Interview: Signwriter Jack Hollands
1. Why did you decide to become a sign painter and gilder?
I was inspired by Dave Smith to be a glass gilder. It was not an easy industry to break into as everything seems very complicated. Nothing gets handed to you on a plate. It takes hard work and determination to fit together tiny pieces from all around the industry. You have to be very inquisitive and follow through with actions and start with the very basics. I feel that reading and researching about lettering and techniques has helped me become who I am today. I’m lucky to live in London, I gained knowledge and skill from several mentors. From how to wield a brush, to more complicated matters of process. Workshops are also another way to improve your knowledge on traditional signwriting. I regularly attend these as there is no limit to what you can learn.
2. Why do you think more traditional methods such as signwriting are making a comeback?
I think the economic crash made shop owners more aware of how they were spending their money. They wanted the best value for their money which is what signwriters provide. This also coincided with the general society becoming more aware of where things come from as well as increase of appreciation in things hand crafted. The new flux of young enthusiastic creatives are further fueling the industry.
3. How do you keep your ideas new and interesting?
I document interesting artwork on my phone and try to keep my Instagram feed updated with interesting designs which may inspire me in the future. I also have a collection of books and resources I can look back through to just trigger off a new design.
4. Which artists influence your work?
The signwriters of days gone past are a huge inspiration for me. Looking at old photographs, or seeing their craftsmanship in the real world. I always question what it is that makes you like or appreciate a sign or lettering. The form, the function and the process are all big factors I consider. Carrying on old methods and making them relevant today. I want my work to carry a sense of timeless quality. To show I care for what I’m making. To make something that lasts.
5. What is your favourite project to date?
My favourite job was with the fashion designer Erdem. Not only was the client very well organised but also did he have an appreciation for the art. Although we work in different creative areas we can understand and appreciate each others work. Erdem works in high end fashion. He’s used to sourcing the finest materials and meticulously crafting his garments. We went through lots of print outs on site, each design changing by a couple of mm in size. We didn’t stop tweaking until we had it just right. It was good to know I’m not the only one fussing about things like that.
6. Do you use the computer for any part of the process?
Any process that can improve quality using a computer I can use, and I think computers always have a place when used appropriately. Computers do have their limitations and constraints though. I feel liberated to pick up a stick of charcoal, sketch out your sign there and then, and proceed to paint letters from memory. You can create a bespoke sign this way, tailoring to your environment and making design deductions on the fly.
7. What is your favourite brush and why?
A brush is a really personal preference. Some like them to be very long, the hairs to be soft or snappy. I like to use a slightly longer than normal hair and so the pure sable is what I prefer. I like to be able to pull nice long straight lines and twist into the corners for a sharp finish. The handles of quills are slightly thinner than the lacquered brushes, making them easier to twist in your fingers. The Handover condor is my favourite brush. It is made with a large swan feather. Any time I get the condor out I have a good day.
8. What would be your dream project?
Working on a project with Dave Smith from start to finish would be my dream project.
9. Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to try their hand at signwriting?
Pick up a brush and give it a go! Don’t dilly dally.
Below you can watch Jason Harris’s film of one of Jack’s beautiful glass gilding pieces, as he says, it is ‘a documentation of the labour of love, that is the appliance of gold in the form of typography. Sign Writing Jack takes the task at hand with precision and care.’