Interview: Signwriter and Glass Gilder Alex May Hughes
This week we spoke with signwriter, glass gilder and Simpson’s enthusiast, Alex May Hughes.
Alex talks about future projects, how she makes time for her own work amongst paid work, and how being a signwriter means you are part of a bigger community that has the potential to make people happy through the work that it does.
Could you tell me a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in west London, I went to Wimbledon for my foundation and then off to LCC (Elephant and Castle) for a BA degree in Typography.
Why did you decide to become a gilder and signwriter?
Focussing on type for my degree really cemented lettering as my first love, it was only towards the end of the degree that I discovered sign painting and I just continued after I left uni.
Why do you think more traditional methods like signwriting, gilding and even some of the long-established decorating styles like trompe l’oeil are making a comeback, and why now?
I think people can see the results in perhaps paying a little more to have a sign or piece of work that really stands out from the rest.
What project(s) are you working on currently?
Trying to claw back some time to make some work for myself again and try to have a small show at the end of the year, also various pieces for pubs and restaurants – one I’m working on at the moment requires me to paint on some large ship port-hole windows.
How do you make sure that each new idea is different and engaging?
I always try to really listen to the client and make sure that personal work or gifts are really thoughtful and memorable. I also try to practice a new skill or technique in every piece I make.
Which artists influence your work, and has that changed from who/what influenced you at the beginning?
I like all kinds of creative work, so I could be influenced by a painting or sculpture or a song, its great that the sign painting community in London is really strong and generous, but further afield I love the work of Australian sign painters Will Lynes and Nathan Pickering.
Do you use the computer for any part of the process?
I do use a computer for certain elements of my work, I find it can often be a really useful tool as long as it doesn’t dominate the entire process.
What is your favourite brush and why?
I really like the Handover toray chisel (333 series)- it’s super snappy!
What are you favourite colours to paint with at the moment, or your favourite material to use?
I adore using pearl shell in my work, as it really adds another dimension to glass work.
Do you collect anything, if so why?
I’m a pretty huge Simpsons geek but I’ve seen other peoples collections get WAY out of hand so I’ve limited myself to only china/ceramic Simpsons pieces (a lot of mugs and egg cups) hopefully this will help keep it small!
You’ve been buying from Handover for a long time, what kept you coming back?
Excellent quality, fantastic customer service and really speedy delivery.
What is your favourite project to date?
One piece I made recently I was really pleased with – it was a 125 x 150cm – 12ct white gold drunken fish, with pearl shell scales and a 23ct gold rope boarder – made for a pub, The Anchor Tap in Horsham, that was so much fun, really unusual and the end result was ace.
What would be your dream project?
Finding some time to make my own work! I’ve wanted to have another exhibition this year but its tricky to carve out time for personal work.
What does being a signwriter mean to you?
I love using my hands to create my work and being part of a community, making people happy with my work is a bonus.
Do you have any advice for anyone who just starting out, or who is wanting to try their hand at sign painting or gilding?
There is so much going on now, especially in London to help and encourage people – just pick up a brush!