Stipple on an antique background

By Mike Meyer

Posted on Friday, February 2nd, 2024

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Cool effects are one way of adding interest to a sign—and adding some interest to your workday. They’re fun. For this sign for the local livestock auction barn, I wanted the look of old parchment. The budget didn’t allow for making it an all-day project, though. The answer was stippling on a fade with a plastic bag, working wet on wet.

I started by painting the background with a 50/50 mix of Ronan [T. J. Ronan, 800-247-6626,] ivory and medium brown background enamel. I let the background tack up for about 20 minutes, and then I was ready to stipple on the aged effect.

The effect is done “by the eye.” You make the stippling a little denser around the edges and keep it visually equal all the way around the panel. I didn’t thin the enamel—I worked right out of the can.

The sign panel is aluminum composite material [ACM] cut to shape with a scroll saw and a metal cutting blade. ACM is a sandwich of prefinished aluminum faces over a corrugated plastic core.

Cost-wise, I find ACM comes out about the same as well-coated plywood and it makes a great sign panel. It’s rigid, easy to cut and handle, and will last forever. It comes in about a dozen colors, but I often use white and paint it the color I need. I lightly scuff it with fine sandpaper, apply a coat of Wil-Bond, a bonding agent from the paint store, and roll on a coat or two of enamel.

The market had these boring black Helvetica-on-white plywood signs that had been up there forever. It was a great opportunity to do something that looked interesting. You know you’ve done alright when a few old farmers push their caps back and tell you, “Well, that looks pretty nice up there.…”

I slid a plastic bag—this happened to be the bag the roller cover came in—on my hand and wadded it up. I daubed it in medium brown lettering enamel and started padding it on the background on the border. I stippled in about 12 in. from the edge, working around the panel. As soon as I finished, I switched to dark brown lettering enamel, and stippled that in about five inches.

Here I am, about a quarter of the way along with the dark brown. It was a sunny day, so each layer of paint had tacked up by the time I added the next. The effect goes down quickly—this was all over in a matter of about 30 minutes.

I did my layout in FlexiSign, using Esoteric and Happy Round Block fonts from I printed it out on a transparency. Once the background was dry, I projected the layout on a panel using an overhead projector, and drew it with a Stabilo pencil. I did the lettering with black enamel.

Here’s a closer look…

…and here it is on site.

This appeared in the January/February 2004 issue of SignCraft Magazine.