Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Pre-Vinylites: Notes on a Manifesto

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of young, London artists in the mid 1800's who were tired of the proliferation of art made by imitation and repetition and void of emotional connection. They established a fellowship and detailed their ambitions in a manifesto which included such intentions as:
  • to have genuine ideas to express;
  • to study Nature attentively, so as to know how to express them;
  • to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parading and learned by rote;
  • and, most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues
They referred to themselves as "Pre-Raphaelites" because they believed that the tradition that resulted from the imitation of Raphael's classical model was a corruption to art, making it devoid it of emotion and humanity.
Our intention for a "Pre-Vinylite Society" proposes to subvert the recent convention of tasteless signage as a digression from both time honored design and the traditional hand painted signs. We believe that sign craft, if done with care and passion, can aestheticize our urban landscape. This ideal is not limited to the execution of hand painted signs alone, what ever the medium, if done with care, tact, and well executed design, can positively affect the surrounding landscape. These are just some preliminary thoughts on what we hope will become, itself, a manifesto. Please comment with any ideas that you may have about the resurgence of hand painted signs and let's make this "society" a reality!


  1. This is a perfect time for this to start. I feel like if there isn't something like this soon, it might blow up and become tainted by copy cats copying the few sign painters, thus filling the world of signs with copies of copies of copies.. In a way, the technology of the 80's & 90's helped "weed out" the lazy sign painters, but in it's wrath has left those who still practice the original trade almost extinct! I can't even find a still practicing sign painter in a 50 mile radius, one who is still doing it since pre-vinyl..

    The resurgance comes with so many more resources and possiblities. In a day you could easily see a few hundred signs painted from the past via the internet. Where as in the past, such inspiration was hard to come by unless you had a book or took a road trip through old towns or coastal cities.

    I feel like the business owners and city planners need to give sign painters a chance to practice this line of business and art in a larger scale than they do, giving lazily into the vinyl trap.

    I like the society idea of it. The current "clubs" and meetings of sign painters are out there, many in the midwest and the like, and many are tied in with car painters and pin stripers, close kin, but there seems to be a dying group of letter'ers that need reviving and re-grouping, as well as re-imaging.

    There is Butera School, in Boston, originally a wonderful sign painting school, now giving way to air brush art and flames..

    There's the Letterheads of Denver & Boise


    But, what of the new generation? I know were out there, posting shots to flickr and bouncing our voice around inspiring each other..

    A society would be great!

  2. Thanks for your comment. Very well said. There certainly does seem to be a resurgence of hand lettering in the tradition of classic sign making. I feel that it is inevitable when there are so many people around who are interested in letter-form, especially kids who fill their sketch books with letters instead of pictures, and then develop these thoughts onto walls, train tunnels, and rooftops.

    Being one of those kids myself a long, long time ago, I found it extremely exciting when I was introduced to sign lettering. The analogy that comes to mind is that of picking up the guitar for the first time, and simply playing notes that sound good and have some resonance. Then after time you are introduced to some guitar theory and discover that there is an underlying structure of chords and harmonic notes which if studied properly can be conjured at will.
    I think it is important for young sign painters to begin their study of lettering by understanding the basics. I was told to do this by my "master" Mr. Damon Styer of New Bohemia Signs, and of course I didn't listen to him. I just wanted to go big and fancy. Many years later I still want to go big and fancy, but I have finally read the book he suggested to me when I was an apprentice, The Art of Hand Lettering by Helm Wotzkow, and now realize the importance of this reading as a crucial first step in the discovery of lettering fundamentals. I think where I am going with this is that in order to avoid shallow reproductions of signs past, we must strive to learn the art at its most basic, then push it beyond what it has ever been before.
    This is just the beginning of exciting things to come. I would love for the Pre-Vinylite Society to gain momentum. Perhaps a web site to start or facebook? Or even a zine? I'll get started on something!!
    Thanks again for you comment!

  3. I just recently picked up 8 good sheets of MDO that had been discarded in a field because the vinyl laser print wrap was out of date on them. A little work with a heat gun and I have more wood to paint on than I know what to do with! Recycle what Vinyl couldn't quite use to its fullest!

    ~ Colt 45

  4. Great find!! That MDO can get expensive. Do you have any photo's of the painted pieces you used them for? ...sorry I'm responding sooo late.