Interview : Signwriter Edward Bennett
Published on 01.07.2016 by Charlotte
This week we've got Edward Bennett - or Eddy Artist - in for an interview. Edward talks about growing up with artists for parents, the difficulty of navigating a city when you're constantly looking up at signs, and his favourite brush.
Could you tell me a little about yourself and your background, where did you grow up, what was your childhood like and so on?
I grew up in a picturesque part of Cornwall, a small fishing village called Kingsand which is part of a peninsula nicknamed 'The forgotten corner'. The beach was my playground, so I had the best upbringing just surfing, skateboarding, mountain boarding and fishing – oh and drinking gallons of cider! My parents owned a beach side cafe, where I worked most summers serving up the best Cornish pasty money could buy, whilst perfecting the ice cream scoop that even Ben and Jerry would be proud of. My parents were both artists too, so without a doubt they had a huge influence on me growing up which has made me the artist I am today.
How did you come to be a sign painter / letterer?
I've studied art from an early age right through school, college, and university and it took all three of them to only then realise where I wanted to go in the future as an 'artist'! Illustration was my chosen field in college, so I took the leap and moved to London to study illustration at university. However, I only discovered signpainting and my love for typography after graduating – typical! I quit my bar job and took the plunge of practising and becoming a typographer as a freelancer, and that was extremely difficult. Living in London without a proper income is challenging to say the least, but I stuck with it and picked up the brush everyday for almost 3 years, and now here I am, working as a freelance typographer/signpainter and absolutely loving it!
Why do you think traditional signwriting is making a comeback, and why now?
I have to admit that even I took beautiful hand painted signs and gilding for granted when walking past them, but now I can't walk in a straight line around London without stopping and admiring some work. I guess that if you don't know of the 'forgotten art form' then you wouldn't necessarily be aware of it. Back in the day, signpainting / signwriting was noticed as a trade rather than an art form. We didn't have vinyl signs that could replace it at ten a penny, they didn't have a choice. So in that aspect I suppose it was the norm and went unnoticed a lot of the time. Thankfully, that has all changed now due to social media etc.; Instagram especially has brought together a massive amount interest in signwriting, as well as an ever growing community of artists and admirers! At the end of the day, everybody wants something original and handmade.
How do you keep your ideas feeling new?
I'm always discovering inspiration in books from the past that include ephemera, copperplate and trade cut printing. Without doubt I get inspired by the vast amount of stuff that the internet has to offer, but I try to stay away from that as much as possible, due to the sheer amount of people that have probably seen it, and got inspired by it too! To keep it fresh and interesting, I just work out of my own personal interests, and if other people like it then that's a bonus!
What project are you working on at the moment?
I currently working on some gilding pieces for private clients that I can't always show on social media. I'm also in the middle of creating some bigger personal pieces of my own, that will be made into some gold leaf prints and sold through a great gallery in Brighton. Another project that I always put to one side is getting my new website up and running, but that's another story - computers are not my strong point!
Does that mean you don't use the computer then, for any part of your process?
I rarely use computers as part of my process, as I want to keep it strictly by hand as it would have been done back in the day. I can appreciate how it speeds up a lot of the process's involved in signwriting nowadays, and for that is truly a great tool for the trade. Most of the time if I'm using computer software, it'll be for vectorising a logo or some hand lettering that needs to be used for web based projects. It will always start with my pencil and paper though!
Which artists influence your work currently, and has that changed from who/what influenced you at the beginning?
Jeff Canham was actually the main artist that influenced me to get into signpainting from the beginning. I saw a great interview in Juxtapozed magazine several years ago and that must have triggered something and got me inspired from the start! Following the gilding wizard, David A Smith has certainly encouraged me to push my skills and continue challenging myself. His work is utterly beautiful and will always be one of my biggest inspirations.
What is your favourite brush (at the moment!) and why?
That's a difficult question really, as each one has it's own little purpose. They all have a part to play in my collection whether it's a scrawny long fella, or a short and wide fella! The generic ones I find myself using the most are the 2112 chisel series by A.S.Handover. Great all rounders and super slick.
How about your two favourite colours?
'Robin egg blue' (1Shot) is always a favourite of mine and always finds it into one of my pieces great summer colour too! The other one would have to be 'Fire Red', you just can't beat a strong red can you?
Do you collect anything?
I have an impressive collection of dirty laundry right now, but that's something I'm not very proud of. I tend to collect small antiques that either have typography related characteristics or have come from the Navy and Army. Basically stuff that gathers dust on my shelf.
What is your favourite project to date?
That would have to be designing the logotype for a London based Brewery, 'Signal Lager'. That was a very exciting project to work on, designing the logo by hand and seeing this logo that was once an initial sketch being mass produced onto beer cans and merchandise was great! They also had me paint their delivery van with the logo and all the trimmings. Painting that in the sun last summer sipping some of the beer batches was a damn right pleasure.
And what would be your dream project?
Apart from designing a beer logo? I think painting and gilding a hot rod or drag car would be amazing. They always have a wide range of type and imagery going on, not to mention the bad ass names the cars have. I tried something similar with my 1985 Honda accord a while back, but it didn't quite have the same likeness.
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to have a go at signwriting?
The best advice I can give you is buying your first brush and can of paint, and just get practicing. There are lots of books about signwriting and hand type out there so get stuck in. Courses and workshops also seem to be fairly popular and accessible also, so check out Handover website and Better Letters.
What keeps you coming back to us at Handover?
Not only the quality of the brushes but also the knowledge of the staff too. Super speedy delivery too when I can't make it in store.
Finally, what does being a signwriter mean to you?
Winning 1st prize as a typographer!