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How it all began. My humble beginning as a Traditional Brush Sign Writer.

Updated: Mar 8

It is believed that we are all born to be artists - and I'm no exception.


I have been drawing for as long as I can remember.


Creating my way through primary and high school and deep-diving into Art and Art History, to further education.


Gaining my trade qualifications, then on to Graphic Design and wide-format Digital Printing until finally, I find myself as a serious artist in my early 50s, with an online e-commerce store, selling art worldwide from my home in Mackay, Australia.


An art book for art lovers.
Art Book by The Great Masters

I sometimes mention my trade background and for good reason I guess.

People ask me where I got my training as an Artist. I didn't complete an Arts degree at University.


I'll let you in on a secret... I was a Brush Sign Writer once upon a time!


Check out the blurry photo of a fresh-faced teenager at the beginning of her career.

Sign Writer Danielle Brown at work in Mackay Queensland 1987.
Danielle Brown as an Apprentice Traditional Brush Sign Writer in the mid 1980's.

By today's standards, sun safety was obviously not an issue, we just slapped on a bit of sunscreen and a hat.


I must confess to wearing men's dress shirts like an artist smock when outside working for days on end to try and give some sort of protection.


I am a bit of a shorty in stature, so these shirts sometimes reached well below my knees. What a picture that must have been presented to the passer-by!


I was apprenticed as a traditional brush sign writer when I was 18 for four years.


Just after my 22nd birthday I became a fully qualified tradeswoman and hand brushed all signage, for over a decade until computerised signage had become the industry standard in the mid 1990's.

Working in a very old traditional and disappearing trade, I appreciate now how lucky I was.


From the importance of detail, how to mark out and match existing lettering, how to hand paint every curve perfectly. Precision brush work doesn't come naturally for anyone, so I do pride myself that even today, I am able to product quality lettering with a brush when needed. Not may people can do that.


As a side note, I follow several amazing traditional brush sign writers on Instagram. To watch them mesmerises me, and takes me instantly back to when I was doing that type of work myself.


In the USA, New Zealand and the UK this trade is alive and flourishing. A shame Australia doesn't still embrace this skill set. I think I'd be a totally different artist now if that was the case.


Being a sign writer meant managing all types of situations.


Over the years, I have had the great pleasure of designing and painting outdoor advertising and signage on all types of surfaces, in all locations, and at some very interesting places.


Difficult installations or locations and substrates, client requirements, and being flexible and confident to fulfill their needs.


I recall working on a billboard and standing on the top of 16-foot trestles (approx 4.8 mtrs) to reach a billboard.


Behind the trestles was a massive drop down to a rail line!


Can you imagine the feeling of already being off the ground balancing on a plank with a drop of several metres behind and then several more below that, and to a rail line?


When I say difficult locations, this memory certainly fits the bill.


From pictorials of animals, hand-drawn and painted text onto wooden or metal hand-painted backgrounds, Gold Leaf onto the canopy wall in a beautiful church to pen and ink drawings or painting in reverse onto glass in enamels so they last the years.

I gained so much enjoyment and fantastic grounding for the future working in this industry.


Each day presented such diversity.


I don't have many photos from my time as a "Brushie".


I kick myself now and had I known, I would have carried my 'box brownie' camera with me.

Getting photos processed was so expensive back then. What a shame I didn't have a mobile phone to record all that I did.


I do have a few photos from early works done over the years. Some I am still hunting for in boxes stashed away on high shelves.


This photo below is borrowed from one of my old co-workers, with their permission and an excellent example of reverse hand brushed lettering and pictorial complete with blending. Spray painted onto the reverse side of perspex. (Polycarbonate).



Perspex artwork
Perspex artwork completed by a traditional Brush Sign Writer in the 1980's.

This skill of brush sign writing is a big part of me. I love being able to include some hand lettering into my artworks.


In future blogs, I intend to add some videos of hand-brushed sign writing.


I clearly remember people stopping on the street to watch while I worked on a glass window or awning above a shop on trestles.


They were always fascinated by how fast the lettering formed and became a sign, no longer blobs, and lines of paint.


Painting with acrylics on art paper and canvas is much more romantic?


It depends really.

Doing this kind of artwork doesn't require precision brushes, so I don't get to use my Le Pinceau or Haydn Brushes anymore that meet the precision needs for Brush Sign Writers.


But I am able to be much looser with my style, less precise.


Unbelievably I still have in my possession brushes I purchased in my apprenticeship.


That makes them roughly 36 years old. They are still oiled up and sealed in a plastic tube, to stop them from drying out.


They cost me a fortune and I spent many months of hard-earned wages on these sable hair brushes, just so I could do the work required of me.


I nicknamed them my “Rolls-Royce” brushes due to their purchase price tag and the value to me as a tradesperson.


To give you an idea of the cost, one of my brushes, a size 14, approximately the thickness of my pointer finger, cost $140. Just one solitary brush. That was in 1985...imagine the price today.


Sign Writer brushes.
Traditional Brush Sign Writer tools of the trade.

In a kit of brushes, you were required to have brushes numbering from 00 all the way up to a size 16. And these were just the enamel brushes.


On top of that were required, acrylic brushes, Dagger Liner brushes (used to do the striping and scrollwork on truck cabs).


Yes, these were all hand painted too. Along with a multitude of other strange brushes for many and varied uses.


It was an expensive trade to enter into and we didn't earn a huge wage. Also, remember this was way back in 1986. Those brushes today would be a shocking price.


This part you may or may not know about; Brush Sign Writers were at the height of their trade in the 50s and 60s.


I started my trade in the mid-1980's and only just made it in time, because as we all know the computer age was well on its way.


I consider myself fortunate to have lived and worked in a trade that is close to disappearing altogether. Perhaps bringing it back to life by offering hand-lettered artworks will prevent that from happening. Food for thought...


The paint used at that time had the lead in it as well as solvents. A far cry from today's water paints which are non-toxic and safer to use in our homes and workplaces.


I remember quite clearly having my hands in tins of lead-based paints and solvents all day, every day. The things we did back then.



This blog, has given you the reader a little insight into the world of the disappearing trade of traditional brush sign writing and how I have evolved into an Artist, Graphic Designer and Printer.


You've been able to visit my humble beginnings as a Traditional Brush Sign Writer wearing t-shirts, shorts, or overalls, covered in paint, and always happy to show off my latest creations, to becoming the artist I always wanted to be.


See below some of my earliest artworks as a young teenager.


No internet back in the 1970's.


I had enrolled in an art course by mail and all artwork had to be submitted and sent via Australia Post.

It took forevvvvvver to receive my results!


Other pics show my earliest brush work as an Apprentice in the mid 1980's.


Enamel glass work in reverse on a window, all the way through to approx. 10 years ago when I completed a full church arch.


Hand drawn, painted and then gilded in 24 carat gold leaf.






I hope you enjoyed this little snapshot in time. Thanks so much for reading.

If you would like to leave a comment please feel free. I would love to connect.

Many hugs,

Danielle

x


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Unknown member
May 22, 2022

😁 Great read - looking forward to more!

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Unknown member
May 22, 2022
Replying to

Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed my creative story.

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