Art and Design
We have become so used to signs and advertisements that perhaps we hardly notice them any more. Yet a walk down any shopping street means being bombarded with the work of signwriting firms. Shop fronts, the sides of lorries and vans, road signs, direction signs on buildings - they all mean work for signwriters. Look a bit more closely at all these signs and you will find a variety of methods of production. Some may be done by the traditional method of painting by hand, others may be produced by silkscreen printing. Newer methods include building up the message with plastic letters or by engraving on to plastic or metal. Traditional signwriting was a craft which involved at least five years spent learning the painstaking art of hand-painting signs on to wood or metal. A steady hand and a good eye were needed, as well as a feeling for design and lettering. Only the simplest tools were used - brushes, paint and set squares - to produce work of a very high standard. Some signwriters still learn the old craft, but modern developments have brought in new skills and techniques.
In the most modern techniques, computers are now used. The text is keyed into the computer, together with the style of typeface and the size of lettering required. Not only letters, but simple illustrations can be entered using a special scanner. Then, at the push of a button, the computer instructs an electronic printing machine to produce everything to go on to the sign, in an adhesive plastic material. The signwriter then lays out the text on the background material, and carefully sticks it on. This technique can be used to produce a tough, durable sign for any thing from an office door to large signs for shops or the sides of a lorry.
Training is provided mainly on-the-job. Firms carrying out school-leavers and take three or four years to train them, though it takes longer to become a skilled hand-signwriter. There are part-time courses at some colleges for trainees already working in the industry and a few full-time courses. Signwriters not necessary. Larger firms offering design services might have work for graphic designers, and work involving illustrations. Lettering (e.g. for pub signs) could also make use of artistic talents.
Most signwriting firms are in larger towns, where there is a good range of business. A useful source of information is Yellow Pages (look at the listings under ‘signwriters’ and ‘signmakers’). Write or call on these firms to ask if they have any vacancies.