Practice makes perfect – unless it’s on pebbledash – The Irish Times
It used to seem like a dying art, but inside and out, as we reevaluate the handmade, the writing is on the wall. Vanessa Power, also known as Signs of Power, thinks her words are big.
Wait a minute, isn’t writing on walls just graffiti?
No, we’re talking about the commissioned work you’ve seen everywhere. From Waterford Walls to the streets of Dublin, on gable ends, shop fronts and even indoors, signage makes signage look big. More complicated settings could be highlighted in gold in shop windows and more.
Caught. So it all starts at art school?
Not necessarily. Power never went to art school. “I wanted to, but I dropped out of my portfolio studies after secondary school because I didn’t think I was good enough.” Instead, she studied multimedia and worked in web design, but “I knew I wasn’t doing what I was doing should. I longed for something more creative.” On the advice of a wise friend, she searched for something to love. Her interest in signage, product labels and advertising led her to signage.
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And then did it go smoothly?
Not quite! Power applied to Ballyfermot’s sign-writing course, but it was cancelled, so she taught herself. “By word of mouth I got a sign making job, then another, and it just kind of grew from there. I was very lucky,” she says, proving that you make your own luck. Someone with a less positive attitude might have viewed such setbacks as career-breaking rather than defining them. Visit ballyfermottrainingcentre.ie to find the 26 week Ballyfermot sign lettering course or search online for tips and a free introduction at lettering-daily.com.
What about materials and tools?
“I’ve heard before that a good sign maker can draw a sign with a toothbrush, but I disagree,” says Power. “A right brush makes all the difference.” Visit corkartsupplies.com for specialty sign writing brushes, including the excitingly named Chisel Writer. Power also uses oil-based paints for exterior signs, although she says masonry paint is fine for exterior murals and general household emulsion is fine for interiors.
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“I was told early on by a veteran signwriter in Dublin that signwriting isn’t a secret, it’s just practice. I found that really encouraging so all I had to do was put in the hours and I was able to sign.” And so can you. Some things are trickier. That beautiful gold writing you might see on windows? That’s the 23-karat gold leaf back-glass plating, which Power says “can be a bit of a learning curve.” Patience, she says, is key. Drawing letters takes time. Endurance too, as standing outside all day in the cold and wet Irish weather can be a good test of your tolerance.
What about pitfalls?
Obviously being chased off a wall by the gardaí would count for quite a bit. Power supply works to bring into service across Ireland. “Approvals are made by approaching the council with the proposed wall and design. I have always found them very helpful to deal with and very supportive throughout the process,” says Power. “The easiest way to start is to paint a few letters on a piece of wood. The hardest part I find is writing signs on a pebble wall, an absolute nightmare.” And what about the wildest? “[I travelled] 2019 to India for The Hope Foundation to paint some murals in their hospital and orphanage. It was a wonderful experience.”
Vanessa Power’s work is part of the Scoop Foundation‘s charity auction at the RHA on March 28th