I have always had a fascination with letters and words for as long as I can remember and until a few years ago, I did not realise that my actual fascination was with typography and lettering. The way the letters can form so beautifully leaves me in awe. It seems natural for me to focus my dissertation on lettering and typography.
The terminology is often confused. Lettering is the art of drawing letters by hand, usually in a one-off decorative way. Whereas typography is the study of letters applied to typefaces and usually the creation of fonts, such as Helvetica.
In my dissertation, I am planning to explore lettering in the digital age and how it is used in branding and advertising in sign painting rather than modern techniques such as vinyl and ordinary fonts, while questioning its value in this day and age. I would like to focus specifically on sign writing and sign painting and question whether it is still necessary to use these old methods when there are simpler, faster and cheaper options available. Will it ever die out completely? How much of our culture, as well as American culture, will we lose if this is the case?
After watching a documentary called “The Sign Painters” which told the stories of several sign painters and their craft, it made me think about the cultural, aesthetic and historic value of the trade. In recent times, the vinyl machine has put many sign painters out of business and at what cost? Looking up at old brick buildings, you can see the ghost of an old painted sign – whether it is a factory sign or an advertisement for what the building used to contain or sell. In the future, there will be no evidence of what used to be in the building as all shop owners, apart from a certain type of small, independent businesses, use vinyl and plastic signs that are not durable or long-lasting. “It seems like people don’t want anything permanent any more. For example, they don’t want permanent lettering on their vehicles in case they end up selling them” (The Sign Painters, 2013) I think this is a huge indication to what our society and culture is transforming into as a whole. We believe everything is disposable and do not make anything to last.
Seeing a painted sign above a shop front now denotes a personal touch, the owner cares about its business and has old, traditional values. The shopper will instantly know that the store is not part of a chain of thousands, replicated and dotted all over the country, seemingly cold and uncaring, but it is owned by a local of that particular town or city and you will receive a warm welcome and possibly a friendly chat with the staff while looking around their shop. Small shops like Berry Red in Hereford instantly spring to mind.
Not only are hand painted signs dying out, but learning cursive in schools is also slowly becoming extinct. The argument is that children should know how to type and prepare themselves for a technology-dependent future and there is no longer any real need for cursive...