Designs on Signs - Hand Painted Signwriting

Traditional Hand-painted Sign
Here's a recent example of a sign-writing commission. This sign is for a new beauty therapy business Beauty Spot, in the Norfolk town of Dereham. The sign is on a (recycled) piece of solid oak. It is all hand-painted, not a stencil in sight! I don't market myself as a sign-writer, but I do accept occasional commissions for signs. This type of work mostly comes about either through recomendation, or if people have found about my canal art work.

The brief for this project was quite simply to make an exterior sign to a certain size, to incorporate lilac, the business name and phone number. The construction, design, layout, colour combinations and lettering style were up to me!

Signs have a utilitarian purpose, and must be legible. There is a little bit more involved in designing a sign than just painting some neatly set out lettering, though. For example, the style of lettering, graphic layout and colour scheme, should be appropriate. The materials used should be fit for the purpose - you dont want a sign with paintwork that blisters or quickly fades/peels, or a sign that warps.

The sign should convey the important information clearly and logically. With this sign, I opted for a lilac background colour. I chose to do the business title in a clear, "soft feminine" italic style of lettering. I used a narrow, contrasting black shaddow around the white lettering to make the business name stand out against the lilac background, giving an embossed effect over distance. I chose to do the phone number a simple strong black, bold sans serif lettering. To add balance and interest to the design, I added a white "scrollwork" filler/divider, underlining the business name. I did not give this the same "embossed effect" to "match" the white lettering. This content was much less important than the business name and phone number, so I wanted it to fall back to the background. In designing the sign, I tried to ensure the sign could be read clearly from as greater distance as possible, especially given there was a size limitation. I intentionally included a full-stop, as a play on the words "Beauty Spot".

Whenever I do work like this, I start taking more notice of all the signs I see about me in the built environment. One "professional" roadside hung vinyl sign I recently noticed was filled with vast amounts of information, more like a business leaflet than a sign. To read any of the information on the sign, you would have to be stood right below the sign. There was poor graphic layout with blocks of text spaced out at untidy intervals. There are some fantastic modern vinyl signs about. But there are also some appalling ones! I wonder if, in some cases, people have bought the software and equipment, so therefore are "sign-writers". A bit like "I have just bought Dreamweaver therefore I'm a web designer syndrome". Perhaps they are victims of clients demands, but a true professional sign-writer would not oblige with such poor graphics and excessive content. I am not a professionally-trained sign-writer, and I know I would not.

Check out this fabulous collection of photos of traditional hand-painted signage from the Flickr group Signpaintr, which I found via a post on the fascinating NoRelavance.com blog.

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