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Traditional Sign Writing

Advances in technology often enable us to do things in a better or more sustainable way.  A good example in sign making is the use of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) which have pretty much replaced the traditional use of neon and fluorescent tubes for illuminating signs.  LEDs require considerably less maintenance, are more flexible, a lot easier to transport and offer significant savings on running costs. Sometimes however the traditional methods can’t be beaten and for me good quality traditional sign writing falls into this bracket.

For the production of the sign at Knop Law Primary School (photo above), full size templates were cut from our digital artwork and placed in position on site.  Each letter was then outlined in chalk and then hand painted to the RAL colour specified using 2 coats of paint.  Applied externally, this process is weather dependent and so visits to site had to be fitted around our lovely British summer, which threw up its usual challenges !

We have recently been surveying a well established College, with a view to developing a new external sign scheme for them.  During site visits I kept stumbling across hand painted signs, all made differently and seemingly drawn by different hands.  It turns out they used to run a sign writing course (sadly now defunct) and our journey around the site revealed some great examples of the craft — the skills of the sign writer and the construction of the signs, all be it they are now a little worn.  It’s also interesting to see how they’ve chosen to word the messages — I have to just chill over the use of “By Order” and words set in capitals and appreciate the craftmanship !

Examples of signs found around buildings which used to be used for a sign writing course

Don’t assume all who call themselves sign writers are any good.  I remember being involved in the signing of a major new court building in Yorkshire about 15 years ago.  All the signs in the cell areas had to be hand painted for prisoner safety.  A local sign writer was commissioned to do the work (it was a quite a large part of the package) which was specified by letter size and typeface.  Unfortunately they reeled off all the signs without preparing any templates and the end result was shocking, mis-matched letterforms not in any recognisable typeface or weight.  Following some careful research a second company was employed to re-do all the signs which had to be painted over the top of what had already been done.  Problem solved and lesson leant…good sign writers are worth their weight in gold !

1 Comment
  • David Mearns

    Reply November 14th, 2011 1:43 pm

    Worth our weight in gold, wow thanks. As a signwriter for over 25 years i still take my brushes out today. It is very interesting how the use of lettering has changed over these years, back on those days most lettering was signwritten in capitals, becasue it is quicker to do. Signwriters had their own fonts or verions of other fonts and some with beautiful characteristics. Back in the 1980’s we used to be able to recognise other signwriters work quite easily becasue of the writers fonts. The use of arrows has also changed, back in the days most arrows were very long with a small point, whereas now they are small and ‘to the point’, ie very legible. I do shudder when is see those long arrows today as it shows that some people havent moved on, which in some case is a good thing too.

    Here on the Isle of Wight there is a lot of traditional signwriting and long may it continue for as long as i have my brushes…

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