I watched a great movie last week. Sign Painters is a 2014 documentary, directed by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, about the hand painted sign industry.
Levine and Macon interview a number of people across the U.S. about all aspects of the business. A lot of the interviewees are artists who started painting back when the industry was booming, but there are a decent amount of young guys in there too.
Obviously, hand painted signs are not very common these days, and a common theme in the documentary is how computerized printers and sign cutters changed the industry (for the worse). From what I could tell from the movie, it seems like most of the work being done these days is for businesses who want a beautiful, hip sign – coffeeshops, tattoo places, theaters, restaurants, etc.
There’s a decent amount of stylistic diversity though. I was surprised to see that one guy, Nick Barber, still paints car dealership windows all over Southern California, in that really familiar 1970s/1980s sort of style you see in period movies and whatnot. And while everyone involved seems genuinely into the artistic side of it, Stephen Powers of NYC is the only guy interviewed who doesn’t do traditional client work, and instead does public art installations. His stuff is amazing, and it’s well worth visiting his website and checking out his shop, the couple of Tumblr pages he has (fine art, icysigns, marksurface) and his Instagram account. I love his fine art page so much, and I’ve put it on my shortlist of places I need to remember to visit when I’m a rich art collector.
Also interviewed is Ken Barber from House Industries, who I used to be completely obsessed with in the late 1990s and early 2000s (and I still love). House make a number of terrific fonts, but the most relevant to this movie is of course their Sign Painter font (which I am 99% sure predates the movie by at least a few years).
I loved the movie, and recommend you consider watching it. It was only $3 to rent on Google Play Movies, but it’s available on a number of Video On Demand services, best to just check out the official website for links. I know I’m going to want to watch it again, so I’m going to go back and buy the deluxe edition soon – it looks like they use VHX.tv, and you can get lifetime streaming of the movie, plus 30 minutes of bonus interviews that way, for 10 bucks.
But wait, I forgot to mention the book, which you’ve already seen at the top of this post! That’s right, there’s a whole darn book that’s just as good as the movie. One of the main characteristics of the hand painted signs throughout the movie are that they’re just so filled with great colors, and they’re so dynamic. It’s a style that translates so, so well to print, and the book is just page after page of eye candy. Do not buy the e-book version of this, don’t even consider it, pay the extra 4 bucks for the paper copy, trust me.
Guys I seem to have walking pneumonia, and I feel like I will re-read this post one day and cringe at the text being terrible and boring, so forgive me. To make up for it, I’m going to paste in a few photos of the book, so you can see how great it looks. (By the way, this is just a little tiny taster, and I picked these pages at random, this isn’t me cherry-picking the best stuff or anything.)