'Martre' Brings the French Connection to the Letterheads

Sign painters from across France gather, and compete, in Brittany at the inaugural Martre event.

View from the side of a woman leaning on a rest (mahl) stick and painting some lettering in yellow on a blue panel.
Morgane Côme on the brush at the inaugural Martre event in Brittany, France.

Last October, the Letterheads movement picked up the pace in France with the inaugural 'Martre' event in Grand-Champ, Brittany. Martre, literally marten, is also the French word for a sable brush. I caught up with the host of the meet, Tristan Gesret (@etsgesret), and his partner Adeline, to learn more about what went down.

One of the objectives for Martre (@martre_peinture) is to "bring together the community of active sign painters in France". Tristan adds that:

"It's important to get to know people in real life, and not only through Instagram. Sign painters mainly know each other through social media, and are sometimes working in the same city/region without ever having met."
View from behind of two men looking at each other as they talk. In the background another man, slightly out of focus, is pausing from painting a sign, looking to his left and smiling.
Martre host Tristan Gesret in conversation with Jules Maillard (donning scotch tape braces) while Louis Lepais works on an Italian-themed advertisement for Breton cake.

For this first ever gathering, which ran from 13–15 October, 16 sign painters came from all over the country, representing Bordeaux, Brittany, Marseille, Nantes, Paris, and Tours. The meet had a mixture of formal and informal activities scheduled, with Friday given over to, "sharing perspectives on the trade, the projects, the constraints, and also giving tips and advice to others". There was a presentation from Morgane Côme (@morganesigns) on sign painting in Malta, before an evening meal at which the next day's challenge was announced:

"We held a draw to select team members, and assigned each team a country chosen from Germany, Great Britain, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and the USA. We then shared the brief, which was to design and paint an advertisement for the local Breton cake at 190 x 125 cm (6 x 4 ft), with respect to the graphic and cultural codes and practices of the given country."
Four people at different points along a wide wooden easel. They are painting letters and talking with each other in pairs.
Panel jamming in full swing at the inaugural Martre event for sign painters in France.

There were some required elements for the advertisements, including a slogan, and then criteria against which the final panels would be judged. These included: concept; originality; production quality; composition; national relevance; and colour and lettering choices.

Saturday was then given over to the design and painting of the boards, which had been primed ahead of the event.

As a little surprise for all the participants, there was a short break in the afternoon when everyone came together to paint a 24 x 4 m (79 x 13 ft) mural. This had already been set out with the Martre logotype and "the final mural took just 24 minutes to paint!".

People gathered around a table, with one pouring paint from one rolling tray into another.
Loading up on blue to cut in on the Martre mural project.
Group of people squatting in front of a large wall that has the word 'Martre' in script lettering produced by cutting in with a dark blue on a white wall.
Team Martre and the freshly completed mural of the event logotype.

After dinner together, the teams went back to work on their projects, and continued to work well into the evening/night.

On Sunday, friends, partners, family, and customers were invited to look around and see what had been happening over the long weekend. A jury was assembled to judge the projects, and prizes for the winners and participants were awarded from the event partners Le Laboureur workwear and Pinceaux Léonard (@pinceauxleonard) brushes.

And the winners were...

Everything then closed with lunch and a concert and, after recovering from it all, Tristan commented that:

"We really enjoyed organising it. It was fun developing the theme for the challenge, and creating Martre’s identity and merchandise. We want it to become an annual event, each October, to keep bringing together sign painters in France, and to support the evolution and development of the trade here."
Thank you to Tristan and Adeline for their assistance in bringing this report together. To keep up with plans for the next Martre event, follow the dedicated Instagram @martre_peinture. You can also find details of forthcoming Letterheads events on the events page.

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