Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water



Ed Ruscha

Sign Painters



Ed Ruscha in his studio.

Editor's Note: The following is the foreward to Sign Painters a new book from Princeton Architectural Press by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon and printed with premission of the publisher.


Growing up in the Southwest in the 1950s, I was exposed every day to hand-lettered signs, usually on wrinkly sheets of metal, say, for an unplanned watermelon sign or a hamburger menu. Some sign painters had the facility to make any word grouping look good and make any letter of the alphabet look stylish.

The watermelon sign, a particular American icon, often misspelled and full of genuinely folkish paint strokes, was everywhere. Then there were the painters who added impressive illustrations along with the smoothly handled letterforms. Sometimes they did it with gloss black one-stroked enamel letters on a glossy white background. Wow! And the ecstasy of seeing a sign on metal with a beautifully built-up edge of paint bulging from one side of the letter stroke! It’s not science, but it’s beautiful and all artists recognize this. These painters knew about optical illusions, that some letters like O and S need to go a shade higher and lower than the baselines to appear equal in the lineup. This is something you take to heart.

I’m reminded of the late Clark Byers (ca. 1915–2004), known as the “barnyard Rembrandt.” He painted SEE ROCK CITY (a roadside attraction outside of Chattanooga) on the sides of more than nine hundred barns in Tennessee and Georgia. He said, “I never passed up a good roof.” That leads me to flash forward to today’s world with our seven-story wrap- around motion graphics à la Las Vegas or Times Square.

The creators of hand-painted signs have engaged in an elegant and noble art form in all of its extremes, but in a world of computer plastics, where do we go? Children are not even taught longhand writing these days. You might say the closest thing to a sign painter would be a graffiti artist out on the street, looking for walls. (And boy, can they embellish Old English letters upside down and backward!)

We have seen sign painting grow from primitive instincts and humble beginnings to this present world of advanced culture. Obviously I am all for the triumph and nobility of the main thing: PLAN AHEAD.
Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Corrections and Collections


The Private World of Martina Kubelk


From the Archive: Brian Eno, Artist of Light


Donald Judd and the Blooming of Reality


Accidental Mysteries, 07.29.12



RSS Subscribe to Comment Feed

Comments (2)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Great article. Slight typo in editor's note “Princeon –> Princeton”
KRE
11.06.12 at 09:37

I'll echo KRE and say great article. Really looking forward to the slideshow but it seems to be empty. Will there be a slideshow to accompany the article?
thomasb
11.06.12 at 10:30



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW


View Slideshow >>
Edward Ruscha is an artist in California who has been the subject of numerous museum retrospectives, and in 2005, Ruscha was the United States representative at the 51st Venice Biennale. His early career as a graphic artist continues to strongly influence his aesthetic and thematic approach.
More >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS