Learning Review Pat Pearson – AKA Chalkdock

Mini Apprenticeship



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NGS Signwriting Learning Review

Pat Pearson

Between October and January, I attended training spanning a total period of three weeks. My biggest question in all of this has been is it possible to learn a meaningful amount during this time, considering the length of time spent by traditional signwriting apprentices? My thoughts on this in the conclusion.

The business of signwriting One of the unexpected, but most valuable areas of the training has been around the organisation and business – before brushwork is applied.

Setting up• Get your head in the right psychological place. Not rushed. Organised and not doing anything that could contribute to the chances of a bad job • Prepare in advance, checking of tools and equipment, pre-preparing paint and gold size, and three sizes of letter traces prepared with chalk/charcoal • Use digital tools, particularly Google Maps and weather apps • Health and safety, checking for heights and things like basement areas below painting • On-site, take time to prepare. Sheets/newspaper down, bin bag for waste, baby wipes, kitchen towel and white spirit ready for accidents • Pallet, double cups for paint and spirit, paper towel and baby wipe prepared with spirit

Preparing the trace• Add 5% to the size given by designers (they always go to small) – and have the flexibility of the three sizes on site • Remember the 3 sides of a drawn line. Trace letters on the inside edge of the line, allowing you paint over the line • Tape, when taping up, trace, use the tape square on and an end folded over so it can be easily removed. On letters themselves, tape base line and cap height, and if needed, right side of stroke (which isn’t easy to see when painting). Use credit card along edge to ensure tape down securely. Tesa tape is good quality. • Centre the trace, using chinagraphed marks on ruler rather than trying to work out numbers. Cut small hole in trace to see centre line marks on display if needed. Then stand back at a distance to see what it looks like (visual appearance most important)

Getting paid• 45-50% of a job will be expenses – materials, travel etc • Basic London Day Rate, £250 per day. But price up smaller jobs individually or in batches (e.g. pub board £80-£90) • Display, £375 per day, and aim for 85% quality. Do this this by picking the 5 most obvious faults, use background colour wherever possible to minimise your amount of work, and loads and loads of tape • Top quality, £475 per day • Guilding, £550 – £1k per day, depending on client and job

Preparing the paint

Colours need care. Letters on white always look darker. Colour charts can be misleading. Always check colours with client and take range of options with you, just in case • Pigment may need adding, particularly in yellow or light colours. Pigment is expensive and manufacturers reduce the amount they put in • Preparing the paint mix, with a dash of washing up liquid and drops of white spirit. The paint should feel silky when palleted. Carefully keep adding spirit until this is reached

Technique• Double coat, either within 15 minutes, or after 24 hours to get best results. No need to double coat right up to the edge of the letter…just down the centre • Sharp letters need a sharp chisel…paint mix is critical. Pallet the brush for each stoke • Use the mahl stick to help draw the letters. Its more than a rest. Work it up and down strokes, and out to help go around corners • Work brush into the corners, twisting to a point for super sharp letters. If missed, a dryish brush can be used afterwards • Stitch colours using synthetic, short hair brushes (dry and clean). Mix some oil into the paints for fluidity. Work fast. ‘Stitch’ the two colours together with 45 degree strokes. Then work parallel strokes up and down and keep going until blended in • Painting on metal, wire wool the surface, T-Cut, and then at least five cleans with spirit to remove the grease. Use a universal primer coat, roll two coats of satin and then letter in one shot • Painting on glass, add couple of drops of super glue to act as fixer • Once dry, a washed out babywipe is safe to clean up the work


Preparation• Prepare the gold size mix before going out on the job – 75% size, 25% paint (yellow with a dash of black and white) • 12 or 15 ton gold is best. But if using lighter use thumb to trace letters and use edges of gold, peeling away to preserve as much as possible • Apply talc to hand when working with gold leaf Applying gold leaf** • Dust surface with talc, to ensure gold only sticks to the size • Trace down and paint the letters, allowing to dry for 45 minutes – 1 hour. Depends on the conditions. The size should be tacky, but not leaving any trace on the finger • Place the gold, gently rubbing with finger and leave to set for as long as possible • Brush off, gently with a blusher brush. Remove excess with soft cloth, coal tar soap and water • Mistakes can be corrected with a cloth and sprit to remove the worst, and then talc the area to stop the gold from sticking


All of the above is ‘new knowledge’ obtained and practiced during the three weeks, and subsequently at home. This is definitely a good foundation to build on, but technical expertise can only be achieved through ongoing practice. If at all possible, practice every day to develop the muscle memory and brush control required.

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