Type@Cooper - Sign Painting: Color & Composition

Sign Painting: Color & Composition


with John Downer




Sat., Apr. 14 – Sun., Apr. 15, 2018
10:00AM – 5:00PM
location: On campus

Sign painting has long been practiced by professionals who understand the importance of arranging prioritized copy effectively and assigning color values expertly. This workshop will cover several of the most accepted approaches to laying out lettering and making it work chromatically. Among the topics covered will be color theory, basic color combinations, and terminology.

Also taught, will be the fundamental considerations for arranging compositional elements for dynamic effect.

Students will be urged to explore various aspects of elementary sign design and color value selection for the sake of utilizing high, medium, and low contrast, as ways of elegantly expressing a clear graphic message.


    Required Materials

  • Soft lead pencil
  • Black ballpoint pen
  • Black fine point Sharpie
  • Metal ruler
  • Scissors
  • X-Acto knife (#11 blade)
  • Apron (optional)
  • $30 materials fee will cover tempera paint, card stock, colored paper, 1/4" brush and a color wheel


Also taught, will be the fundamental considerations for arranging compositional elements for dynamic effect.

Students will be urged to explore various aspects of elementary sign design and color value selection for the sake of utilizing high, medium, and low contrast, as ways of elegantly expressing a clear graphic message.

Registration for this workshop will open on January 4th. To receive updates on workshops, classes and free lectures please join our mailing list.


Register online…


Instructor: John Downer

Sign Painting: Color & Composition
Mr. Downer is a sign painter, a typeface designer, and an educator. He has written about type and type history for various publications and is widely known as a perceptive type critic. His typefaces have been published by Bitstream, Font Bureau, Emigre, House Industries, and Design Lab. Among his most popular type designs are Iowan Old Style (on iBooks reader and iOS 7+), Roxy, Ironmonger, and the ubiquitous food and beverage branding favorite, Brothers.

A native of the Pacific Northwest, a region of the US with a rich history of sign painting and hand-lettering, Mr. Downer was first introduced to commercial pen & brush lettering in the 1960s in junior high school. He began an apprenticeship in a sign painting shop at age 18. He holds BA, MA, and MFA degrees in art.

Mr. Downer has been a journeyman sign painter since 1973, a freelance typeface designer since 1983, and a crusader for designers’ rights his entire adult life. He began teaching lettering at the university level in 1972, making him one of the most experienced American educators in the fields of lettering and typeface design. He’s been teaching in the Type@Cooper program at The Cooper Union since its founding in 2010. He established the Sign Painting Support Group on Facebook as a platform to educate and guide serious enthusiasts and professionals in the principles of letter construction and the tricks of the trade. Follow him on Instagram.





Venue