“It was a huge project in several ways,” says Luke. “It started with two
small pencil sketches we submitted to Korn. One of the type-styles was
an art deco design that I liked because it complemented the buildings in
the area. The other was more of a simple gothic style inspired by a
sample in an old Speedball lettering book. Korn chose the latter, and I
was able to give the design a little art deco flourish.”
sign painting projects begin with full-size letters drawn on butcher
paper, which are then outlined with a punch wheel to create
perforations. The paper drawings are then taped to the installation and
chalk is pounced through the perforations to transfer the letter shapes
to the surface to be painted. This was the process for the “There’s
Never An Off Season” sign. Well, sort of.
For a new gift shop in a refurbished terminal at the San Francisco airport,
New Bohemia's Damon Styer employed a variety of letter styles
to describe the city's iconic neighborhoods.
“We drew the letters,”
explains Luke, “and we digitized them. Then we sent the digital files to
New Bohemia because Damon has a digital plotter that he’s converted for
making perforated patterns [a unique device that allows NBS to service
other sign painters, mostly in San Francisco]. He took our files and
gave us back 300 feet of punched paper—except that the letters, because
they were so big, were cut in half. We put them back together on the
side of the building.”
The month-long project was not without its
challenges. “We started working on the first of April,” Luke recalls,
“but had to stop for several days because the Marathon bombing was just
down the street. Boston businesses basically shut down for that week.”
Another, far less serious incident also delayed the project’s progress.
Luke tells the story, “My apprentice and I decided that we would
transfer the lettering from the paper patterns to the side of the
building in one effort. It took us three days to do one side. And then
it rained.” About half of the work was washed away, and Luke decided to
do the next side of the building a few letters at a time.
Best Dressed’s biggest gig to date took 30 days start-to-finish, New
Bohemia has been continuously working with one client for over eight
years. “This guy just came into my shop one day,” recalls Styer. “He
needed a sign for his storefront. He was pretty easy to work with and
one thing just led to another.”
The “guy” was John Garrone, the
owner of Far West Fungi, a unique shop in San Francisco’s Ferry
Building, specializing in cultivated and wild mushrooms, fresh seasonal
truffles and unusual forest products. He had been selling his wares at
local farmer’s markets, but was now opening his own store and needed a
sign. The sign became the company logo and foundation for its branding.
In-store shelf signs for a foodie shop in San Francisco's Ferry Building
are part of New Bohemia's ongoing identity project for Far West Fungi.
they’re addicted to hand-painted signs,” says Styer with a laugh. “I do
several a year for them—mostly shelf signs. They will add a new product
to their offering, and then stop by my shop for a new sign.” Styer
says, “It’s a great gig. I provided a few pencil sketches for the store
logo, and there was a little ‘back and forth’ on some of the details.
But from then on, they’ve just asked for a sign and left the rest up to
This artistic freedom allows Styer to spend time with his
growing assortment of lettering resources—everything from old sign
painting manuals and type-face specimen books to a collection of
California orange crate labels. His reference library also includes
hundreds of photos and sketches Styer has made to capture lettering
styles he sees in use. “For Far West Fungi, I get to pick whatever type
of lettering style I want,” says Styer. “It’s a carte blanche project,
which makes it terrifically fun.”
Young sign painters like Luke
and Styer see their craft as a multi-faceted art that encompasses much
more than just painting with a brush. Gold leafing, glue-chipped glass,
marbleizing and various other techniques add richness to the craft.
While some signs may take a hundred or more hours to complete, and some
projects can last for years, these sign painters see nothing precious
about the end results. There is an irreverent sign painter’s motto that
says it all: I.O.A.F.S. (It’s Only A Fucking Sign).
It may only
be a hand-painted sign—but as their numbers grow, the landscape becomes a
bit less industrial and a bit more humane. ca