After a recommendation from a friend, I got a hold of Derek McDonald, and went by Golden West Sign Arts in Berkeley CA to check out the shop. Dude is about his craft, working on hand lettering and keeping it vintage.
My Name is Derek McDonald and I am a traditional Sign Writer. I've been hand lettering and painting signs for a while now but my most recent venture is the opening of my new shop, Golden West Sign Arts, in Berkeley, CA. I try to keep the spirit of the old sign painters alive as I am always willing to hit the road in my work van to any distance to paint for someone that wants work done. The shop is a "back to basics" sign shop...in other words, no vinyl, no digital print, no crazy structural signs, no over-complicated stuff..I paint signs of any style on wood, metal, windows, walls, vehicles...but it is all done with a hand drawn sketch, brush and paint. I also specialize in traditional gold leaf work, or gilding on glass.
To me, "hand made" is everything! That is why I got interested in this old craft in the first place. Ilove seeing hand lettering because it is never perfect! Even a master is never going to make to exact identical letter O's in a row and I love that! There are plenty of people who use the aid of computers, masks and vinyl in their work and as long as your design is solid I guess thats okay. I feel that the majority of sign work nowadays is cheap and the people who produce it are just pushing buttons..they usually don't have any background or interest in design, color or overall look. They just bought a bunch of expensive vinyl cutters and digital printers and pump out horrible looking signs all over America. There are people out there that would love hand painted lettering and sign work but simply don't know it is available. My customers are the ones that like to see the human hand in the finished product. They are proud that they hired a sign painter, they get to expierience something totally different when working with a traditional sign painter rather than going to a generic shop and getting something printed out with computer printer ink that will fade in no time.
Another important thing to me is the proper preservation and tradition of sign painting. I've been noticing lately a small rise in trend with younger people getting interested. Thats a great thing..I'm only 28 so I too am one of the youngsters too . Now that the tradition of the mentor and apprentice is scarce at best most people are just teaching themselves. This is also totally cool but I just hope that people learn the basics! You can draw pretty and fancy letters and fill it in with paint all day long but that does NOT make you a sign writer. One must learn the basic brush strokes, and must disipline themselves in a decent block letter, casual letter and script. If you can't snap a top and bottom line and single stroke in a decent script or block then I would hesitate to say you are a sign painter. We need to treat this craft with high respect as much as we can and keep it going!
I have more than one dream project. See, sign painting offers so many avenues..there is wall work, show cards, temporary window splash, high end gold leaf, pinstriping, wood graining and marbling...the list goes on and on. Right now my shop is basically all of the above as long as it is within my capabilities. But it would be fun, for instance, if one of the old soda companies called and said that they wanted all their old faded wall signs from decades ago to be repainted! Everybody loves the old faded Coca Cola wall ads right? It would be fun to travel the country and freshen them all up. Another great job to have would be to travel with a fair or carnival and paint signs on the road and maintain the old signs and decoration on the rides. Carter's Steam Fair in the UK is a good example of what I'm talking about...also working at an old amusement park like Knott's Berry Farm used to be quite the job back in the day! I would also love to restore all the old gold leaf transom addresses on the old Victorian houses in the bay area.
Golden West Sign Arts | Website
Derek McDonald | Golden West Sign Arts
2819 San Pablo Ave. Berkeley, CA
Interview and photographs by Kel Troughton, the sign work and photographs may not be reproduced without permission of Golden West Sign Arts.com and Expresh.com. Expresh.com 2011