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You look very stylish tonight!

28 August, 2011

Here’s a segment about New Bohemia Signs, filmed in July, for NHK’s El Mundo show, aired the first Tuesday in August.  Candice Obayashi translated into English for me, with some help from her mother.

There are a few minor inaccuracies in the report.  I don’t know where they got the idea that I only started hiring people two years ago.  The newest people at NBS have been there for about two years now.  I’ve only been painting signs since ’99, myself–not quite the 15 years claimed herein (but close).  The line mentioning “an exhibit of work that has been made in Damon’s shop” is delivered over a shot of a sign painted by Josh Luke, at his own shop, Best Dressed Signs, in Boston (granted, after half a decade of working at NBS, and having been invited to take part in a “New Bohemia Signs art show”).  Actually, as a matter of fact, I don’t recall them ever even mentioning “New Bohemia Signs” in here…  It’s all “Damon Styer-san” this, and “Damon-san” that, which is kinda… ridiculous….  We put the producers in touch with one of our gold suppliers, Ron, at Letterhead Sign Supply, and I gather his reply to a question about how many gilders he sells to–lots!–didn’t quite jibe with the story arc being plotted, wherein Damon-san is nearly single-handedly keeping a dying craft alive.  My apologies to all the long-suffering sign gilders out there, for having nabbed some of your glory!

What else…?  Oh, it’s pretty rare that anyone just practices for two hours a day.  Some might, on occasion.  I ask them all to put in a half hour, but even that goes out the door, when it gets busy (which is, itself, practice, anyway).

Special thanks to Derek Fagerstrom, at The Curiosity Shoppe, for letting us pull him outside and make him talk; to Andres Guerrero, of Guerrero Gallery, for letting the film crew hassle patrons; to Mark Norrell, of West Portal Optical, for tolerating our sodden trudging through his new shop space; to Candice and to Ken Davis, for shouldering some of the bull spewing duties; and to Hideharu Watanabe, who produced the segment and handled all the on location shooting logistics.

Since those couple of days of shooting have ended, I’ve felt lonely showing up anywhere without my film crew…

Anyway, I hope the bigwigs at the NHK network allow this to stay up.  I’m not sure what their policy is about online video, since they don’t appear to be hosting much, themselves.

Furthermore, I hope this leads to work in Japan!  Or, better yet, vacation in Japan!

A Sign Writers Meet…

11 August, 2011

I just wanted to share some photo’s I took at the recent “Dead Man” Gilders Meetup that took place at Larry White’s shop a few weeks ago.

Although, Damon and I could only stop in for a tiny bit, I was perfectly in love with what Larry has created out of a bland industrial space in Hayward. Amazing work! Thank you Larry for all of your enthusiasm.

If you want to see the rest of the set, click here.
Check out more of Larry White’s work at

Brand New Ghost Sign–for a limited time!

1 August, 2011

I happened to see a brief story in the Chronicle this morning, about an old sign that was recently uncovered when the Bayview branch of the public library was demolished for rebuilding. The previous structure had been there since 1921, so it’s at least that old. I sent Scott out to snap a picture, before the new branch library goes up, and covers the sign for another century. The Chronicle had an interesting conversation with the SF Planning Department’s Dan Sider:

“I don’t know how we would classify that sign under the Planning Code,” he said with a laugh. “It isn’t really advertising. Maybe I would call it art?”

The city recently decided they wanted to protect vintage signs after an uproar over an old Coca-Cola sign in Bernal Heights. Planners found that sign to be illegal and ordered it painted over, until the Board of Supervisors created a new process to protect vintage signs.

The Vintage Workwear blog notes that the “N.B. Products” banner, in the corner, refers to Neustadter Brothers, a workwear manufacturer that eventually came under the ownership of Lee Jeans. They also link to a photo of the area, from 1928, wherein this sign is obscured by the adjacent storefront, below another sign for Ed’s Shop. Elsewhere on the web, I can find pictures of Neustadter Brothers’ office buildings on the 100 block of Sansome, and at 1st and Mission, in San Francisco; and a picture of one of their Boss of the Road ads, from a 1905 Portland Fire Dep’t Yearbook.

According to the archives of the USGenWeb project, “Neustadter Brothers first began business in San Francisco in 1852, the original partners being Louis and Henry Neustadter. They prospered from the beginning, the business growing in volume and importance, and in 1900 the company was incorporated in California and Oregon, with a capital stock of one million dollars.”

…in which I prattle on a bit much, about all my work in the recent Guerrero Gallery show

5 July, 2011

I’m indulging my compulsion to write thoughts about what I painted for the Guerrero Gallery art show.  I can’t find a way to work much of this into whatever few conversations have arisen around it, and I don’t seem otherwise willing to bring it up, myself.  In the end,  this is just something I like to create for my own fun, from time to time, written blather about whatever is passing through my mind.  Signs, on the other hand, are far more often something I help create for others.  If “art” is what it’s called when I paint signs for myself, then I count myself among the artists who draw some pleasure from trying to explain it. blah, blah, BLAH! Seriously, I can’t even read this. I need an editor and/or someone to tell me when a blog post is a bad idea.

I was, in the run up to the show at Guerrero (but really, for that matter, always) thinking about copping other people’s designs, or styles, or letters, to solve the problem of coming up with something called art, because that, to me, is frequently (always?) key in the solution to coming up with something called signs.  I’m intrigued by the opportunity to explore, artistically, what copying means, at least inasmuch as it relates to how I approach sign making.

It’s a function of my profession that I feel a little like my imagination is frequently hijacked by an external need to come up with signs. Is copying just a habit, something I “fall back” on?  Is copying indicative of whatever resistance I have, to expending imagination on signs?  I may nag myself with those questions, but I prefer to think copying is one of the best ways of communicating what I think looks good, and also, that it’s the way the world works.  At any rate, here’s a chance to try to more directly address some ideas about copying, within the mode of sign painting.

I could quickly come up with a list of people, or of resources, whose recognizable style (as I recognize it, anyway) I’d like to try to draw from: Jeff Canham, Ken Davis, Indian truck lettering, Der Praktische Schildermaler…  In the end, I piled up plenty of work for myself, too much to get done in timely fashion.  As it turns out, I’ll have to bite Ken’s style on another occasion. Read more…

Come Tumbl with me!

14 June, 2011

I’ve moved the contents of our Sign Shop Diary flickr set over to a new Tumblog, because I’m always on the lookout for new things to feel guilty about ignoring! Plus, there’s that whole range between 140 characters and 5 page term paper, that neither this nor Twitter seem to encourage me to explore more of…

New Bohemia Signs at the Guerrero Gallery

9 June, 2011

It has been a bit quiet here on the blog lately, not because we’ve got nothing to say but because we have been crazy busy here at our new shop. So busy in fact, we forgot to mention we are having a gallery show at the Guerrero Gallery this Saturday, June 11th.

Although I don’t want to give too much away, here’s a sneak peek of a few pieces everyone has been working on… Read more…

The Best Stuff on Earth!

30 May, 2011

We just got an email from a sign painter in Seattle, thanking us for helping inspire him in what he does. He wrote, “The art shows, the Juxtapoz feature, and even the new snapple commercial are all wonderful signs of growth for such an admirable trade”.  We had to do some Googling to figger what he was talking about, re: Snapple.  We soon came across a clever commercial, that, while amusing enough to watch through, didn’t seem to have anything to do with sign painting, ’til–surprise!–the closing shot:

That’s Canham Country!  (“Canham Country” being our nickname for our alumnus, Jeff Canham, reflecting our aspirations that his design sense overtake the nation)

My wife and I were celebrating our anniversary with a ski trip last year, when she snapped this picture of some Canham Country skis we saw:

That girl may be the most stylin’ skier I’ve ever seen (I could say that, on our anniversary, only because my wife said it first).

Anyway, this is all reminding me that I’ve no time to blog: I’ve got to get back to the grindstone, cranking out work for the upcoming show we’re sharing with Jeff and with Steve Powers, at Guerrero Gallery (opening 11 June).  That, at least, is my current excuse for having failed to blog since moving, back in March.  It’s been pretty damn busy ’round here since then!

We’re moving!

26 March, 2011

After eight years on 11th and Harrison, the shop will have a new home as of next week. The new space is only a couple blocks from where we are now and it is slightly bigger, allowing us to double the amount of easel space we have to work with. With the sign season picking up, and with another gallery show in the works, it will be nice to be able to stretch out a little bit more. No more bumping elbows while lettering, and no more shimmying past each other on our tip toes! It’s an exciting move, but I will miss this cozy little shop we’ve called home for so long.

Movie title letter resources

20 March, 2011

I’ve been working recently on a sign/art piece for a client, that’s supposed to incorporate a variety of letter styles into a palimpsest of motivational words and phrases, for their company.  This video is chock full of lettering paths to pursue, and as a bonus, includes the delicious brass hook that’s always cut off in the 5000 TV ads that use the opening bars of this same RJD2 track as backing music…

Towards the end, you get a few seconds’ snippet of the trailer for this movie, which, while also full of nifty letter forms, should perhaps be prefaced with a caveat for epileptics:

Sorry to have dropped the blogging ball for so long.  My attention’s been absorbed elsewhere, not least in sorting out a new, larger space for our shop, into which we’re moving in the coming week.

Statement des Artistes

15 January, 2011

Here’s the word salad promised earlier in the week.  I’m not sure how, or if, it’ll be used in conjunction with the show, but it least provides a snapshot of the some of the stuff that passes through my mind, on the subject of Genuine Authentic Hand Painted Signs, and in the end, promises nothing more than a bunch of signs on the wall:

To call these signs genuine and authentic practically begs people to differ.  Everyone’s got their own unique boundaries of authenticity, some of whose surely exclude our work on some technicality or other–if it’s not the cheat of drawing patterns first, maybe it’s the Electropounce™ that has replaced our hand-spun pattern wheels, or if not that, it’s certainly our top secret computerized pattern generator, busily yearning to put our Electropounce™ out to pasture.  Technicality–or technology, rather–projects one of the spectrums along which many of us might be able to locate a line (perhaps fuzzy) between authentic and not.

Clients have often called upon us to hand paint letters and logos that were never designed to be hand painted, for no other reason, near as we can tell, than the hope that, in the end, they might “look hand painted”.  Just this week, we’ve had two customers each individually use the phrase “more authenticity”, in describing what they were coming to us looking for in a sign, while providing us with digital files to work from, which themselves bore no particularly hand wrought characteristics.  What is it about what we do that implies to our clients, or to their clients, something genuine and authentic?

For better or worse, everything we produce at New Bohemia Signs is ultimately realized at the end of a hand-held paint brush.  We are limited, perhaps, by our choice of tools, but also by the quality of our practice.  The “weak link” in our production line is in our capacity to render an internally envisioned ideal, with our given set of body parts. I have to guess that that point of reduction, to humanity, to human frailty, is where we’re able to lay any claim to authenticity in what we do.  It’s from there, at any rate, that we’re able to sell authenticity to whoever’s buying.  I’ve described that point elsewhere as “the joy of fine tuning the only copier that draws its current directly from our hearts”.  I liked that line then, so I’ll use it again, and see how it fits here.  That’s how sign painting often works.  Copy, trace, cut and paste.  Whatever technological accoutrements are called upon to speed our work (or hamper our authenticity), it all passes through a needle’s eye, that of aesthetic judgement, of steady hand eye coordination, and practice, practice, practice.

We’re hoping, through this show, to call people’s attention to their own standards for genuineness and authenticity, and to spark some conversations about how they (and we) do or don’t manifest or recognize them.  As I write, work is still in progress, so as of yet I can only guess that, beyond plying clever design sense and a steady hand, we might also employ some kind of word play, or even take a stab at postmodern allusion (whatever that is)…  But if we don’t, y’know, at the very least we’ll decorate the place with a slew of genuine authentic hand painted signs.

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