4 Dec 2009

Charlton Signwriting

Signboard for Northern Star Creative

Some photos and film from a visit to Charlton to see Chris of Northern Star Creative at work on a sign for a garage. It was great to see him in action and to hear some of his stories from when he used to run a signwriting shop on the Woolwich Road.

He’s writing these up and plans to publish a book soon, ‘tall stories from a small shop’.

The picture above is a sign that Chris hangs up on site as an advertisement for himself. It is often passers by that provide the best new business leads. However, he told me that back in the day you also had to be wary of predatory signwriters passing by who would find you starting out on a job and attempt to undercut you with the client and steal the business. If you’re more interested in getting Chris to do a job than pinching business from him then he says its best to use his mobile rather than the landline above, 07717 165 376.

Today’s job was for a garage and while this particular piece isn’t directly onto brickwork Chris has done that type of work and described the use of plaster placed onto the bricks in order to provide a more even surface for signwriting on. This explains why many ghostsigns are on what appears to be a flat wall when the space around is purely bricks.

When I arrived Chris was up the ladder working on the initial block letters for the MOT headline. He was using guidelines to ensure uniform height for the letters and had masked off the tops and bottoms of the M and T in order to provide the straight edge.

Up the ladder, laying down the outline
Here you can see the outline of the T being created before filling in. Also the masking off at the top.

Outlining the 'T'
Next it was over to the box of kit which holds a mixture of paints, brushes, turps and more. The paints are mixed with the turps in a small tub to thin them before application to the sign. Turps is also used to clean the brushes when finished with a particular colour. It looks like this box of kit has been around a bit and seen lots of colours mixed and applied.

Supplies of the trade
Chris pulled out this other box which he was given recently. The INTENSO paints inside are from around the 1940s and each says ‘Signwriters White’ or whatever colour it happens to be. One of them is almost as new so Chris wants to keep it as a little piece of history.

Paints in a box
Inside each of the boxes is the tube of signwriters paint, this time white but there was also black, blue and middle chrome. It’s amazing that even after 60 years these paints can still be used.

The tube inside the box
Next it was onto one of the sub headings and some freehand italics in Chris’ own style. At this point I took the opportunity to film him at work which hopefully captures some of the technique. First are a couple showing the initial shape of the letters going down.

Next is laying down the shadow.

Sadly I had to leave before I could see the whole sign finished, Chris was planning on spending the whole day doing it. Hopefully he’ll get a snap that I can add at a later date.

Laying down the shadow
Thanks to Chris for giving this insight into his work, I hope to meet him again soon to talk more about the equipment and techniques used and will write this up when it happens.

PS. (2nd January). Here’s the final completed sign…

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