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Sled Island 2017

Silkscreened Poster Show

I was invited this year to design a poster for the annual poster show to kick off Calgary's Sled Island music festival. The posters were silkscreened in a limited edition of 30 and displayed for the duration of the event at Phil & Sebastian's Coffee Roasters in Mission. I had a lot of fun getting to draw some morbid stuff for the metal band Wolves In The Throne Room. The final posters were printed by Burnt Toast Studio - great job guys! 


The photos show the final 3 colour poster as well as the initial sketches we went through as concepts for the final piece. The band provided LOTS of ideas to work from. Some of the concepts shown here that I decided to work off of include the celtic warrior theme, the dead being eaten by crows on the battlefield, human sacrifice, and cedar tree spirits. 

Brief History on Sign Painting

I was approached by the fine people at SNAP Printshop & Gallery in Edmonton to write a little article on sign painting for their upcoming issue of SNAPLine. I decided to approach it as a brief history (as I know it) as it pertains to my own personal practice. And please check out SNAP's website. They are a FANTASTIC printmaking resource in Alberta and offer many classes and studio rental in their beautiful facility!

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SIGNPAINTING – and the resurgence of craft

“So You Want to Paint Letters, Do You?” were the opening lines in the little zine-like manuals handed out at the beginning of New Bohemia Signs’ Introduction to Brush Lettering” Workshop. As I took a look around the little California sign shop, with its walls plastered with hand-painted eye-candy, sitting in front of the paint stained easel boards setup with enticingly fresh paper  – yes, I thought to myself. Yes I do!

Excerpt from Ralph Gregory's "Sign Painting Techniques".

Excerpt from Ralph Gregory's "Sign Painting Techniques".

Mike Meyer's rendition of the single-stroke gothic alphabet. It's practicing exercises like this that'll get you the brush skills you need to succeed.

Mike Meyer's rendition of the single-stroke gothic alphabet. It's practicing exercises like this that'll get you the brush skills you need to succeed.

I had been dabbling in sign painting for awhile prior to this workshop, working for an old-timer in Calgary who generously took me on as his part-time apprentice, so I had heard a lot about what a traditional sign painter had to say about his trade – and it used to be thought of as just that – a trade – no different from a mechanic or a carpenter and with about just as much glamour. Sign painting was a lucrative, practical trade and extremely common. You’d be surprised by the number of people who can say they’ve been a sign painter at some point in their lives. My previous landlord was a sign painter. He was also a man, which was the norm for the field in those days. Why would women be interested in getting paint under their nails? And the logistics of getting up a ladder in a dress would mean she had to wear pants, and so you see the problems unravel… And nevermind higher education. Any man could pick up a brush and a mahlstick and with practice and proper techniques, apprenticing alongside experienced painters, make a good living at being a sign painter.

This sign painting shop in San Francisco shop was not the norm – not today, not 30, not 50 years ago. It wasn’t pumping out orders of eighty identical real-estate signs that would be thrown away within a week or two. And they weren’t hell-bent on the “rules” of lettering. We were encouraged to have fun. It wasn’t grudgingly practical, it was artistic. It felt like a painting or printmaking studio from art school where people talked about the local indie music scene and organic gardening over their shoulders with each other as they painted. Yet to see a sign painting shop flourishing on a scale larger than a one-person operation (as most today are) is rare. To be able to paint letters well enough and fast enough to be able to convince a business to pay for their signage to be done that way at a time when printers and vinyl can produce a cleaner, faster job every time is a tough sell. But it’s being done. How? Because it now serves a niche market. There are a few people who are willing to pay more for a process that is long, inefficient, inconsistent and riddled with problems related newer, unreliable materials – because it’s not printed, it’s not plastic, it’s handmade. The beauty happens when a competent painter has the skills to execute a clean, sharp, smooth signdespite these factors. I don’t want people looking at what I’ve just done and think, “Oh – that looks handmade”. Or “I could do that”. Handmade or hand-painted shouldn’t translate into an excuse for poor quality or shoddy painting. I’m always working to bring a higher level of skill and craftsmanship to the work that makes people feel proud to own it and to show it off. If they feel they could have just done it themselves, I don’t think they’re going to value that object nearly as much. I think our generation is tired of cheap, crappy products distributed from big box retailers. Hand-painting signs and objects is a way to restore some of that value and personal touch back into things. 

The Naginta Cup  was a fun project I just finished for a friend's competitive hockey pool. This was adapted from another design and re-jigged to fit the content. And metal leaf on glass adds some class!

The Naginta Cup was a fun project I just finished for a friend's competitive hockey pool. This was adapted from another design and re-jigged to fit the content. And metal leaf on glass adds some class!

Sign painting isn’t the trade it used to be. You can’t just learn some brush skills and be able to feed yourself off it anymore, travelling from town to town sleeping in your car and painting signs all across the country. It’s become something that (what I think) is much better. It has morphed into a strange and glorious intersection between art, design, and craft. In glasswork, it’s also equal parts painting and printmaking – which is something that for the longest time I had no idea about. It’s equal parts function, luxury item, piece of art and commercial practicality. The rising interest in craft and handmade, locally produced items is only adding to its rise in popularity. Sign painting now belongs to a new generation of artists, graphic designers and letterers who maintain respect for tradition, but are adapting it to its new environment and breaking rules along the way. All forms of hand lettering – both drawn and painted – are becoming increasingly popular in graphic design applications including logos, packaging, advertising and editorial work in addition to signage. It has come full circle – offering us the organic-ness and adaptability that took a back seat for years as the printing press and then the computer wowed us and then dulled us with it’s linear grids. Just as analog photography teetered near the brink of death when digital became all the rage, so too has hand lettering and sign painting come back to life. You’d think that this cycle has happened enough times that we’d not go ahead and throw out the “old” technology as soon as something new arrives, but we are a strange and silly species... I’m just happy to be here at this moment and have the pleasure of riding this wave out as long as I can. Viva La Sign Painting!

Dessart Studio Bringing the Art of Sign Painting to Royal Bison Fair in Edmonton!

Dessart Studio Bringing the Art of Sign Painting to Royal Bison Fair in Edmonton!

Calgary Sign Painter Comes Home!

I'm honoured to be participating in the first Canada-wide version of the much loved Edmonton craft fair, the Royal Bison. Thanks to you guys, I'll be bringing my wares back to my hometown and touting everything from traditional sign painting on wood, to Mason Jar drinking glasses, to gold gilding on glass, to (yes I had to…) some mildly Christmas-y stuff.

A Little Background

I got hooked on painting signs after leaving my first "real" job out of school working in a vinyl shop. I parted from Edmonton in 2012 to pursue graphic design in Calgary and soon found out that I yearned for something much more hands-on. I ordered a bunch of paints and just started painting signs. Shortly after, I took an Intro to Brush Lettering at New Bohemia Signs in San Francisco, CA and never looked back. I quit my job at the vinyl shop and by a chance encounter, found a sign painter here in Calgary who took me on in an apprenticeship - which is practically unheard of these days. I worked with him for almost a year, learning tricks of the trade until it was time I went out on my own. I ordered as many books as I could afford on the subject and continued my studies. Now it's a just been a matter of time and practice!

Sign Painting - The Adaptable Art

For the Bison, I'm bringing with me small signs with varying letter styles. Some hand-drawn and some adapted from old lettering catalogues. Some wood, some glass, some gold gilding, some straight painted. It's just a cross-section of what can be done with sign painting - and shows how versatile the media is. It can be done on flat surfaces, existing walls, windows, objects, brick buildings - you name it. I'm currently accepting clients, so if you like what you see, contact me for business pricing and we can talk about how to bring your storefront, home, or office to life with sign painting!

Check out the Bison's full list of vendors for the upcoming 2014 winter shows. Make sure to check out both showings - the Edmonton Locals-Only Edition (November 28, 29, 30th) as well as their Prairies-Wide Edition (December 5, 6, 7th)

"Applause" for Carly Green, Edmonton Sculptor

"Applause" for Carly Green, Edmonton Sculptor

Applause is Well Deserved

Congratulations to Carly Greene on a job well done! Her show Out of Sight, Out of Mind Old Boy showed off the pieces inspired by her residency in the Ortona Armoury Arts Building. What better way to congratulate than a sign? It kinda says it all.

Check out more of Carly's work here: