Better Letters Circus’ Northeast Tour
After Letterheads 40 at the American Sign Museum, Better Letters head East on the original circus tour.
Oct 17, 2015
• 11 min read
We’ve just finished the tour, taking
our hand-lettering workshops to four American cities in three weeks. It all kicked off in Cincinnati with the Letterheads 40th anniversary meet, with Philadelphia, New York and Providence also hosting workshops. There were stops along the way in Pittsburgh and Boston, and plenty of time on the road in the Northeastern states of the USA. Labeled the Better Letters Circus for the non-stop fun and lettering it promised, here is a collection of photos with captions to show how it lived up to its billing.
Massive thanks to everyone that made it possible, and such an unforgettable experience. In no particular order (please tell me if I’ve forgotten anyone!): All the participants that signed up and got their brushes wet;
Mike & Ayleen Meyer; Tim Meyer; David Kynaston; Cheryl McLean; American Sign Museum; Gibbs Connors; Colossal Media; Providence Painted Signs; All the Letterheads 40 organisers; Naomi Lipsky; Society of Gilders; A.S. Handover; W&B Gold Leaf; Franklin Trailers; Overall Murals; Van Zee Sign Co; Jeff Lang; Frank Jump; Best Dressed Signs; Pre-Vinylite Society; Providence Journal; Amsterdam Sign Painters; Caetano Calomino; Herb Lubalin Study Centre; Cooper Union; Paul Shaw; The Typophiles; Cam Bortz; Molly Woodward; Vernacular Typography; Scott Menke; Pronk Festival; And everyone that signed my copy of the Sign Painters book, and Gilly and Nika who held the fort back home while I was on the road. We tried to list all the places we’ve been/are going to while in New York at Colossal Media. The count is 24 so far, unless we’ve forgotten somewhere… This was the welcome sign at the American Sign Museum, a superbly fitting venue to hold the 40th Anniversary Letterheads meet. Beverly Signs sample piece in the American Sign Museum. Salvaged McDonald’s sign at the American Sign Museum. One of the many sign kits on display at the American Sign Museum, this one belonging to Elmo Wilson. Not even half the showcards on display at the American Sign Museum. The cover piece in a series of 16 plates by George Brooke at the American Sign Museum. Each piece measures c.6-8 inches wide. It dates from 1870, a relatively early use of the term Sign Writer. ‘Main Street’ and the centre piece at the American Sign Museum. Keith Knecht’s sign box at the American Sign Museum. This mid-1930s starter kit is a new donation to the museum from Mike Meyer. At the Letterheads 40 meet there were two full days of lettering workshops. David Kynaston led his Classical Hand-Lettering Workshop, which starts with laying out and painting the Roman forms. There’s always time for a bit of fun, even with classical lettering. David Kynaston was also selling his custom brush sets, and truly customising them for each customer… Customised custom brush sets from David Kynaston, out to dry. One of the original seven Letterheads, Mark Oatis, gave a wide-ranging talk on his love of lettering, art and design. It touched so many areas including the history of the business and much of his own work. There were lots of faces from the Sign Painters film, and I got most of them to sign my copy of the book. Here we have Mike Meyer, Jeff Williams and Doc Guthrie. There was a time line of memorabilia from past Letterheads meets. Signed case among the myriad of Letterheads memorabilia. When can we start issuing these again? More Letterheads memorabilia. Another blast from the past, featuring the Letterheads motto. I couldn’t find a signature on this but it’s a custom piece featuring lettering and pinstriping produced for the 40th anniversary Letterheads meet. Inspired by Dave Smith and designed by Noel Weber for their glass workshop. Painting underway on one of the four large-scale murals painted for the museum at the meet. The finished piece, designed and painted by the Diaz family and friends. The scene outside the American Sign Museum as work is in full swing on the four large-scale murals being painted. Meredith Kasabian (Best Dressed Signs) and Damon Styer (New Bohemian Signs) at work on Josh Luke and Meredith Kasabian’s Fashion Frocks mural. Another one finished, a big team effort marked with a song in front of the finished piece. A personal favourite given my work on ghostsigns, a great optical illusion for Signs of the Times magazine. After the pinstriping class lots of people let loose on the skip (a.k.a. dumpster) outside. A few of the pro’s got involved too with Ted Turner creating this intergalactic piece. Back on the road again, we stopped in Pittsburgh where we got to check out Jeff Lang’s shop, Olde Lang Signs. Another stop, this time at the hunting and fishing store, Cabela’s, where they have recreated scenes from nature, to scale! Just before we arrived in Philadelphia the Pope had been visiting. Not sure if he got to check out this piece in Gibbs Connors shop though… Another piece lurking at Gibbs Connors shop that the Pope may have missed on his visit… Workshop underway, and Mike sharing a joke with one of our participants. Gibbs Connors shop is full of eye candy, including this set of samples on glass. Cheryl McLean of Sydney Blackboard Art fame, gets stuck into some teaching on the first day of Mike Meyer’s workshop. Team Philly pose for a group photo. Time for a cigar before hitting the road again, next stop New York City. Our hosts in Brooklyn were Colossal Media / Sky High Murals. This huge painted advertisement for an American TV show greeted us on arrival. One of the many pieces of work on the walls at Colossal Media / Sky High Murals. Skinned up paint stored outside for future use by the painters at Colossal. Sink area for cleaning out paint cans at Colossal. The workshop set up at Colossal. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Workshop under way at Colossal. Mike Meyer talking through the various aspects of working with paint, in front of his trailer parked up inside Colossal. On a quick trip into town, I got to see this mural designed by Shepard Fairey, a graduate of the local Rhode Island School of Design. Mike Meyer giving some personal input during the workshop at Colossal. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Mike Meyer talking through the various aspects of working with paint, in front of his trailer parked up inside Colossal. ‘In celebration of learning’ says the sign, Mike Meyer’s hand-lettering workshop in full swing inside Colossal Media / Sky High Murals. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Mike Meyer on the brush at his workshop in Colossal, Brooklyn. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Purple is the colour. Mike Meyer at the paint station during the workshop at Colossal. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) ‘Lovely’, Mike Meyer painting during his workshop at Colossal. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Cheryl, Blackboard Art (Sydney), gets involved with an impromptu lettering demonstration. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Mike Meyer sharing knowledge with two participants at the Colossal workshop in Brooklyn. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Team New York, ‘I let my brush do the talking’. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) Massive thanks to all the team at Colossal Media / Sky High Murals for being fantastic hosts. (Photo: Christa Lindahl / Colossal Media.) We got onto the Subway for a couple of days looking around New York, of course with lettering lenses on! ‘Meta’ mosaic, on the New York Subway system, depicting the New York Subway system. I got to meet Frank Jump, author of Fading Ads of New York City. Here we’re at his house in front of a watercolour by Sandra Walker, of one of his many photos. Frank Jump suggested visiting Tribeca where I saw this ghost sign. Some Wild Style graffiti spotted near to Colossal’s shop. We dropped in on Will Van Zee (Van Zee Sign Co) where we caught him in the middle of setting up an exhibition of famous graffiti artists. We also met the team at Overall Murals who are also producing great large-format painted advertisements. On the ferry to Staten Island, this was the view back to Manhattan. Next was a visit to the Herb Lubalin Study Centre, part of Cooper Union, with this framed piece art directed by Lubalin himself. There were at least three drawers stacked with type specimen books, the colour on this one caught my eye. Inside one of the many type specimen books at the Herb Lubalin Study Centre at Cooper Union. One of a collection of late 1800s letterheads for American lithographers, found at the Herb Lubalin Study Centre. On our last night we got a sneak preview of the Vernacular Typography exhibition, located in the excellently named Dumbo! So farewell New York, big city of dreams (if you get any sleep!) Next stop was Rhode Island, America’s smallest state, for four days hosted by Providence Painted Signs. It was a full house and all kicked off with a demonstration from Mike Meyer. Over to the easels to start laying out some letters at Providence Painted Signs. Lunch break at the Mike Meyer workshop at Providence Painted Signs. One of the brighter easels that we’ve ever had at a Mike Meyer workshop. The night shift at Providence Painted Signs got to work decorating one of the blank walls we found there. Another little lettering treat, just up the road from Providence Painted Signs’ shop. More messing around on the night shift, Mike Meyer decorating one of the doors at Providence Painted Signs. Blending in the lettering effects workshop. Team Providence! It’s not all over until the Dead Music Capital Band plays. The last night in Providence coincided with a marching band festival called ‘Pronk’! Mike took off back to Mazeppa while I headed on to Best Dressed Signs in Boston. I got to hang out with Josh Luke and Meredith Kasabian of Best Dressed Signs, and founders of the Pre-Vinylite Society. Meredith and Josh found time to take me to this beautiful mural of theirs before catching my flight back to London. Next stop for the circus is Technical Education Copenhagen in Denmark!