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Parsons the New School for Design

Publication: Sign Painters

Sign Painters

by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon with a Foreword by Ed Ruscha
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
7.5 x 9.5 in; 184 pp; Paperback
Release date: November 2012
ISBN 978-11-61689-083-4
$24.95

“P   L   A   N     A   H  EAD,” cleverly signs off American artist, Ed Ruscha, at the end of the foreword he wrote for the enjoyable new book, Sign Painters, out this month by Princeton Architectural Press. The authors, Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, began documenting sign painters back in 2010 and showcase twenty-six of these artists, and instead of simply stating historical facts and biographies with images, Sign Painters tells an oral history as told through first-person accounts of the painters—from the likes of Stephen Powers to John Downer to Paul Lindahl & Adrian Moeller of Colossal Media—and their individual experiences of coming to the trade.

The artists’ stories are often mixed in with their personal philosophies of art and design, especially with the now ubiquitous presence of digital technologies, which has marginalized the sign industry into both a possibly “dying” art as well as a high and specific art. And perhaps because of technology, there is a certain deeper appreciation of how these technicians are able to create “effects” such as a two-color gradation—by hand, in one shot—instead of relying on the gradient tool in Photoshop by computer, or getting the letters to each look as they are part of the same typeface, with precise letterspacing. And in a way, these appreciations seem to affirm a general push back towards working in analogue and mastering a craft that can only be done by hand, and off a computer.

Ira Coyne’s account may sum up the industry the best when he says “I say that I’m a sign painter, that I paint letters on buildings. But that’s not all. I have to be able to do everything. Sign painting includes every form of art—it’s lettering but also murals, realistic painting, surrealistic painting, comics.”

In addition to beautiful hand-lettering for the cover, which was done by Ira Coyne and interior headers by Josh Luke, Sign Painters includes a wonderful appendix, titled “Wagner’s Blue Print Text Book of Sign and Show Card Lettering” with plates showing various rules and instructions that probably most of sign painters had read or referenced within their careers. And of course, each plate is handsomely hand-drawn and hand-lettered.

 

Janet Kim

Image Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press