Faythe Levine and Sam Macon
At a time when most American cityscapes are dominated by computer created mass-produced signage,”Sign Painters” takes a close look at the past, present, and hopeful future of the hand painted sign industry in the USA.
But, like many skilled trades, the sign industry has been overrun by the techno-fueled promise of quicker and cheaper.
The resulting proliferation of computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering and inkjet printers has ushered a creeping sameness into our visual landscape.
Fortunately, there is a growing trend to seek out traditional sign painters and a renaissance in the trade.
In 2010 filmmakers Faythe Levine, co-author of Handmade Nation, and Sam Macon began documenting these dedicated practitioners, their time-honored methods, and their appreciation for quality and craftsmanship.
‘Sign Painters’, the first anecdotal history of the craft, features stories and photographs of more than two dozen sign painters working in cities throughout the United States.
"Every now and again, a book comes my way on a topic that is utterly and completely unexpected. Faythe Levine and Sam Macon's Sign Painters is the sort of artistic celebration that should be commonplace on the shelves.this is graphic design at its best; these signs command attention, enliven the landscape, and bring customers in... good stuff, and damned inspiring." -- Bookslut
"This is not only a wonderful book, a delight to take in, rich and telling in its details and a visual pleasure with its gorgeous photography. It's an important book that captures a largely untold story." -- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Full of stunning full-color shots of finished signs and works-in-progress of folks from San Francisco and Iowa City to Mazeppa and Boston. Even artist Ed Ruscha gets in on the action." -- Fast Company
"With hand-painted signs rapidly going the way of the film camera, documentarians Levine and Macon offer a welcome look at some of the remaining artists and their work, which adorns storefronts, walls and billboards. New Yorker Stephen Powers began as a graffiti artist; Las Vegas painters Mark and Rosie Oatis met in sign school; Ernie Gosnell, in Seattle, learned the trade as a teen from a sign-painting lady wrestler who "tattooed a little bit on the side." It's a toss-up as to what's better - these characters or their art." -- New York Post
"Artist Clark Byers may not be a household name, but if you've lived or traveled in the southeast U.S., you're probably familiar with his work. Byers, whose death in 2004 was commemorated with an obituary in the New York Times, painted the advertising slogan, "See Rock City," on the roofs of more than 900 barns from the late 1930s until the 1960s. Byers' and other artists' signs inspired filmmakers Sam Macon and Faythe Levine's great new book, Sign Painters, an homage to the craft and its craftsmen (and a great gift for the Americana-lover on your holiday shopping list)." -- Reader's Digest
"As lovingly hand made as the signs it celebrates... What comes across clearly is the respect for good work, letter by letter, that helps their clients' businesses succeed. This book captures the renaissance of the sign painter." --- Juxtapoz
"Sign Painters is a great source of inspiration about this often-overlooked industry, and a good reminder to pay a little extra attention while out in the city, on the highway, or wherever. Beautiful hand-painted signs are everywhere." -- Smithsonian.com
"A lovely paean to a vanishing art... Ms. Levine and Mr. Macon have hopscotched the country, interviewing many of the best remaining old-school sign painters and printing their best work... This book, with an introduction by the artist Ed Ruscha, is a funky and necessary work of preservation." -- New York Times
My creative practice is not tied down to one medium; it is based on whatever I am passionate about. Over time this has allowed me to accumulate a large, diverse portfolio of work centered on themes of community, DIY, creativity, awareness, process, empowerment and documentation. I aspire to communicate honesty, authenticity and the quality of life through my work. My books and projects aim to be approachable and accessible and my work is exhibited and published in both formal and renegade outlets internationally.
Sam Macon is a Milwaukee-born, Chicago-based filmmaker, photographer, and writer. He received his BFA in film from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and directs music videos, commercials, short films, and documentaries.
"Here is where I first heard of the book and documentary...
James Gurney's FANTASTIC art blog!" -RQ
I didn’t start painting seriously until 1980. I tried drafting and calligraphy, but my poor eye-site and large-temperament made it difficult to work on such a small scale. Once I discovered outdoor signs, billboards, and wall-murals I was hooked. It’s a thrill and a challenge to work on a really large scale project, hanging on a tall wall, high above the world, slingin’ paint around with big brushes and painting with your whole body involved.
Early on I hooked up with a Pub-and-Bar developer, traveling around the Western States doing artwork, signs, menus, and carnival/circus style painting with a troop of local artists and sign-painters. What a great way to learn a craft! Collaborating and learning from a wide range of talented artisans.
Being able to knock-out a sign project has also really helped during the lean times of ‘Art’ making.
Your post on Monday, March 4, 2013: Documentary about Ornamental Glass Art was likewise inspirational. This is a great example of how a ‘decorative craft’ can be elevated to the level of ‘Fine-Art’.
Thanx for the trip down memory lane.
Keep up the good work. -RQ
March 10, 2013 at 3:56 PM
Since you have made it this far, you might as well check out sme of the signs I have up on my web site:
I have always specialized in custom, hand-painted,
one-of-a-kind projects, so advanced technologies
are not a threat, but rather an opportunity
to apply my craftin new and exciting ways –
and in doing so to better meet my clients' needs."