Josh and Meredith are co-owners of Best Dressed Signs (Boston).
EQUIPMENT AND MATERIALS
Coatings: Masonry primer, from Behr (Santa Ana, CA), (714) 545-7101 or www.behr.com; lettering enamels from 1Shot, a Matthews Paint company (Delaware, OH), (800) 323-6593 or www.1shot.com
Layout: Adobe Photoshop software, from Adobe Corp. (San Jose, CA), www.adobe.com; Electro-Pounce machine, from such vendors as McLogan Supply Co. (Chatsworth, CA), (818) 718-0888 or www.mclogan.com; projector, from educational- and art-supply stores; scanner, available at office-supply stores
Supplies: Fitch brushes, Han-See pounce pads from such vendors as Dick Blick Art Supplies (Galesburg, IL), (800) 828-4548 or www.dickblick.com; adhesive tape, measuring tape, mineral spirits, wood blocks, drop cloths, rags, ladders and chalk, available at home-improvement stores.
In the summer of 2015, Meredith and I were contacted by John Tunney, the owner of South Boston Candlepins, about creating new signage for the decades-old bowling alley that’s a “Southie” icon. Candlepin is a type of bowling that’s mostly popular in New England. It utilizes a small ball and tall, thin pins that aren’t removed or reset between each throw, which makes the pins as much a part of the game as the ball. It’s really fun!
John mentioned that the bowling alley was doing well, but he didn’t think their signage was attracting enough foot traffic. He wanted to utilize a side of the building that had been covered in ivy.
After discussing the project briefly on the phone, we met John at the bowling alley to see the interior, check out the wall and take photos and measurements. John expressed an interest in a classic, midcentury bowling aesthetic – the 1950’s were probably the peak of bowling’s popularity in the US, and many alleys featured spectacular, Googie-style signage – and he wanted bright, eye-catching graphics.
We settled on a 10 x 6-ft. sign on the brick wall that would identify Southie Bowl and include an image of pins and a candlepin ball. John assured us he would remove the ivy before we began painting onsite. We gave John an estimate and,once we received a deposit, I set to work researching old bowling logos and midcentury advertisements to generate some ideas. The next step in the design process was to draw up a very loose sketch. Then, I proceeded to a more refined sketch at a 1:12 scale, which we submitted to John for approval. He didn’t ask for any revisions, but he wanted more definitive ideas for the color because of his concern about its brightness.
I scanned the sketch into Adobe Photoshop® software and plugged in some rudimentary color blocks to give an idea of the color palette (the hues changed slightly onsite as we evaluated our progress and adjusted). We told John that it’s difficult to replicate 1Shot® lettering enamels’ lively colors on a computer mock-up, but assured him that the sign would be very striking.
After seeing the color mock-up, John gave us the OK, and we began making a pattern. We projected the sketch to scale (10 x 6 ft.) from the computer onto a piece of paper attached to a wall of our studio, tracing the design with pencil. Meredith then perforated the pencil lines with an Electro-Pounce machine, which conducts a current of electricity though a stylus and burns tiny holes through the paper, leaving perforated lines that follow where the design was penciled in.
Once we’d completed the pattern, we went to the site and began making the sign. Because the ground by the wall was on an incline, we had to stabilize our adjustable ladders with blocks of wood to make sure they were level. When we were sure the ladders were secure, we took some measurements and marked chalk lines, also known as snapping, to make sure the pattern was rolled out straight and at the correct height. We moved the pattern a few times to verify the placement. Once we were satisfied, we pounced black chalk through the perforated lines of the pattern to transfer the design to the wall using Han-See pounce pads.
The brick wall provided a solid challenge because of its age, the number of times it had been painted, and the recent removal of ivy, which created an irregular, pockmarked and prickly surface. Because some paint on the wall was peeling, we scraped it off and applied a primer to make sure the 1Shot would bond to the surface.
After these preparatory steps, we began painting using fitch brushes because their shorter, stiffer bristles can get the paint into the grooves and cracks on the wall’s extremely rough, uneven surface better than a lettering quill. Some of the fitches that we used on this sign were passed down to us from the daughter of a signpainter who passed away in the 1950’s. This was the first time we used these brushes since they were given to us – and the first time they’d been used since his passing.
While I started on the “Southie Bowl” lettering, Meredith began filling in the red outer border, cutting in the orange background around the letters, and blocking in the colors for the banners and bowling pins. Because of the rough surface, we kept our paint thick to avoid dripping as much as possible. However, some drips were inevitable, so we covered them up when we came in with the next coat.
It’s in the details
Once the “Southie Bowl” lettering and shadows were complete and the background colors and banners had been blocked in, we began the detail work. I painted the white outlines on “Southie Bowl” and the “Around the Corner” lettering, while Meredith painted the “Candlepins” lettering, the white outlines on the red arrow and the bowling balls, and the black outlines on the yellow starburst. I then focused on shading and details on the bowling pins and bowling balls. Finally, we applied the Best Dressed Signs signature. We’ve recently started including the year of production on our signs to let people know a project’s age.
John was happy with the results and, after we finished, treated us to a complimentary beer, bowling session and game of Ms. Pac-Man. He even turned on the disco lights to celebrate their new sign!
We were glad to have a satisfied client, but, like all worthwhile endeavors, we left the jobsite with lessons learned. Around Boston, brick walls are common, but we quickly learned that not all brick walls were built equally. Painting over this surface felt a bit like driving an off-road vehicle through some rough terrain. We’re glad we made a site visit and determined the wall’s roughness before we bid on the job. Also, after seeing the sign in photographs, I think the top of the “Southie Bowl” lettering gets a little lost on the light-colored wall; I would’ve included a darker outline atop where we filled in the letters above the orange background. Though the brick surface and hill provided challenges, it was all worth it in the end, and we’re happy to include this sign in our portfolio.
More About Best Dressed Signs
Best Dressed Signs is a signpainting company located in Boston that’s dedicated to the craft of handpainted signs, custom lettering, goldleaf and mural painting. In addition to designing, painting and gilding signs and murals, founders Josh Luke and Meredith Kasabian also curate and participate in gallery art shows, conduct signpainting demonstrations, and give lectures on historical and cultural contexts of the sign painting trade. Luke and Kasabian also co-founded the Pre-Vinylite Society, a loose network of sign enthusiasts and advocates for creative placemaking. Their work was featured in Faythe Levine and Sam Macon’s Sign Painters movie and book.
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