Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Alive and Modern"

Bo4After studying Birmingham’s fading ads, it’s exciting to see how many new ones are popping up on walls around the city. Avondale Brewing Company recently painted two on its back walls—and both are fresh and bold additions to the reawakening neighborhood. Both also are the handiwork of Birmingham artist Bonard Hughins, who has created several of the city’s newest painted ads. Here, he offers a few insights into the process of creating a wall sign in the 21st century:

Q: How did you learn about sign painting?

A: I grew up in my dad’s downtown print shop, where I saw modern functional signs and print media being made. I learned to apply paint to various types of surfaces when I was writing graffiti, and that also taught me a lot about scale, color, and what not to do. I learned a lot of my technique and skill as I went along. Now, I learn more if a certain job requires a specific look. It makes me focus and plan.

Q: How long did it take to create the Avondale murals? What challenges did you face?

A: The mural of Miss Fancy and [her caretaker] Mr. Todd took about a week, and the logo took three days, with four to six hours each day. Each one had unique challenges and required different techniques. Miss Fancy and Mr. Todd are based on a real photo; the challenge was getting that photo to scale so large. Also, I used spray paint for about 98 percent of it, and my color section was limited.

The Avondale Brewing Company logo was fun, but the first challenge was getting the color and lines perfect. Anything less than an exact copy won’t do because it’s their logo. The second challenge was learning to operate a bucket truck. It was a little intimidating at first, but once I got comfortable, it’s a bit like riding a bike. I could have fun and move anywhere in that thing.

Q: Do Birmingham’s fading ads influence your work?

A: I’m inspired by the old fading ads. The skill it took to create those is something to behold; the placement, scale, and accuracy is something that any artist or craftsman can appreciate and aspire to achieve.

A lot of the designs have a sense of personality and warmth to them, especially now that the era when they were created has passed. Hand painting gives the ads a sense of being alive. You can’t fake something that’s been done with human hands.

Q: What is the appeal of hand-painted signs? What do they add to a business or neighborhood?

A: Hand painting makes the signs more accessible to people—more real. They feel like they’re part of their environment; if they’re printed on paper or vinyl, it feels like they’re just sitting on top of their environment and won’t be there long. I do have an appreciation for modern materials, but they feel overused and impersonal sometimes. For me, a painted sign reaches out to shake your hand, where a billboard waves at you as you pass by. Hand-painted signs and murals naturally add warmth, color, and a unique personality.

Q: Do you plan to paint more signs?

A: I'm trying to get more into the traditional side of sign painting and am willing to try anything, whether it's restoration or something new and unheard of. I want to keep the the sign painting tradition alive and modern.

See more of Hughins’s painted signs and artwork on his web site. And be sure to check out his work in person at Avondale Brewing Company.

Photo and wall sign by Bonard Hughins

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Signs of the Past

This blog is meant to do several things—highlight news about my art and the book, for one. But I also want to continue what I started with Fading Ads of Birmingham by featuring some of the ads that didn't make it into the book, archival photos of long-gone painted ads, and other interesting sign-related items. I'll figure out some sort of tag for each post so that you can find them all easily.


The first extra feature offers a rare peek into a sign shop from the heyday of painted wall ads. Larry Rocks, one of the sign painters featured in my book, has shared some photos and memories from Art Sign Company, the shop his father founded and which he still owns today, dating from the 1930s to the 1960s. From them, you can see how the painters worked on much more than walls—everything from neon to vehicles. An ad in the background of several images promotes Art Sign Company as the place to go for wall ads, show cards, gold leaf, real estate signs, banners, silkscreened signs, and office doors. My favorite photo of the collection shows two sign painters adding the name "Howard" to the side of a large truck trailer. The job is half done, with the red outlines of the cursive letters spiraling gracefully off into the shiny silver background.

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