a very different way than say “drawing” on the computer. I like the physicality, permanent nature, and fluidity of painting, especially where it involves typography.
How did you come up with your sign design?
Leslie: I had a variety of quotes from favorite books and characters.
Tom: I wanted something inspiring and eye catching for the creative area but not overly ambitious (skill and technique wise).
Karin: I recently got engaged and wanted to do something that I could use in my wedding but also create something meaningful to me that could stand on its own. My design conveys exactly the way I’m feeling right now (and hope to feel many years to come).
What was the most surprising or interesting thing you learned in the class?
Leslie: Sign painting is an art, a craft, but it’s also very much a business. You can labor and spend days painting details on beautiful design piece, but at the end of the day it’s not a sustainable model.
Tom: The electro-arching method before chalking a design was interesting.
Karin: The most surprising thing was how hard it is to hand letter! I have a much greater appreciation for hand lettering now (and it was high before). The most interesting thing was the mahl stick, an ingenious invention for keeping your painting hand off the surface.
What was the highlight of the class for you?
Leslie: All of the fumes. Just kidding! I really enjoyed working on the practice sheets, actually. I wish we had more examples (different typefaces/sizes) to learn from. I also loved seeing their shop space. Tons of really great inspiration up on their walls!
Tom: Adding the pinstripes along the edges of my board with a special brush called a lettering sword. (I think.)
Karin: Two highlights – after a full day and a half of practice, a highlight was finally getting to paint our actual sign, paint on wood! That was exciting. The other highlight was watching and learning about the craft from Damon and Caitlyn, both extremely talented.
Will you continue to hone your newfound sign painting skills?
Leslie: Alas, no. Not enough time to practice!!!
Tom: Possible. If they offer a 2nd level class I’d be interested.
Karin: I would like to think so…but realistically I may paint one more sign and that will probably be it unless I decide to take another class. Sad but true.