Ged Palmer – lettering artist, sign painter and creator of our neon ‘Many Hands Make Light Work’ sign at Projection Artworks – is a man with a mind for alphabetic symbols, with a soft spot for those slanty, straight or curved characters that permeate our world, our consciousness, our books, walls and windows. And, with the Roman alphabet so integral to life as we know it, on which modern civilisation is partly built.
Beginning his career as a graphic designer but forsaking the profitability of computer-generated logos and typefaces for the freedom of painting by hand, today Palmer is one of the most respected talents in the highly-specialist sign painting trade, his creations enlivening everything from Parisian restaurant windows to the lion enclosure at London Zoo. And, thanks to a freehand sketch of script and block letters that was translated into neon, the back wall of our new space at Highgate Studios.
From his very first sign commission, a 13-metre glossed plywood fascia sign for a bar in Bristol, Palmer’s turned his hand to big signs, small signs, signs painted with long-haired chisel brushes, calligraphic signs painted with square-ended one stroke brushes, acid-etched signs, glue-chipped signs, gold leaf signs, signs painted on wood, glass, metal or paper. He never recycles ideas or uses pre-existing typefaces. Every job is different. “No job as a lettering artist is off limits.”
But the secret to sign painting, according to Palmer, isn’t about mastering intricate techniques or creating multi-metre-long masterworks. “If you can paint a perfect curve or line in a single stroke,” he says, “then you’re nailing it.”
Ask Palmer about his work, and he’ll humbly tell you it’s a trade rather than an art. He speaks matter-of-factly about it, without any air of pretension. Despite travelling the globe and collaborating with major brands, it’s the small jobs that he speaks most animatedly about – a ‘cold beer’ sign he did for a local Turkish shopkeeper near his flat in Bethnal Green, or the gold work on wood he did for a tattoo shop on Kingsland Road.
“I’m not creating art,” he says, “just taking an ancient system of abstract shapes and lines, and – on a good day – putting my own spin on it.”
But, after a visit to Palmer’s studio, where colours and shapes and characters pop out at you from every surface, we’d argue otherwise. Yes, sign painting is a trade. Yes, his signs have a commercial purpose. Yet there is something so universal to his work, so embracing, colourful and uplifting, that we think it’s an art form in every sense – appreciable for its beauty and emotional power.
And while the advance of the digital era could well have consigned the time-intensive, highly skilled process of sign painting to history, it is artists like Ged Palmer that are reminded us of its immense cultural value.
See his work at Projection Artworks here: