As the year draws to a close, I've taken a look back at the most popular articles on this site, and reflected on the process of launching the world's only print and online magazine dedicated to sign painting. It has certainly been an adventure, and one that I'm excited about continuing in 2023. Read on for the end-of-year top ten articles here at bl.ag online...
I've been reflecting a lot on the year, and in particular the shift I've made away from events to writing, editing and publishing BLAG (Better Letters Magazine). Although I always wanted a print magazine at the heart of the initiative, I knew that online articles, and email newsletters, would also be important. They allow topics to be explored without the constraints of a fixed page count, and to make material accessible to a wider audience.
The online articles were a natural extension to the blog that I used to write on the old Better Letters site, and the vast majority of those posts have been migrated over. The big change since the beginning of March has been trying to publish a new article every week and, with the exception of a week off for my birthday, I've managed to maintain that frequency.
Another shift in the online articles has been the introduction of work by external contributors. This has broadened the range of topics covered, offering a greater diversity of expertise and knowledge. I'll be doing more of this and welcome ideas for future articles.
The email newsletters have also increased in frequency, from three or four per year to monthly. They allow me to share the latest online articles, alongside news, events, and other adventures in sign painting. They are free to subscribe to and again submissions are welcome.
Time is Money
I have relished the challenge of curating, creating, and commissioning these diverse streams of content for readers. (There's also maintaining a level of activity on Instagram, which I increasingly dislike as a platform.) It all takes time, and because I wanted to avoid becoming an advertising salesman, I took the decision to fund it all through paid subscriptions.
Some of the feedback I've had on the Blagger plan in particular is that it's expensive for (just) two magazines each year. That's certainly true when compared with mass-market, advertising-funded publications, which BLAG isn't. While subscriptions are needed to fund the writing, editing, designing, printing and distribution of the print magazine, they also contribute to the digital content detailed above, ie 50 online articles and 12 email newsletters per year.
There is then a component to the subscriptions that could be filed under general support for the initiative. I'm a little way off drawing a full-time salary from this work, but that's the dream. For that reason I am grateful to every single person that has shown their support via an online (Browser) or print (Blagger) subscription, and of course our sponsors and patrons.
Subscriptions start from $5 per month and I do offer discounts for students and other lower-income groups, email firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire.
As always, I welcome your feedback and input as I continue to develop the whole concept of BLAG (Better Letters Magazine). Email is the best way to reach me, email@example.com.
Top Ten 2022
As a way of looking back and appreciating the body of work that has been created online, I've worked through the analytics to identify the ten most viewed articles at bl.ag. All of these have relied exclusively, or in part, on others' contributions, reflecting a wider shift since March. Collaborating in this way improves the quality and diversity of content on the site, keeps me learning, and makes my work much more interesting.
There is representation from some of the key article categories, with the most popular being Learning, Events, and People. I was a little bit disappointed that History didn't feature explicitly, although it does crop up tangentially in the piece on old French alphabets and the digitisation of Signpainters Don't Read Signs.
So, without further ado, here are the top ten bl.ag online articles for 2022, in reverse order...
10. Going Clear: Clients and the Prison of Commissions
Archie Proudfoot's personal and reflective piece was a relatively late entry (published 1 December) and is an inspiring account of his journey from jobbing sign painter to independent artist.
9. Playful Pangrams for Sign Painters (Plus Other Languages)
I was surprised that this one made the top ten as it was something of a personal indulgence given my love for all sorts of word play. Maybe it was David Leutert's accompanying illustration that swung it!
8. Sign Painting a Festive Farewell to the Fair
In July I took a last-minute decision to dash back to the UK to take part in the final Letterheads event held on Carters Steam Fair. The sun shone, and the paint flowed.
7. A Steamy Letterheads in Helsinki, Finally...
I was gutted that I couldn't make the trip to Helsinki for the international meet that was twice delayed due to Covid. However, it was a pleasure to write a review in absentia, and to learn about the flurry of Finnish innovation that took place there.
6. Two Wheels Good—Even Better Lettered
Inspired by an archival photo from Italy, this piece about sign painter bikes was really fun to pull together. I'm now mulling over a follow-up featuring sign painter shop fronts from around the world, so get in touch...
5. From Initial Contact to Signed Contract: How to Handle Freelance Art Clients and Get Paid
The business side of sign painting can often be neglected, and so pieces like this by Dirty Bandits' Annica Lydenberg are important to redress the balance. Issue 01 and Issue 02 of the print magazine also feature pieces with a more commercial, rather than craft, focus.
4. The Inspiring World of Vintage French Reference Alphabets
Everyone loves a book of vintage or antique alphabets, and it was fascinating to get an insight into the role they've played for Bruno Durand in this interview about his sign painting journey.
3. Tips For Left-Handed Sign Painters from Larry Stammers
Although they're estimated to only make up about 10% of the population at large, this piece for leftie sign painters by Larry Stammers at Sign Vision Melbourne struck a chord with all readers.
2. Signpainters Don't Read Signs by Syl Ehr
I've now added the fifth instalment of this book's digital serialisation to the site which only just missed out on top spot in the chart. It is an entertaining glimpse at life on the brush in Portland Oregon during the 1950s.
1. How to Create a Painted Faux Neon Effect with Dapper Signs
This piece by Dapper Signs' James Cooper is clearly 'lit' in the eyes of BLAG readers, and deservedly so. It's a detailed step-by-step for creating his 'budget neon' effect, and he's already been commissioned to write another couple of pieces for bl.ag online and BLAG in print.
The Next 20...
And as a small bonus, here are the articles that came in places 11–20:
11. Sign Painting on the Small Screen in Ireland
12. Chain Letter: Alex May Hughes
13. How to Price Sign Painting Work
14. Sign Painting on Newcastle Pub Scoops Design Award
15. Glittering Glass in Vietnam: The Story of Saigon Gold Sign
16. Walldogging Galore at the MuralFest In The Dalles, Oregon
17. Craft & Creativity: The Making of Ludlow and Blunt
18. Painter Kafeel: Keeping it Hand-Painted in India
19. Noble Signs in the Ascendency in New York
20. Ernie Harrison and His Fearless Crew of Lincoln Painters
Over and Out
Thanks again for your support in 2022, and wishing you all good things for 2023, Sam