I spent the morning watching a documentary on sign painters – talking through the history, art, and future of the industry that is almost invisible to us today. Now, a very small industry full of people with a common goal: painting beautiful signs.
They are a bunch of cooks. Some lovable, some not. All extremely talented.
The documentary got me thinking, so I took a drive around Milwaukee to try and find some of the painted signs I never stop to notice.
Sign painting is a rare art form these days. In the 70s and 80s, as computer and printing technology developed, vinyl signs became the standard – due to their extreme cheapness and ease to make. Of course, the old standard exists in the world of signs as well: of quality, budget and speed, you can only choose two. The world of signs today is often dominated by budget and speed. With crummy and dirty vinyl signs hanging in every town in America.
Near the end of the documentary, an old sign painter mused that vinyl signs will turn into garbage 30 years from now, but hand painted signs will turn into artwork. The painted signs of the last century still plastered across our cities are precious. They are artworks. Memories of a different world. With different values and technology and practices.
Many of the sign painters interviewed lamented the insatiable desire for today’s cheap signage. They are part of a dying generation that values the honesty and stability of long, hard work. Of hand lettering and human imperfection.
I agree. And I think today, more people are starting to look back with fondness on the signs and practices of the last generation, discovering a richer and truer beauty in their work. I think, perhaps, sign painters and the unique beauty they create could once again step into the spotlight.
In hopes of paying homage to the past, I started creating a font from one of the beautiful signs I saw on my search.
This is Nicole McLaughlin, 27 year old designer based in New York. She specializes in upcycling and sustainability in her bizarre and fantastical apparel.
This video dives into Nicole’s thoughts on sustainability in design and fashion, and her making-process (you can skip the in-video ad from 0:45-1:27).
I happened upon Nicole’s work within the last couple weeks, on one of my brief and shallow dips into Twitter, and was immediately captured by the playfulness and originality of her designs. Not only is she making things that are so clearly sustainably repurposed goods, she is doing it in a way that highlights the past lives of each item. Like a woodworker highlighting live edge of a maple slab, Nicole is beautifying the scraps of material. She is creating a sense of fashion in a place few people have ever looked before.
After gaining traction online with items like volleyball slippers and bread mittens, Nicole has become a voice in the fashion world for sustainable and eco-friendly design.
Her creativity and willingness to play with her work is inspiring.
You can read a more in depth look at her life and work here.
I spent the day working at my small round, white kitchen table, then the evening working on my couch. Different projects here and there – but the evening was dedicated entirely to posters and personal work (though I had not planned to work on personal poster projects for 5+ hours today).
I made another animation today! It was really fun to play around with the “squeeze” and “stretch” effect on the bun during its bounce – a key foundational aspect of 2D animation.
This week’s design challenge is a poster that incorporates an element made in a 3D software… I don’t like 3D software. I’m trying to figure out a way to blend an element of 3D with my normal 2D style, like seen in this sketch. The concept is a mailman in the 2D world very confused at this 3D package.
I’m currently watching ‘Pretend it’s a city’ on Netflix, and it’s great. Fran Lebowitz, who the show is about, talked about the greatness of musicians. ‘Musicians and chefs, of any body in the world, probably bring the most joy to people. Nobody loves artists like they love musicians.’
In the spirit of showing some of the process of my work… here is a snapshot in Adobe Illustrator of a project I’m working on for a favorite local coffee shop. I’m in the initial stages of recreating all their coffee bag labels, as well as rebranding the shop as a whole – new logo, new merchandise, new feel.
This project specifically is a fun one because I like the shop, I like the staff and I like the owner a lot. Usually, the first step is figuring out overarching brand identity – but due to extenuating circumstances, we are having to rush through a label design for the coffee bags before solidly grounding the design language for the shop as a whole.
It’s alright, we’ll get it all done – but this can lead to some mismatched design language later on if what we land on for brand feel does not match the bags we already created.