Distressed Signs

When times get busy my blog is always the first thing that receives neglect. Please do leave me a little comment or a tweet or something though if you do read this - it will provide me with more motivation to write one more often.

Anyways onto the blog...

A couple of weeks back I went down to Hertford for Perry Signs annual Sign Writers Catch Up, basically a get together for sign writers, I realise this can sound quite strange to those not in the profession. In corporate speak you'd refer to it as CPD, maybe, maybe not. Over the weekend there were several different workshops going on, one of which was a distressed signs workshop hosted by David Agnew. As a result of this workshop and with distressed signage seeming to be in vogue at the moment I thought I'd do a little instructional on method of aging signs to make them look older the your grandma. Note that this isn't the only way to do it, it's just one way.

What you need:

  • Pencil
  • Paint - I have used a mixture of acrylic, emulsion and sign writing enamel for the boards I have made.
  • Wooden planks - these don't need to be new, get yourself down the reclaimation yard and find yourself some decent but cheap planks.
  • Wooden battens - can be found at reclamation yard or they're dead cheap at B&Q
  • Saw
  • Screws/ Nails
  • Drill/ Hammer
  • Sandpaper or sander
  • Chisel - any size or shape will do
  • Wire wool
  • Old rag
  • Rubber gloves
  • Wax - Again I have used different types - black bison wax and beeswax both work well.

So once you have all your materials the first thing you need to do is to make yourself a board up. You can see from my photos that I have used three planks fastened together with batten across the back. You can make your boards to any length you want. Just make sure that your battens keep it stable enough.

Once you are happy with the size of board you then need to get a piece of sandpaper and give the board a rub down. All you're looking to achieve from this is taking some of the really rough bits of wood off that might give you a splinter.

*It's worth pointing out here that I didn't take any photos of the process up to this point, sorry*

Once you've done that you can then crack the paint out. To make life easy for yourself you can simply stick to water based paints or like me you can mix it up and simply use what you've got to hand. Depending on your design you need to paint your board the colour you want it to be using emulsion or another water based paint such as acrylic.

Board built, roughly sanded, base coated and design drawn on. That piece of wood split off happened after painting but just adds to the finished effect.

Board built, roughly sanded, base coated and design drawn on. That piece of wood split off happened after painting but just adds to the finished effect.

The Jim Beam board was painted using the cheapest white emulsion I could find, whilst the Durex base colour was mixed using emulsion tester pots. The beauty of water based paint is that the dry time is really fast so you haven't got to wait around.

By the time you've had a brew and checked all your various social media outlets you're boards will likely be dry and you'll be ready to get a design onto. Again different methods here, 1 - make yourself a pounce pattern, either from a print out or drawing your design or, 2 - sketch your design straight onto the board. I pounced for Cadburys but sketched straight on for all the others, you can sand back the pencil or chalk lines so don't worry too much.

Design down, it's time to paint. I have used a mixture of sign writing enamel (1shot or craftmaster) and acrylics to do all of the boards here. The main reason for the mixture is cause I only had a restricted amount of water based paint colours. One tip is to consider is that when painting with enamels they have a shine that you wouldn't find naturally on an old sign. To combat this shine you can pounce your lettering as the paint is starting to go off, this will reduce some of the shine.

Jim Beam - fully painted. This was all done with sign writing enamels.

Jim Beam - fully painted. This was all done with sign writing enamels.

Pencil lines still visible but these will be lost in the next stage.

Pencil lines still visible but these will be lost in the next stage.

So your painting done and dry. Now onto the fun bit...the ageing process. Time to dig out your chisel and sand paper.

When ageing your sign you need to consider the areas that it may have worn more naturally than others, such as the edges, corners and high points in the board. You should focus your elbow grease into these areas. To start grab you chisel and make some cuts into the wood. This will create holes for wax to get trapped in and adds the the age of the board. I recommend following the grain of the wood with your chisel as this is the way the wood would splinter.

After you've created your splinters you then need to begin sanding. How much you sand depends on how distressed you want your sign to look. Have a play around. Do a bit, clean your board up, see what you think and keep going till you reach a level you're happy with.

Chiselled splinters.

Chiselled splinters.

Jim Beam board after sanding - note light sanding all over with heavy sanding in areas.

Jim Beam board after sanding - note light sanding all over with heavy sanding in areas.

Durex board - sanded back so base white coat and wood coming through.

Durex board - sanded back so base white coat and wood coming through.

Finally to add some real patina onto these boards you need to finish them with a wax. I have mostly used a black bison wax to patina these boards but I have found beeswax to work also however it's not quite as dark.

This part is easy, stick on some rubber gloves, get an old rag and rub your wax thoroughly into the board. I have found that with the black bison wax it can go on very dark in some places, if this happens you can give it a light rub with some wire wool and it will reduce the darkness.

Et Voila! You're done. You should have a sign in your hands that looks like you've dug it out the bottom of a skip/ swamp/ river, and it should have been a fairly simple and fun process. If you have a bash, let me know and show me some photos!

Here's a few of the finished pieces I have made of late....

A blog about a blog

Morning gang

It's yet another Freelance Friday. Not that Freelance Friday is any different to any other days but it's a Friday and vibes are generally good. Anyway this is a blog about a blog.

Last Friday I met Emma from the locally famous @shitchester on Twitter at Jaunty Goat in Chester to have a chat all about me. Bit weird talking about myself but as they say all publicity is good publicity (or something like that). Anyway Emma wrote some nice things about me, you can read them here....

Peace Out x

"Hey, hey - I wanna be a prawn star"

So last week my little sister, Lucy, came up from Brighton to visit for a few days. Lucy, like me got the arty gene so naturally when she came up we spent a couple of days working on some collaborations. 

Lucy doesn't really have a speciality with her art but she is top notch at drawing, water colours and making pretty things out of old rubbish wrappers. Have a look at her Instagram account to see what I'm talking about. 

Amazingly, Lucy is actually going to India for a year in January to teach art. You can find out more about that and chuck a few quid her way here. 

So based on the fact that I have a stall at Chester pride in a week or so we wanted to paint up a couple of boards that we thought would be popular. After a bit of brain storming (and frankly some ridiculous ideas) we came up with 'prawn star' and 'sugar tits'. As you do. 

We were using dibond panels which have the benefit of needing no prep so it was literally straight to it. The plan was that I would do the lettering and Lucy would do that art work.

Whilst waiting for paint to dry I finished off a few other panels whilst Lucy had a good old experiment. 

Firstly with some crab Lino prints... using both ink and sign writing paints. 

Some mock up flowers from old Cadbury wrappers. 

Fish painted in glitter glue. 

All of which look great, I especially love that red crab print. Makes me think of crabbing off Cromer pier as a boy. 

Anyway, the collaborations. Despite Lucy being scared of ruining the panels it's fair to say she absolutely nailed it. That prawn is simply fantastic. 

Obviously we had to finish off the two days with the obligatory posey photos.

Here's to more collaborations...

P.S. These panels will be for sale at Chester Pride on 1st October if you want to buy one!

Squirrel Signs or Secret Squirrel Signs?

Two blog posts in week, something must be wrong!

This weekend has been a weekend of catching up on life after a week away in Bristol and Cornwall - you know the dull stuff like doing 68 loads of washing, doing a food shop etc. But also some of the more interesting stuff such as updating my website, hurrah at last I hear you cry. 

Anyway, so, Cornwall. We were camping in Treen which is really close to Lands End. The more time I spend in Cornwall the more I realise what a place it really is! One thing that I obviously noticed on arrival at the campsite the signage was all hand painted and oh so sharp. On further exploring of the area I found all the local villages had a number of hand painted signs with the majority of them clearly being painted by the same person. The chap's name? Squirrel Signs. Based in Pendeen but that's all I know about him. I did try to ring him a couple of times to go meet him but I had no luck. Maybe he should be called Secret Squirrel Signs (boom boom tish!) If anyone knows any more about Squirrel please let me know!

Anyway enjoy some of his work...

Spain & France Travels - Sign hunting, cycling and boozing

When times get busy the first thing to get abused is definitely my blog. I'm sure I start every blog post with something similar to this but it's the truth. 

Anyway, I've been here, there and everywhere this last few weeks. A few weekends ago, my good lady Francesca and I flew into Gibraltar (what a weird place - walking across the border to Spain blew my mind). We went to stay in El Puerto De Santa Maria, I did a previous blog post on this, with some friends. We stayed at a really quirky guest house and basically spent the weekend eating, drinking and swimming in the sea. Good times indeed

After that I traveled alone to Seville by train (it was 42 degrees when I arrived at 7pm), walked around a lot. I actually has Francesca's pedometer in my rucksack by accident and clocked up a whopping 12000 steps in 3 hours! Seville by the way is a beautiful place and definitely somewhere I want to revisit properly. After a long sweaty walked and a couple of beers in a park cafe I made my way to the airport to try and get some kip at the airport before flying to Bordeaux. Once in Bordeaux I had to get myself straight to the train station to get a train but had just enough time for a bit more walking, a coffee and a croissant. Again from what I saw of Bordeaux it is definitely a city I need to spend some more time in. Bergerac was the next stop and this is where I met my good mate Nick and his sister Sam, they own Gite La Fleurieu in Puy L'Eveque and oh what a place! I stayed here for four nights with the basic aim - ride my bike as much as possible. Well I say my bike, I hired one, a carbon one. France is an amazing place and I managed to clocked 270 miles and 21000ft of climbing in four days which I was pretty happy with. These miles do have a purpose than just enjoyment though - in August I'm attempting the hour record on a Liverpool city bike to raise some money for Macmillan as Nick unfortunately lost his dad to cancer last year and it was his Gite originally so it seemed pretty. I'll write more about this in the near future!

Anyway so France and particularly the Lot Valley where is was based is simply beautiful. Tiny French villages scattered across a rolling landscape of luscious green fields. And within these tiny French villages there are an abundance of old hand painted signs or ghost signs as they are often referred to. So many in fact that there were actually too many to photograph as I'd have never got anywhere on my bike if I had of done. This brings me to the real point of this blog, a chance to put up loads of photos of ghost signs from my recent travels....

France, I will be back!

Winter Garden Pop Up Shop

Wow! I'm stuffed. Just got back from a friends who cooked a full roast with some of the finest gravy I have ever had (it had bramble jam in it!) washed down with a plate of blue cheese, yummy. Anyway it's Sunday evening and a good time to reflect on this week...

So this month I'm 'popping up' for 6 days in the Winter Garden in Sheffield, google it as their website is crap and I haven't yet uploaded any better photos of the actual gardens *adds to to do list*. Sheffield Hallam, my old uni, have hired the Common People pop up for the whole of March and invited students and graduates to apply to be part of the 'pop up' for part of the month. I was interviewed and as a result I'm selling my wares for 6 days throughout the month. 

This week, Wednesday and Thursday saw me make my first appearance there and all in all I was fairly happy with how it went. It's a bit of a strange one as it is reliant on the footfall of the general public wanting to spend money on their usual lunch hour/ coffee break/ commute journey as opposed to a craft fair where people go specifically to spend money. For me though the pop up was far more than pure sales. I wanted to know that I was able to not only create enough stock to sell but the present it in a way that look appealing and that I was proud to linger by all day. Fair to say that both of those objectives were met. The second really important thing is that I can now add this to my portfolio and use it to present to other fairs and markets that I want to set up a stall at. Finally, probably most importantly is that this was a great opportunity for networking - meeting other makers, random people who dropped by and gave me cake and of course my good mates like Greg who popped down, bought even more of my stuff (thanks!) and looks certain to open the first Hairy Mitten art gallery when he moves house. I'll actually write a blog about the people I've met when I've finished my stint at the shop. 

I'll be there again on Wednesday 23rd, Tuesday 29th, Wednesday 30th and Thursday 31st so if you're kicking around Sheffield please pop in and say hi. 

In other news, I have had a few commissions come through this week. One of which I'm really excited about as it involves painting a massive gorilla, keep your eyes on my instagram for the latest with that. 

Right, I'm off to lay down and wallow in a cheesey doze. 

Catch you on the flip side. 

Joby Carter's Sign Writing Course - One Year On

This time last year I went down south to Maidenhead to spend the week with Joby Carter and take part in his 5 day sign writing course. It was a course I had had booked in for months in advance and was really excited about. This was my first proper venture into sign writing.

Well what a week it was, I learnt so much about sign writing from somewhat of a legend in the sign writing world....

Day one involved lots of drawing and studying of the Roman font. Working on the drawing straight lines, curves, serifs and ensuring the thicks are thick and the thins are thin. The day was broken up with a wander round Joby's yard. What a place! Sheds and sheds full of lorries, rides and all sorts of other weird and crazy stuff, naturally everything was adorned in Joby's beautiful art work. 

On days two and three we started to throw lots of green paint onto our practise boards. Lots of lines, circles and roman font were practised fueled by what seemed like hundreds of cups of tea. Tea is a key nutrient in the diet isn't it? The general idea of these two days was... Paint a practise board. Get feedback from Joby. Clean the board off. Brew up. Repeat. This process was excellent, having the time to just practise solidly without being interrupted by other mundane life tasks like work or the washing up is always time well spent. Although sitting down all day it's amazing how fried you feel at the end of 7 or so hours of painting, that may just have been all those solvents though?!

The other bonus of spending time in Joby's workshop is not only do you get to spend hours staring at the various pieces of art adourning the walls but Joby was bashing out signs at the front of the room like no one's business which was both inspiring and frustrating in equal measure. 

On days four and five we made a start on our final pieces. I wasn’t overly fussed about the final piece being a masterpiece as I was hoping that in a years time I would be able to look back and go look how much better things are now… My word of choice was ‘Chapeau’, the French for hat which is used in cycling terms as a ‘hats off’ kind of well done. However I think I might have missed out on the exclamation mark?! Ah well. Doing the final piece was a chance to go through the whole process of drawing out a sign on a piece of paper, copying it up on the board with a piece of china graph and then actually painting it out. Font wise I kept it simple wise a roman font, I'd been working on it all week and the feedback that Joby gave everyone was that if you can master Roman then the rest will come with time. Colour wise I went bold and brash. As I said I wasn't really too bothered about the final sign for me it was more about the process and getting some worthwhile feedback from Joby. 

Obviously now it is a year on and 'Chapeau' sits happily above the window in my office. I will always be fond of this sign simply because it was the first sign of hopefully a lifetime's worth of work.  I look at this sign now and I can see the imperfections and what could have been better, oh and what about that outlining!! 'Chapeau' is a good reminder of where it all started and I feel that one year on it is only just now that I am beginning to understand just how much there is to learn in this trade. Some days I look at my work and think ‘that’s pretty good’ then see what someone else is doing and think 'wow I still have so far to go'.  But that's good. It's exciting to think that one day I might be half as good as someone with Joby's talent.

On that note, the brushes are calling....

New Year. New Me?

Well 2015 is done, dusted and consigned to the history books. It was a good year by all accounts finished off with a good festive period.

One of the highlights over Christmas was adding a splash of chalk paint to the windows of The Little Yellow Pig in Hoole (a little suburb of Chester) with my friend and fellow artist Tom AKA Trebel Scott. An evening of rap music and bloody good coffee resulted in some good looking windows, for a first attempt a doing a shop front both Tom and I were made up with the results. This is definitely something we will push more in the lead up to Christmas 2016.

That was in the same week as I finished up a board “Quick! Fresh Pies” for my local butchers, their pies are so good. This sign was inspired by the bags that they give out with a similar looking butcher on. It’s now hanging pride of place in their window and apparently has increased their pie sales! Happy days!

2016 promises to be an even better year with some exciting things already in the pipeline. Watch this space….


Spanish Inspiration


We've just got back from a few days in El Puerto de Santa Maria where we've been staying with a friend. El Puerto de Santa Maria is a small town close to Cadiz and is very Spanish in that it isn't your usual tourist trap. I don't want to bang on loads about the trip but I was interested in the different types of signage used in both El Puero de Santa Maria and Cadiz. 

There seems to be a trend for swirly font with pretty serifs. I found a few hand painted signs, nothing of the  Joby Carter-esque mind blowing style, but hand painted none the less which for me is always the best option. 

There is also a real trend for shops and restaurants to have a tiled patch on the wall which has been painted up. Some really top art work. 

Here's a few photos of the signage I came across. Some hand painted,  some not. Some good, some pretty poor but importantly I think there is something that can be taken from each whether it be a slight variation of a serif or trying to replicate a complete font. 

Now time to sketch out some letters and get my paint on.....

Tour of Britain Team Presentation

So by no means do I intend this to become a cycling blog, no matter how much I love the sport, but it just so happens that my first two blog posts are cycling related, ho hum. 

So on Saturday we went over to Colwyn Bay to take a gander at the team presentation for the Tour of Britain which started on Sunday. I didn't really know what to expect but thought it might be worth a look. As with most cycling events you can get up close and personal with all the riders, which is cool if you're chasing selfies and autographs but not my style. We just went with the intention of soaking up the atmosphere. The presentation was being held in the middle of the running track at Eirias Park with the spectators stood and sat on the running track. I thought it was going to be a really busy affair but it actually seemed quite empty. There are 20 teams in the tour this year so it's fair to say that the presentation dragged on a bit as every team had their chance to shine by having 5 minutes on the stage being interviewed. Quite a few of the riders, including a very scruffily dressed Bradley Wiggins, mentioned the VIP buffet and how good the cheesecake was. Unfortunately we didn't get to see any of that buffet. I did however meet Taylor Phinney who is on the comeback from an awful leg break and gave him a little sign I knocked up the day before with "FrankenLeg" (the name he has given his post surgery leg) scrawled onto it which was probably the highlight of the day. 

Anyways here's a few snaps from the day.

Dunwich Dynamo 2015

The Dunwich Dynamo, an overnight bike ride from Hackney in London to Dunwich in Suffolk.

It's fairly unorganised as far as mass rides go. Turn up, buy a map for £1 and off you go into the night. 112 miles later you arrive at the beach in Dunwich. 

The Dun Run, as it is affectionately known, attracts a broad range of cyclists. From blokes fully clad in Rapha gear on bikes worth more than my car, to hipsters on fixies wearing only a t shirt and jeans, to hardened touring cyclist fully panniered up and even people on bikes that don't look fit for 5 miles let alone 112!

This was my second year of doing the ride and it's fair to say I enjoyed it much more the second time round mainly down to the fact that I have ridden more miles this year so found it somewhat easier. 

Last year we hacked along all night, raced up every hill and tried to overtake as many people as possible. This year we approached it with a far more relaxed vibe; sit up on hills, don't get overly competitive and just enjoy it. This was helped by the fact that we knew that arriving at Dunwich wasn't the end, we still had to get back to Norwich. 

All in all, with our ride to Norwich station to begin with, we clocked up 173 miles. I have to admit I was apprehensive about completing that distance, especially as your mind does some weird things when you cycle through the night, but we came through unscathed, not even one puncture. Next year... 200 is the target! 

Here's a little video taken somewhere in the middle of Essex in the dark 

If you like stats and data here's the link to strava