Month: May 2013

“What is a traditional signwriting?” Insider stuff … heard it on the streetvine

This page – on the vine…

“What is a tradition? It’s how it’s done and from where…”

Tradition happens only as a result of great and lengthy commitment – and an understanding of the loyalty and challenges it demands.  That way, down the long steady road, you become assured and really good at it.

Sometimes it feels like we few London writers are the last truly so … engrossed in the refinement down to the finest degree. It comes from our grounding.

Culture and tradition
Are there certain foods your family eats every New Year? What about special greetings for birthdays, or songs to sing on rainy night? – If so, you might be practicing a tradition!  Lots of holidays are associated with traditions, such as watching fireworks on the 4th of July or eating turkey on Thanksgiving.
“The letters don’t get their true delight, when done in haste & discomfort, nor merely done with diligence & pain, but first when they are created with love and passion.”

Giambattista Bodoni

Unlike laws and rules, which we have to observe for our safety and well-being, traditions are usually things we do by choice because they are customary and meaningful. Most traditions are enjoyable things that help people to observe an occasion or feel unified with a certain group, such as their religion, team, or fellow citizens.
But these are examples of social traditions. What about traditions that personify ingenuity, craftsmanship and skills?
Traditions are practices and beliefs that are passed down between generations of a certain family, culture, or other group such as Guilds and Unions. 
The word tradition implies that a certain practice has been around for some time and is observed regularly. The tradition for a culture to eat specific foods, for example, usually goes back to parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond! However, new traditions are made all the time and sometimes even replace old traditions.  


Watching the makers of Parmigiano Reggiano at work 16 hours every day of their lives has given me an insight into not only the level of dedication required to truly be the best, but also the way in which information is shared and expected to be retained. Repetition of practice cannot be mistaken for repetition of instructions which often results by lack of concentration from the apprentice.
Likewise working with traditional martial artists in China I got to see the importance of 100% concentration and successful application.
“Lettering is a precise art and strictly subject to tradition. The New Art notion that you can make letters whatever shapes you like, is as foolish as the notion, if anyone has such a notion, that you can make houses any shapes you like. You can’t, unless you live all by yourself on a desert island”.
Eric Gill
Gill’s quote above illustrates how traditions also get blown out of the water as technology shapes our lives and the way we letter them.
In London today there is a revival and fashionable trend chasing Tradition, exemplifying it and even replicating to exacting degrees. There are a few new kids on the block none of which are the complete package when cast under the gaze of us long tooth writers – however these guys are bringing a breath of fresh air to the art.
You cannot short cut experience no matter how well Instagram is applied!! It takes 10 years to get a real handle on it.  But there again tradition has always relied upon innovation because it is a paradox … a modern thing with classical bloodlines.
Many of the true traditional practitioners utilise modern practices and materials alongside trusted old ones, however the practice of Traditional Signwriting in London rests with just a hand full of original artists.
For Jack Holland’s and Peter Hardwicke Tradition is uppermost and a guiding light – Wayne Tanswell too.  Richard Apps is a keen avatar of hand rendered artwork.  David Smith is perhaps the most famous of the Traditional sign men in UK and the world today.
Myself I also hold true to the value of my own family design heritage and lettering traditions: using freehand lettering techniques since 1975 with no tapes or modern aides wherever possible. In many cases I don’t even use a rule or measure marking with the mahl and brush points any levels and centres needed.
Hand rendered and computer assisted artwork assist some contexts and because of my own genealogy in stone masonry and letter carving, my sense of tradition is more keen than most and sought after by those who share the passion.
For us traditional boys there has been an enormous investment in time, dedication and passion to elevate the practice today.

For something to become a tradition, it just has to be done deciduously again and again for years!  With love and abiding obsession… we all love the rock n roll of lettering.



All artisan’s, cooks n chefs hold something back…

But I don’t.


Never let you down – setting and leading the rising standard.


Superb design and execution

Bespoke or tailored pricing

A very nice Jaguar indeed


I trained Matt Ordrobny, Beth Jarrold, Taylor Pyke and Jack Hollands a few months ago and they are carving a niche for themselves.

But NGS traditional signwriting is something that is and has always been like a very good wine and a very wise investment.

No sour grapes… select the best, have a taste and enjoy the rewards!


NGS – every inch traditional going the extra mile

Nick Garrett

Tennent of a Master Sign Writer

the entity of beauty

… when we blow up a letter on-screen no matter the font
it is only ever a curve or a straight

No vectors – vectors are a sadness and must be lost…

… when we strike the letter from our heart it reveals the entity of utter beauty… there is no purer way and no finer beauty.

When you move the curve you must know the finest moment of perfection.

Many can paint great letters … few can strike them utterly beautifully.

That is what we must do. That is what I do.

However just because the writer wields a brush with scant reference and drawings this does not define automatically the onset of beauty. There are many writers who also lack the experience of visual beauty. The experience of touching, smelling, tasting perfection. Seeing a Massacio or a Da Vinci drawing.

Carving a place close to truth.

This is meditation.


The brush sends us into meditation.

Yet we must strive to sharpen the sword… empty the cup.





In truth and not by ego.

How else can we write perfectly – unless we embrace imperfection.

And know them as the same.




Yes, but only to the shallow fool.

To the artisan it is the only way.


 Where the mind goes the brush follows and where it follows in truth it leads us to great places.

Urbanization is our canvas

Cannabis is terrible for signwriting as it dupes the artist –  never trust this in a visual artist

The city drives us

We must make it beautiful

Using a stencil is the admission of several things… none of them good

I can barely speak of it… such dysfunction must be educated and changed.


When it rains wait

When it pours go home

When it is warm – this is the glory of true reward


Never expect a sign man to design your sign as part of the work

Pay him well or risk your company’s failure by virtue of your error.


Signs are providers of wealth and name.

Without a good truthful sign you will have none.



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