Signwriting and the magic of painting letters

Occasionally you take part in something that alters the course of your life. I’m not talking total transformation, more like crossing over a road to be in the sunshine. The change happens quickly, you observe it taking effect. Your eyes and heart open, you see things with clarity and meaning, the new experiences create a new, more beautiful, reality and suddenly the path ahead looks different.   

It happened to me this weekend when I learnt to hand paint letters. 

I knew the course was going to be important but I wasn’t sure how or why. I hoped it would inspire some creativity, maybe give me some focus and provide me with a practical skill. It did SO much more than that.

I have always loved the act of writing words on a page but learning to paint letters was a different and completely magical experience. Letters have a complexity I hadn't noticed before, in painting them I uncovered a world of arcs, orbits and trajectories, a world of space, movement and relationships, a world of lines and strokes that converge to form a unique, beautiful character.

No two hand painted letters are the same. The strokes and the structure are all shaped by forces particular to that moment in time, the way the painter was feeling and breathing, the atmosphere in the surrounding environment, the brush, the fluidity of the paint. The word character is perfect; letters actually have personalities, a poetic quality that I couldn't see before.

I went into the weekend looking for a magical formula for creating perfect script but as Nick says, you paint letters with your head, your heart and your hands. The beauty of hand painted signs is the human element, you can’t approach hand lettering with your head alone; absolutely geometrical drawings aren’t beautiful, the magic comes from making the letters personal to you. You sketch, you shape, you refine; cutting in edges and smoothing roughness; adjusting as you go and so a little part of you is painted into every letter. In sign writing, integrity is more important than absolute perfection, which is how life should be.

Another unexpected pleasure was getting to know the lovely people who shared in the experience with me.  I am reading 'Human Traces' by Sebastien Faulkes and yesterday I came across a sentence that  perfectly sums how it feels to meet like minded folk. "It's like two men bumping into each other in the jungle when one started in Iceland and the other in China - and then finding they're reading the same book." In this case the book wasn't necessarily purely about sign writing but about seeking out a craft, some kind of authenticity that was absent in all our lives. By the end of the weekend I felt like I had known them for much longer than 16 hours, I'm already looking forward to spending more time with them. 

I'm a different person to the one I was on Friday because of the new world that has been revealed to me. Painting letters is a meditative balm to my noisy mind and my anxious soul, I want to do it more…as much as possible and the best thing about it is that I’ve only just scratched the surface.

So if you’re in the market for a hand painted sign or piece of letter based piece of art, give me a call, it would be my absolute pleasure to paint it for you. 

**A big, big thank you to Nick Garrett for imparting his wisdom and setting me on this new path. I don't think I'll ever come across anyone that feels as passionate about typeface as he does.**