Friday, January 11, 2013

Sign Painters

In addition to my addiction  to model detail parts, I have to admit to a book buying habit. Mostly I find cheap used books using Google Books to search and Abebooks to purchase. Among other things, I've found company histories for many of the industries on R Street - Goodyear, General Mills, Nabisco, W.P. Fuller, - plus the Thomson Diggs catalog (which was actually an eBay purchase...)

But today I'm posting about a brand new book* on a topic that is near to the hearts of model structure builders: signage and in this case hand painted signs. Sign painting has been a topic of keen interest to me since working on the Carlaw building decals. In my opinion, if we are modeling structures from before, say, 1980 we should be creating signs for our models with a sign painter's eye as much as possible.

Sign Painters, by Fayth Levine and Sam Macon, can help with that. It is a companion book to a documentary on the almost-but-not-quite-yet dying art of hand painted signs. The craft was nearly done in by the computer sign industry which tends to produce cheaper signs faster, but here and there local businesses have embraced sign painters. Hand painted signs, the book posits, escape the uniformity that creeps in with computer generated signs and they add a distinctive look that adds visual interest (and hopefully increased foot traffic) to store fronts. I'm certainly a believer.   

The book itself is mainly a collection of small, well written, autobiographical essays by over two dozen contemporary sign painters from across the U.S.. Their work is beautifully illustrated with great photographs which should give modelers plenty of inspiration. Indeed one of the sign painters featured in this book, Bob Behounek, is himself a model railroader.

Of particular interest to me, and I suspect other modelers too, is in the appendix. This little surprise at the end of the book is a reprint of an instructional pamphlet for apprentice sign painters by the Wagner School of Sign Arts. I have yet to find any indication of when this "Blueprint Text Book of Sign and Show Card Lettering" was originally published and I'm not going to hazard a guess. The information contained therein seems timeless and useful for my needs though. This twenty page section goes over the basics of lettering styles and proper composition, but my favorite part is the panels that illustrate the nomenclature of sign painters. Like most crafts, sign painters have their own vocabulary. And as one would expect, signs on different parts of buildings and different parts of the signs themselves have specific names. These plates in particular are sure to be referred to often when I make model sign decisions.

For more information on the book and the movie, check out their blog:

* Published in October of 2012 and a Christmas gift to me from my lovely and highly talented wife.

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