Voices

Voices // An evening with Dapper Signs

by Katie Cadwallader

You can smell the Dapper Signs workshop before you see any of their signage. You’d be forgiven for laughing out loud when you do finally see it – as it’s the size of a postcard hidden in the corner of the gate... the irony was not lost on us. As we entered the yard however, it was a different story. First you see the Dapper Signs' van parked up, covered in hand painted type from bumper to boot (putting the mystery machine to shame). Then the bright double doors leading in to the labyrinth of the workshop and the head-spinning fumes. An instagammer’s dream, the walls are filled with alphabets, typeface tests and many a painted material. It seems anything with a flat surface gets adjourned by a Dapper hand. Immediately greeted by Cooper and his pug, once teas and introductions were out the way we swapped our mugs for paintbrushes.

First up, a straight line. Easy as it sounds, a room of perfectionist designers grappled with the technique that promised the key to good sign painting. Joined by the second half of Dapper Signs, Katie, the pair moved from station to station giving examples to work from. After a fairly mentally taxing 15 minutes, we moved happily onto curved lines. Mixed noises from the group here, as some lamented the loss of their new straight line skill and others took happily to some curvature. After a tense few minutes, we tentatively began with the letter A, as Cooper talked about his journey to becoming Bristol’s go to sign-painter. The next few hours passed in a blur of furrowed brows and blackened fingertips, as we finally reached the letter Z and had free reign to practice both the straight, formal alphabet and the more casual, sign painted variation. Both looked simple but beautifully elegant from Cooper’s brush – my own page left a little to the imagination.

The overall feeling after the three hours was one of respect and admiration for the people like Cooper and Katie keeping such a craft alive. Something that takes hours of dedication and patience, and perhaps without the instantaneous results us cursor pushers are used to, but a result to be treasured for years to come. If you can get onto a Dapper Signs course, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. Even if (like me) you have no apparent natural ability for sign painting, to be immersed in their world for a few hours was very inspirational. If you’re one of the lucky ones who hold a paintbrush as comfortably as a mouse, I imagine this course will fuel both your fire and your (white) spirit.