Type@Cooper - Sign Painting

Sign Painting


with John Downer




Mon., Jun. 09 – Thu., Jun. 12, 2014
10:00AM – 5:00PM
location: On campus

John Downer’s sign painting career began in the late 1960s
 and was instrumental in steering his path toward type design.
 In this introductory course, he will teach the two main kinds 
of letterform construction which have traditionally been done
 with a brush: single-stroke and built-up. Students will learn 
the importance of paint consistency and brush control. The 
class will focus on rendering a few particular styles of capital 
letters that were commonly used in American sign painting
 during the 20th century. Script lettering will be addressed in
 the final day and a half.
  • No. 2 Pencil
  • kneaded eraser
  • wooden yardstick


The instructor will have available the following items:
 1/2” flat brush, show card brushes, and 2-sided white railroad board, plastic cups, tape and tempera paint for you to purchase directly from him. Please bring $50 cash to class on Monday morning.

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Lecturer: John Downer

Sign Painting
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