Type@Cooper - Sign Class

Mon., Jun. 10 – Thu., Jun. 13, 2019
9:00AM – 4:00PM
tuition: $ 920

location: On campus

A 10% discount is available to Typographics conference ticket holders. A promotional discount code for workshops will be found on the PDF of your conference ticket. Please apply the code to workshop registration.

In the mid-twentieth century, sign painters learned to draw and paint letters efficiently; stroke by stroke. Commercial sign painting wasn’t dependent on type, nor on font technology, although historically there has been cross-pollination of ideas. Accepted letter proportions were methodically taught to students and apprentices. Construction techniques and single-stroke concepts were paramount. Rendering letterforms in paint followed. This class takes students through a practical sequence of exercises that reflect this approach to learning letterforms.

Traditional sign painting in America was favorably influenced by the working methods of show card writers. Card writers effectively eliminated “wasted motion” and sign painters soon caught on. Accepted techniques are essential. These include a proper grip on the brush handle, a facility for twirling the handle between the thumb and forefinger, keeping stroke weights consistent, and finishing the terminals with “snap.” Tricks of the trade will be discussed, as will a number of practical considerations which contribute to the overall look of American vernacular signage.

To accomplish these aims, a professional set up is required. The slant of the easel is kept at 30 degrees for beginners. This helps avoid difficulties with drips, and even allows letterers to switch from brush to dip-pen, and back again without any major adjustments. It’s a way of permitting gravity to assist, not resist, the effort. Students will work in this kind of set up and learn more about how to arrange a practical workspace of their own.

During the course, several styles of letter will be taught. Single stroke and built-up versions of both lineale and thick & thin forms will accompany casual styles. In addition, cut-in lettering will be explained, so students can try painting a reverse, in which letters remain white, as a dark background is added. The final day and a half will include instruction about script lettering, and how it relates to italic styles. Handouts will be distributed each day, showing the alphabets and foundation strokes.

    Required Materials

  • no. 2 pencil
  • kneaded eraser
  • $50 materials fee payable to the instructor on the first day, covers the cost of specialized brushes, board, paint, and various other supplies

Students will gain a deeper understanding of the craft and start to build a set of skills which form a practical foundation for future lettering and typeface design projects. Realistic project assignments will be given daily, so each student has work to keep.

No prior lettering experience is required for admission to this public workshop. Intermediate and advanced students are also encouraged to enroll, as the class also provides an ideal opportunity for skills to be refined.

Instructor: John Downer

Sign Class
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.