typography October 13, 2019

Hand painting signs: making a strong comeback

Lately, I’ve been spending so much time at the computer, that it’s been hard to enjoy it. Between school and working, I find that – even though I’m doing what I love – it isn’t as rewarding. So, when I see designers trying to escape the computer and going back to manual work, I can relate

One of the techniques that are popping up lately is hand painting signs. There are a handful of reasons why it has become so popular recently, and why so many are choosing to go down that road. For once, it allows for a manual, more personal approach to a client’s work which is a great reason. Secondly, when a graphic designer turns into a sign painter, there’s perhaps a deeper connection and understanding of typography. 

It’s the feeling of keeping a traditional, oldy but goldy profession alive. Historically, with the introduction of new technologies, many professions were absorbed and dissolved, so it’s good to see that some managed to survive, and are respected and embraced again.
Lastly but not least, reconnecting with some physical tools allows for a better understanding of how and why software emulates those original tools.

HalfStudio Signs: a hand painting signs studio

Particularly in Portugal, HalfStudio Signs is a great example of designers embracing hand painting signs.
Mariana Branco and Emanuel Barreira decided to create this studio in 2012, inspired by their passion for typography and for the search to learn more about this almost extinct tradition. Over time, they conquer their space in the market and now work for national and international clients. 

Even though their visual language can be characterized by the use of three-dimensional letters and vibrant colors, they don’t intend to follow the classic commercial route. It’s a more personal and artistic approach and less of a traditional signage painting. 

A bit of hand painting signs’ history

Sign painting started as a need to advertise and differentiate products, in the XIX century. Soon, it was a common practice to have a shop with a hand-painted sign outside the building.
It was such a serious and sought-out a profession that there were catalogs for clients to see what kind of letter, and embellishments they could get from that painter.

However, in the 1980s, a computer called The Sign Maker 3 could draw letters and print them on into vinyl, a much cheaper, and quicker alternative to hand painting signs. This invention forced a lot of sign painters to either shut down the business or to surrender to one of these machines.

Even though it looked like sign painting might lose the battle to vinyl, it’s making a come back and I there to say that it’s here for good.
Computers are taking over our lives and so we miss that nostalgic, good quality manual work. By combining an old technique with newer approaches, the newest generations of sign painters are doing everyone should be doing. Fusing old and new knowledge to create something different is the right path to produce something different.

Conclusion

If you’re curious and want to learn more about sign painting, I suggest you watch the following documentaries.

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