By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Tuesday, December 31st, 2019
Studio size: 1200 sq. ft.
Summa 610 cutter
Gerber Omega software
Most creative sign makers see signs as art, just as SignCraft does. Granted they are commercial art, but art just the same. Art doesn’t have to be an exquisitely beautiful object—a line of well-executed gothic lettering or a well-designed wrap is art. It’s highly functional, appealing to look at, purposeful art.
Some sign work, of course, does fall into the exquisitely beautiful, as does Dave Smith’s. It combines incredible design with traditional craftsmanship and great discipline to produce something that is stunning. More than just looking at it, you marvel at it. You look at it overall, then in detail, then for the detail in the detail. It’s hard to believe that it was all done by hand while at the same time, you know that it could be done no other way.
Dave’s sign writing roots opened the door to the magic of glass and gold and a host of other techniques and effects. His work and his story is inspiring even if you never get the opportunity to lay a single leaf of gold leaf. It shows where passion and a lot of hard work can take you.
Learning the craft My family lives in a very nice part of England that some call the English Riviera. It’s in the southwest corner on the UK down on the coast. As a kid, I always had a pen in my hand and was always fooling around with drawing.
Torquay is a resort town so there are a lot of hotels. A friend of my dad’s asked him if I might be interested in lettering a sign for his hotel. I’ll never forget it. The signboard was chocolate brown, and they wanted cream lettering on it. I didn’t have a clue how to do it. I had a go at it, though, and it turned out okay. That’s how it all started.
From there came a few more signs, a few coaches and big buses. I was only about 15. I didn’t know about sign writing brushes or 1 Shot or other sign enamels. I just got by with what I could find.
About a year later my dad got me an apprenticeship with a local sign writing company. There were six older gentlemen there, all amazing signwriters and ticketwriters—fantastic people, all with great character. They trained me as a sign writer, and along the way, we became great friends. I’m 51 now, and looking back they were all about that same age back then. And I thought they were all such old blokes! [Laughing.]
One of them, Gordon Farr, was so slick with a brush, and his pictorial and lettering work was brilliant. His ticketwriting was world class. I learned a lot from Gordon in those early days, and I’m still in touch with him. When I see Bob Behounek’s work I think of Gordon, as he had that same understanding of beautiful layouts and type—slick, bouncy type coming right from the hand.