Maybe I simply wasn’t aware of any others before, but I have the impression that – since the release in 2007 of Garry Hustwit’s Helvetica, his seminal exploration of type design (and by extension graphic design and global visual culture) — we have seen a number of very fine documentaries about typography and lettering appear. Making Faces: Metal Type in the 21st Century (A documentary) is Richard Kegler’s intimate portrait of the late Jim Rimmer, possibly the only person who designed and fabricated fonts in both digital and metal formats. Doug Wilson’s Linotype: The Film is an exhilarating account of the machine that revolutionised printing and the dissemination of information. I still have to catch Justine Nagan’s Typeface focussing on the printing factory of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. And now we have a new movie to look out for – Sign Painters, a long-form documentary by Faythe Levine & Sam Macon about the contemporary sign painters’ trade. The film recently premiered at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery on March 30th.
Fun detail – at 0:40 in the trailer you’ll see sign painter and type designer John Downer in the light blue striped shirt.
Below’s the blurb from the website.
There was a time, as recently as the 1980s, when storefronts, murals, banners, barn signs, billboards, and even street signs were all hand-lettered with brush and paint. 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 landscape. Fortunately, there is a growing trend to seek out traditional sign painters and a renaissance in the trade.
In 2010 Directors Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, with Cinematographer Travis Auclair, 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 the stories of more than two dozen sign painters working in cities throughout the United States. The documentary and book profiles sign painters young and old, from the new vanguard working solo to collaborative shops such as San Francisco’s New Bohemia Signs and New York’s Colossal Media’s Sky High Murals.
Sign Painters is also a book edited by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, and featuring a foreword by legendary artist (and former sign painter) Ed Ruscha. You can find it in book shops, or order it directly from Princeton Architectural Press.
See also these documentary shorts about sign painting on The FontFeed:
- FontCast #12 — Damon Styer of New Bohemia Signs
- “Up There” Reveals The Dying Art Of Large-scale Hand Painted Advertising