Over the past few years I have watched the Shoreditch design scene explode with creative action and a new rich seam of lettering talent.
No matter where you stand a 360 will bring you up close to some of the best names, newbies and unnamed creatives in the world.
Street art has spat on the ground where the gauntlet was once laid and the national institution of traditional signwriters have been blown away by the new crews.
Or have they?
Pete Hardwick is one of the enduring figures of East London signwriting and still holds court no matter what the rattlers and wipers try to angle at him. His hand remains timeless, slipping accented Romans, classic Johnston, and an array of wonderful scripts, sweetly, deftly without the oft streety bullshit of the young guns.
Hard words yep – but a lot of truth besides.
If you want to grab a career get outa jail card then head to Stuart Stephenson’s and buy some brushes and Oneshot and have a go.
You can even hitch a ride with the London Painted Letters Signsmiths, but one thing is certain you will only truly get the magic of the written letter, by working with a pro, up the ladder. And as nearly every one of my students tell me … do anything to get out from behind the computer keyboard.
Young, graffiti origined, arthead Tobias Newbigin has just finished a 10 month internship with myself and without a doubt the benefit he has onboard today comes from hard coal face work, rain or shine.
So how has the industry changed?
It isn’t and industry anymore… as the years rolled by out of WW2 the demand for painting rose through the sixties but experienced a dramatic decline through the mid eighties and nineties. The digital media bit hard and shook down the industry leaving a handful of writers across town.
Today the master writers must be delighted in the revival that is fueling, not only a rash of new projects but a throng of young graphic designers fully in love with the written letter keeping the sail full.
Architects and planners too are aligning projects with the brush.
But arguably (as they say) more than anything else today, the industry is reliant on this new cutting edge cult design mondo to keep the faith and push on – reaching deep and wide for inspiration. Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Milan – to say nothing of the rest of the close knit globus, are brimming with inspiration and easy to find.
It all happened when 2008 hit home bursting forever the notion that virtuality is or was the only way forward as an entrepreneur. What happened was people found themselves walking the streets looking for a break… things got real for a lot of creatives… nay 99% of us.
But we need not to look at each other for inspiration but find it for ourselves. The practice is beckoning something new, not just the staple of wharf blocks but something far more resonant. It isn’t good enough to base our sights and intentions on what the bloody Victorians did but to enable the cleaving of the clay basin to find the seam of abundant new.
And it’s there … right there under our nose. The next 5 years of design inspiration that will sustain us a plenty.
Our young letterers must set aside the hand of the mentor and strive for something broundbreaking… while maintaining the skills of old. Moreover they must dig deep, and nurture the fresh culture of creativity from the heart to the outside world.
Rules were made for breaking – exactly which ones are the difference and as we share the skills we must also share the tender yet powerful inspiration.
But perhaps that seductive thing that attracts so many youngsters to this trade today will be the one thing that inevitably runs it’s course. It is a trade that relies on long days and hard yakka. There’s only so much that can be charged for a day’s work and the salt test is how far the stamina will go as year after year – writing yields a decent living in a world with spiraling expectations and costs. You can’t write with both hands and in ten years the crafts we see today may be struggling once again.
For now it serves as a fantastic practice and creative safety net as so many artists struggle to thrive.
But as the competition rises, design whims change and the market stabalises, the real challenge may be attained by simply being dedicated to maintaining a genuine way to preserve quality and London’s great letters. Because great design truly is one of the three keys to sustaining this revival.
The other two are to be discovered on the drawing board and in the back room, because it is how we work together in a new way which may unravel whether this all proves itself to be a launch haul change. In the past the sense of competition was high yet the market place somewhat different.
Just as the vinyl cutter chopped the industry down in the eighties will the future hold a similar fate entirely down to those that have ironically kindled those embers?
Image Tobias Newbigin and Nick Garrett finishing up another hand painted gem in Shoreditch London.
Shop Signs are freeform jewels again…
These special brand hallmark projects are aglow with creative integrity and have required me to re-visit in far greater detail, the creative processes I have used over the years.
In some ways they have also allowed me to simply write the way I did as an apprentice: Freehand, no measurements, tape just entirely by eye with the merest sketch-up in chalk.
This is the most eloquent way of writing.
A few of us have the skills to make it right… all my guys who I have trained over the years will read this and drool!
But rest assured 40 years of experience is a lifetime of beautiful letters 😉 – you’ll get there if you emulate the passion of the best.
For now we have it covered and look forward to working with you the discerning customer.