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Learning Sign Painting - Improving Part 2

'I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times’ - Bruce Lee

You’re probably wondering why I started this blog about sign painting with a martial arts quote, but it really goes a long way to explaining how I view learning this craft. After reading about how sign shops and apprenticeships used to work, I quickly realised that jumping straight into painting signs for clients and for money was not the right way to go about things for myself (no judgement for anyone who’s done this!).

A sign can last for years, and decades when done correctly, and any sign you paint is an advertisement for your work. With that in mind, producing a bad sign or anything that’s less than acceptable by industry standards is something that didn’t sit right with me. As mentioned in my previous blog, I had found structure in my practice at this stage in learning foundational sign painting strokes along with a few styles of lettering.

This is where that Bruce Lee quote comes into play. I figured that if I could gain a strong base in the fundamentals of sign painting, the harder and more advanced techniques would come much easier when it came to it. Learning and mastering new skills is something I’ve read a lot about. Malcolm Gladwell’s ’10,000 hours’ theory and Tim Ferriss’ DDDS system for learning new skills provided a lot of inspiration. I had read these types of books for years and found it really cool and exciting that I could finally put these famous and proven theories to work in my own life!

I’ve spent a few years at this stage practising block and casual lettering, and probably will never stop. I can’t describe how frustrating and mind-numbingly boring it was at the beginning, but after a year or so I started to see the benefits. I can now draw and paint really solid letterforms from memory in a much faster time than someone who hasn’t done that type of practice. Remember, in this line of work, time is money and the quicker you can paint a sign, the more money you make!

Here’s exactly how I implemented these ideas into my practice…

Sign painting’s foundational strokes - letter forms are made up of individual brush strokes. Learn the most common brush strokes and you’ll in theory be able to paint a good-looking letter. I found a set of foundational strokes in the Sign Painting Support Group on Facebook which I painted over and over again. Repetition is key here. Painting line after line really helps you get used to working with a brush and paint. You get a feel for it that only comes with time. You start to know when the paint consistency is too thick or too thin, or when a brush just isn’t performing well.

Casual & block lettering - this is my go-to style for coffee menu lettering, quick window lettering or informal signage that doesn’t need to be too fancy or highfalutin. Once I ‘mastered’ the foundational strokes, I was able to put them all together to make letterforms.

Not all the jobs sign painters do are the impressive gold leaf or fascia work you see on Instagram. A lot of the time, a client just wants some simple lettering on an a-frame or a menu that you did last year updated. These jobs probably won’t end up on your highlight reel of projects but they pay the bills and the quicker you can do them, the quicker you can get to your next job!

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