Signwriting – a lost art?

These illustrations were taken this week of a hand painted sign in the local town a few kms from where I live. Judging by the style I’d estimate the sign was painted in the 60s or perhaps 70s. It is a nice example of slab lettering combined with shading to make the lettering seem as if engraved or incised. (Shame about the orange graffiti.)

simpson signage a

simpson signage b

simpson signage

The next illustration, taken from A.J. Lewery’s Signwritten Art (1989, David and Charles), shows a page from William Sutherland’s  The Practical Guide to Sign Writing and Gilding, and Ornamenting on Glass (1860).

signwriting sutherland


Literature and lettering and signwriting

Possibly a rich resource, as yet untapped. Prompted by this paragraph in VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas, the eponymous ‘hero’ cast as a sign-writer.

‘So Mr Biswas became a sign-writer…He had been used to designing letters with pen and pencil and was afraid that he would not be able to control a brush with paint. But he found that the brush, though flattening out disconcertingly at first could be made to respond to the gentlest pressure; strokes were cleaner, curves truer. “Just turn the brush slowly in your fingers when you come to the curve,” Alec said; and curves had fewer problems after that. After IDLERS KEEP OUT BY ORDER he did more signs with Alec; his hands became surer, his strokes bolder, his feeling for letters finer. He thought R and S the most beautiful of Roman letters; no letter could express so many moods as R, without losing its beauty; and what could compare with the swing and rhythm of S?”

[A House for Mr Biswas, first published 1962. This edition, 1995, Everyman’s Library, p.72-73.]

Sounds as though Naipaul himself had been a sign-writer at one stage, or at least had spent time with one. Appreciate any similar from your readings.

[Illustrations taken from Signwork: A craftsman’s manual by Bill Stewart, 1984, Granada Technical Books, London; Signwritten Art by AJ Lewery, 1989, David & Charles, Newton Abbot.]