Posted on Thursday, January 21st, 2021
Earlier this month, we told readers of the October 2020 passing of Scott Martin, an outstanding sign maker from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Scott was on our list of signmakers to feature, but unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to do that while he was still with us. We’d like to share some of his work here, along with a profile on the first-rate craftsman behind it, thanks to a conversation I had with his wife, Leslie. —Tom McIltrot/SignCraft.com
Scott’s interest in signpainting dates back 40 years to a time when he was also getting involved with IT, as a systems programmer, in its earliest days. He worked in the IT world for years with signs as a part-time endeavor.
His 30+ years of IT skills landed him in his own successful IT networking business, RECCE, in Toronto. After making the drive—a two-hour commute each way on a good day—for all those years, in 2013 he decided to switch careers into custom sign making. His focus was hand lettering, gold leaf and carved signs.
“Signs and lettering were a passion for him,” says Leslie. “He was always trying to get better at his sign work and always trying to share with others how beautiful signs could be.”
Growing the business
Scott went into the sign business fulltime with their two sons, Simon and Matthew. They called the business BrushBoys and opened their shop near their hometown in Millgrove, Ontario. The boys eventually went on to other things, and he worked alone for a while. In time, their daughter, Julia, decided she wanted to learn the business and became his fulltime apprentice. She has continued his work as Brushgal in Hamilton [@brushgal on Instagram].
As BrushBoys, Scott began to develop a customer base in the area who appreciated creative signs—coffee shops, tattoo parlors, breweries and other small businesses—along with some corporate and commercial customers. He moved the shop to nearby Hamilton, taking a space in the Imperial Cotton Factory building—a large former cotton mill that had been converted to workspaces and studios for creative professionals. The business continued to grow.
Scott’s 40 years of working at his skills paid off in his ability to produce a very high-quality level of work, both in design and craftsmanship. His layouts were cohesive and appropriate, and he used solid layout principles to deliver impact and legibility.
“Scott was never happy with a sign until he felt it was right,” Leslie says. “I watched him do many designs over, because he felt there was one little flaw that needed to be corrected. He was more than a bit of a perfectionist about it, sometimes too much for his own good.”
“Good design was very, very important to him, as was also doing your very best work. He cared very deeply about what he did. He really couldn’t understand those who didn’t care about the quality of their work. In his eyes, if you were going to put effort into something, why wouldn’t it be your best? For him, being a craftsperson meant constantly working to improve your skills. It was a never-ending process. He was always learning and trying new things.”
Workshops and constant improvement
As interest in hand lettering renewed and grew, Scott decided to offer workshops on the craft, sharing what he knew with scores of beginners and veteran sign painters. He also hosted signpainting workshops with other craftspeople. His goal was to help others do what he continued to do himself—learn new things, improve skills and become a better designer.
“It didn’t matter if someone just wanted to learn to letter or if they did it for a living,” Leslie says. “He wanted to help them get the same pleasure out of making letters with a brush as he did. Some left really enthused; others left totally frustrated because they thought it should be something they could master in a few days. But he made a lot of good friends in the process and several of those people went on to go into the sign business today, inspired by what they learned.”
In 2017, Scott suffered an aortic dissection which nearly cost him his life. It took six months to recover even to the point where he could begin working again. Even after that, it was physically taxing to work more than a few hours, even though he did.
“He was a go-er. He was unique in three particular ways. He was athletic—he played rugby, raced motorcycles and was an ice climber. He was an analytical thinker, which he used in his years of IT work to solve so many issues for his clients. And finally he was creative, which was apparent in his sign work—in his lettering, hand carving, gilding and design. He had so many skills.
“On top of those things, he was powerfully optimistic and positive. Nothing ever got him down. He was a very powerful person in that way. He was never in a bad mood, never depressed, never unhappy. When he wanted to do something, he simply put his mind to it and did it.”
Ultimately, Scott’s work speaks for itself. It takes genuine passion plus years of dedication, hard work and practice to develop your skills to the level that Scott had. The examples shown here are packed with the creativity, inspiration and enthusiasm that marked his work. There are plenty of beautiful signs to see here—everything from commercial truck lettering to glue-chipped glass signs. Thank you, Scott.
See more online:
You’ll want to watch this outstanding video on Scott and his work that was done by the folks at The Laundry Design Works in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
You can see more of Scott’s work on his Instagram account, @brushboys.