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Mia Warner hand paints shop front sign Mia Warner branding window sign Mia Warner applies gold leaf to window Mia Warner sign painting kit Marmadukes gold leaf window application Mia Warner gold leaf hand painted window sign Mia Warner unique sign design by 93ft Sign writing lettering for Marmadukes by 93ft Mia Warners professional sign writing brush selection Mia Warner handpainted signwriter Gold leaf on a hand painted window sign Hand lettered sign at Marmadukes Sheffield Professional sign writer Mia Warner Best Made sign at Marmadukes Sheffield Marmadukes handpainted sign Mia Warner
12th April, 2021

How to brand a store front. The beauty and benefits of traditional handpainted signs

Everybody appreciates a great looking storefront. 93ft team up with East London sign writer Mia Warner to hand paint Marmadukes new bakery shop front.

Locally, the building was known as The Sorting Office. Formerly owned by Royal Mail, Marmadukes set their sights on an ambitious transformation of the old building into their new cafe and bakery.

93ft were asked by Marmadukes owners Clare & Tim Nye to provide a signage scheme to complement the buildings heritage, while also helping to 'spell out' in a simple and elegant way that Marmadukes third store has arrived to Sheffield on Ecclesall Road.

In addition to gilded window letters (continuing the sign styling of Marmadukes Cambridge Street), the 93ft team were also inspired by the  letter clad building signage prominent in the turn of the 20th century. A great example of this traditional signage method can be seen on F. L. Pettman Ltd Depository, Athelstan Road, Margate. The sign dates back over 100 years (1882) in the heyday of the Victorian era.

93ft has collaborated with Mia Warner for a number of years, and on this occasion the design team ask Mia to turn her hand to a selection of handpainted signs, applying her skills to glass, stone and wood. Mia talks to us about the job, her techniques and shares her story - why she decided to become a sign painter.

How did you get into signwriting?

I got into signwriting through studying Graphic Design and becoming obsessed with typography. I could never quite get to grips with the Mac, and couldn’t escape the need to work by hand. To be honest I think I’ve always enjoyed drawing letters, but specialising in the bones of typography gave me the space to fully explore this, which is where I came across traditional signwriting. A very long story short, I had a few jobs after university but was doing little painting/house number/chalkboards jobs here and there to build up a portfolio. The side hustle eventually became the job and now I’ve been loving the full time ladder life for about 7 years.

How old is the profession of sign painting?

Signpainting as a craft goes back hundreds of years. Technically I guess it’s ancient - symbols and pictures were painted all the way back when people were illiterate, and you can find old Roman examples of painted lettering. Lettering became more popular in signs as civilisations learnt to read, and I’d say it probably had it’s glory years as a fully developed technical craft in the Victorian era, when all the shops and signs and boards and walls were painted by hand and signwriters were in demand. Victorian shopfronts are unbelievable. Signwriting almost died out in the 70s/80s when the dreaded vinyl and printed signs arrived, but thankfully there were a special few painters who refused to stop painting, and I was lucky to come into it at a time when those guys decided to start teaching again. So the techniques we use go back decades if not centuries.

Who should consider commissioning a handwritten sign and why?

Everyone should consider the hand-painted option when it comes to their signage. There is so much more soul in a hand-painted sign, and you get the added extra human element of us - we can help you! We can paint onto most surfaces, create various effects, apply your branding in ways you might not have thought of, and we know how peoples’ minds work when they’re looking for/at signs and navigating a space, so we can advise. Plus you’re supporting a very small business every time you ask us to paint for you and keeping a traditional and beautiful craft alive.

Are there environmental benefits to hand painted signs?

There are definitely environmental benefits to having your signs painted by hand. Especially when you compare it to plastic vinyl stickers. We get a load of letters out of one of our tiny tins of enamel as a little goes a long way, then we either recycle the empty tins or reuse them (I’m currently saving them to put plants in and load up the tables at my wedding this summer). Our brushes are bought once and last for years if they’re taken care of, our tins and paper patterns are recycled, we even let our white spirit sit so the old paint settles, then we can use it again and again and again until it’s disposed of responsibly. There is pretty much zero waste involved as the signs will last longer than most businesses, so they either stay or they end up being painted over. No discarded chunks of plastic sitting in landfill.

Tell us about the Marmadukes job, what techniques or technical methods did you apply?

I loved the Marmadukes job, it had all my favourite things - a little travelling, nice craft loving people, good design, and GOLD. I love a window gild, gold is so so special, and I love a new technique, which is what the Marmaduke’s main sign required. It was fun to experiment with the distressed effects and figure out which one matched Marmaduke’s previous work best. My favourite part of this job was the beautiful Sorting Office gild though. I love it when design works with the building and doesn’t mess around. 93ft kept it simple, gave it breathing room, and just let it rest perfectly in the space presented, which means the gold can sit on the lovely pale stone and just do it’s thing in the sun, without being overly attention-seeking. Such a stunning building as well. The traditional painting techniques on the chalkboards finished it off nicely! Minimal, classy and clean. Super satisfying job all around.

Were there any special pieces of equipment or materials that made the difference on the job?

Apart from the lovely gold, I’d say my little outlining brush shone on this job. Appropriately (and slightly horrifyingly) named ’The Virus’, it is tiny enough to pull neat and very delicate little outlines, long enough to carry plenty of paint but snappy and springy enough to get those clean corners and sharp finishes. Little beauty of a brush.

If someone is thinking about commissioning a handwritten sign, what advice would you give them?

I would advise them to do some browsing of artists' work and chat to someone who’s style they like. I think a lot of people don’t realise signwriters are designers too, and we love to show off on Instagram. If you know which hashtags to search you’ll come across a plethora of painters who are ready to paint for you! A good place to start would be the obvious #signwriter #signpainter #handpaintedsign but you could go deeper and search for some of the tags we use amongst ourselves - #letterheads #alwayshandpaint #ioafs.

We are hard-working adaptable problem solvers and we’re ready to help!

Thank you Mia for working with our brand and design team to deliver an absolutely masterful piece of handpainted signwriting. A thank you also to Sheffield photographer Helena Dolby for helping document the study of sign writing at Marmadukes bakery.

If you'd like to go and check out the sign for real, you can find it here.

Would you like a handwritten sign designing specifically for your brand or store? We'd like to hear from you.

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