Painting the town red

The hand-painted sign has almost died out, killed off by plastic. But now a new breed of sign-artist is re-colouring the streets.

More years ago than I’d care to be honest about, I worked as a sign-writer, and it’s a bit of a limp boast, but I can say that I’m probably the only sign-writer that has worked in both Ulverston in the Lake District, and in the south of France.

In those days I used a set of beautiful sable brushes that flowed like a river when the work went well. I drove a battered old van with a sign hand-painted on the side, which you can see below (although not very clearly as it’s pretty old and taken from a much larger photo), and which read,

Derek Workman
Furniture Decorator and Restorer
Signwriter

And Thoroughly Fine Chap 

For a while I wandered the south of England as a limner, the old name given to an itinerant sign-writer, staying in pubs and cheap doss-houses, re-painting or making new signs for the businesses in the area. It was around the time that plastic signs were becoming all the fad, so eventually I handed over my slim tube of brushes to a young chap who was dead keen to give it a try, and moved on.

When I ride around Valencia on my bike I see signs of a new form of hand-signwriting, but this time using modern technology – the spray can. This isn’t graffiti, which is more-or-less random art on walls and flat surfaces. No, this is considered, designed and painted, and admittedly not always with paint sprays, although that’s the main technique used.

I think it’s wonderful! And in many cases, very skilful. I hope that I see more of them because they certain brighten up the city far more than just a grey roll-down shutters that are now the new sign-writers’ canvas.

Garage doors and shop shutters

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