We had the pleasure to visit Ged Palmer in his London-based shop THE LUMINOR SIGN CO.

Entering the shop, you instantly blend out the busy outside world, as you find yourself in Ged’s universe of sign painting and all that comes with it. Signs of all kinds are hanging on the walls or from the ceiling. Shelves are filled with books telling us about the heritage, art and practice of sign painting. It is a very lively, authentic atmosphere, much due to this brilliant craftsmanship.

In the following interview we’ll talk about Ged’s journey in sign painting, what makes this craftsmanship so unique and what advice he would give to people interested in it.

Heritage Type Co: What sparked your interested in Sign Painting?

Ged: I’ve always had this fascination for letterforms, since I was 15 years old I kind of got hooked and began drawing letters everyday. As a teenager I painted murals, and was obsessed with comic books and skateboard graphics.

Whilst studying Graphic Design in Bristol, I did an apprenticeship in an advertising agency where I came across great lettering and illustrations. When I asked who had made them, it was never anyone from the company, but someone hired in. It was at that point I realised that lettering artists work as freelancers and decided that was where I wanted to take things.

After finishing my studies I was lucky to meet an illustrator and lettering artist named Tom Lane. Tom and I struck up a friendship and he became my mentor. I worked in his basement studio with him for three years, initially on my own work with him giving me feedback on it and teaching me the essentials of the practice of freelancing.  

I travelled to the states frequently, looking for work. With portfolio in hand I visited studio all over Manhattan and Brooklyn every day for a month, keen to meet the people doing this for a living.

I met with freelancers like Dana Tanamachi and Jon Contino as well as studios like Mucca Design and Louise Fili Ltd. They inspired and encouraged me to focus on the lettering in my portfolio and really gave me the push I needed to try and keep pushing this as a full time career.

Was there a turning-point at which you changed your way of working?

In around 2011/2012 Tom and I got a job in Bristol to paint a mural in the toilets of a cocktail bar. It was just a fun job, I think we did it in exchange for some jazzy cocktails if I remember correctly! The owner closed down the bar and opened up a new restaurant and asked me to do the branding. Somehow I convinced him to let me do their 13 meter sign and that was my first commercial sign writing project in 2011.

So there I was, having no idea how to get the sign up there. I called the local sign writer, James Cooper aka ‘Dapper Signs’, and pleaded with him to help me out with the work. We split that job 50/50 and I learned how to paint signs in the correct way. For so many years I was trying to paint this perfect, straight line and it never worked out the way I wanted. Using the right tools changed everything. I was thrilled and focused on working with a brush from then on. When you paint by hand and get the perfect stroke, you breathe life and bounce into it. If you digitize it, it loses a bit of life and purity of the line.    

What makes Sign Painting so unique?

When in Berkeley, California I got the chance to paint together with Derek McDonald of Golden West Signs. He and his team were so kind and generous and let me stay with them for a couple of weeks where I would learn more about the craft and all that came with it. Derek focused on hand painted signs and gold leaf work and he was super duper rapid with the brush. It really struck me how people like Derek turn up with nothing but a wax pencil and a straight edge and execute a really good layout. When you practice for years to get these letters right, you only need a good layout and not 30 people on a job. You simply turn up and do it yourself. This is sign writing for me. Being immediate with it and producing good quality work without too much faffing about.

It seems that nowadays skilled people like this have become a rarity, as our society tells us to be fast and not lose time. Even if it builds the core of becoming what you aim to be. What do you think the art of Sign Painting can teach us about every day life? What values can be implemented?

The work of lettering and calligraphy is a meditative process. Everything is down to that single stroke and you need to be in a ‘Flow State’, being at one with your work, with nothing else mattering in that moment. I think it’s essential to find yourself as much as possible in that zone, especially living in times of constant distraction. We lose our focus so easily so I try to be as present as I can.

Do you think people are slowing down enough (in terms of creation)?

To be honest, I think we could all do with slowing down more. I’ve been practicing calligraphy for over a decade and I when I went to a hand-writing improving class recently with calligrapher Paul Antonio we spoke for two hours alone about posture and breathing and then moved on to very simple line exercises. This is the level of thinking applied to the craft. I think that more people should get into hand lettering and sign writing but focus on mastering the basics like learning good strokes before getting fancy with loads of effects. If you want to take this seriously, you need to be drawing lines for weeks. How patient are you willing to be?

What advice would you give to people interested in lettering?

Calligraphy is the written letter. Lettering is the drawn letter. Sign writing is a painting of that lettering. Calligraphy and lettering evolve into typefaces. It is that chronology. If you’re interested in lettering: Learn calligraphy.

The form of the lettering is dictated by the tool. This is the most important thing to realise. The best thing to do is buy a speedball book and learn. You can order them on eBay. If you can do every hand in this book, even to an average standard, you’d be better than most of the lettering artists.

Why do you choose London to be the city to live and work in?

London is a beast! It is a really expensive city and not the easiest place to be in many ways but it’s an inspiring place to be. Whenever I speak to people from other countries or when I visit other places I realise that London has so much history in its culture and sign writing. You can find so many amazing and well-preserved works from over a hundred years ago on your doorstep - in bars and local pubs.

I’m a part of the Art Workers’ Guild that is around 300 years old. It respects quality, craftsmanship and is based on the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement. I really like keeping the heritage alive. When I came across this book ‘High Street’ by artist Eric Ravilious, I learned that around a hundred years ago ‘The Luminor Sign Co’ existed on the corner of Old Street and City Road. I chose to keep the legacy of the shop going. So London and Luminor make a tie.

Where do you see Sign Painting in the future?

I think sign painting is getting more recognition than it might have ever before. People are paying attention to it and want something custom made, to make their products more outstanding and lively. I think it’s here to stay and that’s brilliant. One thing I am seeing is that there is so much cross pollination now with the internet it’ll be interesting to see how long different cultural styles last. Sign writers used to work pretty locally with quite distinct styles and I feel this is changing a little. Older friends that have been working in the 1980s think it is surreal how many people are interested in the craftsmanship today. So, if you can run a business as a sign writer, just go for it. Most importantly if you are keen on learning sign writing, be patient and have fun with it!

Thank you so much for the interview, Ged!

1 comment

Awesome work

Luzuko March 21, 2020

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