The Art of the Faux Neon Sign

Arts and Crafts Society Ticket | Danthonia Designs Blog

(Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum)

A hundred years ago, members of the Arts and Crafts Movement professed a philosophy they called ‘truth to materials’. This meant using the most appropriate material for any application, and emphasising the quality of the materials used rather than hiding them. The sentiment is well expressed by Christopher Dresser:

All graining of wood is false, inasmuch as it attempts to deceive; the effort being made at causing one material to look like another, which it is not. All “marbling”, too, is false: a floor-cloth made in imitation of carpet or matting is false; a Brussels carpet that imitates a Turkey carpet is false; so is a jug that imitates wicker-work, a printed fabric that imitates one which is woven, a gas-lamp that imitates an oil-lamp.
I love the beauty of wood, concrete and metal, and I generally agree with the principle of truth to materials, especially in architecture and furniture design. It’s a shame when a beautiful oak floor is covered in synthetic tiles, or when plastic siding tries in vain to imitate wooden boards on a newly built house.The cheap deception is revealed in a few short decades as the elements wear it away.
On the other hand, the sign-making trade has a long history of making one material appear to be another. As soon as you roll a coat of primer onto a wooden panel, you have already begun to hide the innate qualities of the wood (although the sign will last longer). Gilded elements give the false impression of being solid gold. Painted drop-shadows and highlights give an illusion of dimensionality to flat letters. More recently, distressing techniques such as crackle-varnish and stain are used to make a new sign look like a weathered artifact. Dresser would probably take a dim view of such techniques, but just as the fine artist adds paint to a canvas until the canvas itself looks like a landscape or portrait, so the sign-maker applies his skills and tools to make a substrate look like something it is not. This leads me to the subject of neon and ‘faux-neon’ signs.
Faux Rust on Channel Letters | Danthonia Designs Blog

Applying Faux Rust to Channel Letters in our Workshop

When neon first began to shed its glow on the night-time streets of American cities, many of the more conservative set considered it an ugly visual blight – crude, bright and attention-grabbing. Certainly, the glass tube letters had their limitations; the stroke width always had to be uniform, the curves couldn’t be too tight and the colour selection was limited. But neon artists worked within these limitations and the new style of sign spread around the world, not because of beautiful designs or letterforms, but because they glowed!
Neon Sign in San Francisco | Danthonia Designs Blog

A Neon Sign in San Francisco (image courtesy of Thomas Hawk)

In an age where billboards can play movies, it seems quaint to think that these humming glass tubes were once considered modern. Now, there are a hundred cheaper and more efficient options for illuminated signage. Even as neon has largely fallen out of use, it has gained a certain nostalgic respect, with an accompanying surge of interest in preserving old neon signs, and the few remaining neon artists kept busy with new orders. While in the past, customers wanted the ‘glow’ (which could only be obtained with glass tubes), today they are fascinated by the tubes themselves, and the somewhat awkward letterforms which could be made from them. Countless bars, restaurants and even museums are full of old neon signs. Some of them no longer work, but they’re still immensely satisfying to look at.
Buchstabenmuseum | Danthonia Designs Blog

A boy admires neon letters in Berlin’s Buchstabenmuseum (image courtesy of Jane McDevitt)

A fascinating offshoot of this modern-day ‘neon-love’ is the ‘faux-neon sign’. That is, non-illuminated signs which have been made to look like neon. I have seen several such signs, and find them fascinating. Why? because the monoline industrial curves of neon script were born of necessity, not aesthetic taste. A faux-neon sign is more like a painting of a sign than a sign itself. Without the limitations of neon, the sign-painter or designer chooses to emulate the look of tubing, because they find it beautiful. Here are some examples:
Faux Neon Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

A hand-Painted Faux Neon Sign by Caitlyn Galloway

Faux Neon Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

…And one by New Bohemia Signs

Sandwich Boards by New Bohemia Signs | Danthonia Designs Blog

Sandwich Boards by New Bohemia Signs

Gilded Window Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

A slightly subtler faux neon sign, also by New Bohemia

What got me thinking about this very specific category of signage? At our workshop, we also had the opportunity to fabricate what is possibly the world’s only hand-carved faux-neon sign. It was based off the iconic sign for the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco and now hangs in a client’s home in Colorado.

Hand Carved 'Neon' Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

Hand Carved ‘Neon’ Sign

Buena Vista Cafe Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

The Real Neon Buena Vista Cafe Sign, in San Francisco

We’d be happy to make another for anyone who’s interested.

Sorry, Christopher Dresser.

What’s the Best Paint for Signs?

Carved Signs in Massachussetts | Danthonia Designs Blog

Question for you guys. This is a sign for a print shop I work with. I want to offer to repaint their carved signs. I believe the gilding is in good shape, but what paint would you suggest for the background? I have One-shot, but I’ve seen it fade on other outdoor signs I’ve worked on. Thanks for any help.

– Sign-maker

Dear Sign-Maker,

First of all, nice signs! Very classic in style. Did you make them?

Regarding paint…we’re based in Australia and we use a paint called Dulux Weathershield. It’s a water-based acrylic house paint, the best on the market. We’ve been using it since 2001, with almost zero problems. Fading is minimal, and we’ve had no problems with peeling or blistering. In short, it holds up magnificently, and we’re very happy with it. So far, it has always outlasted the gilding (unlike the paint used on the signs shown above).

Refurbishing an Old Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

Refurbishing an Old Sign with Dulux Paint

The only problem for you is that Dulux isn’t available in the USA. Having almost no experience with American paint brands, I’m not in a position to make a good recommendation.

New Bohemia Sign Shop | Danthonia Designs

We think that New Bohemia Signs might have the only can of Dulux Weathershield paint in the United States. Can you spot it in this photo?

You could ask Francis Lestingi. He’s been making this style of sign since 1994. I’m sure he’d have a suggestion.

[In the meantime, I forwarded the question to Francis. Here’s his reply]:

When we do a restoration on our Signs, we generally coat the entire panel, including the gold, with black Ronan Bulletin oil-based enamel. (This, of course, is after repairing any failures). We then coat the entire panel with our custom-mixed One-Shot oil-based enamel. We then dust the letters with Kaolin, size, and gild.

A Sign by Francis Lestingi | Danthonia Designs Blog

A Sign by Francis Lestingi

We use only five colours which we have custom-mixed with One-Shot. Our colours are deep and rich and beautifully contrast with gold. We never use ‘out-of-the-can’ colors. They are too “cartoonish.”

– Francis Lestingi, Signs of Gold

OneShot and Dulux Paints | Danthonia Designs Blog

OneShot and Dulux Paints on the paint shelf at Danthonia Designs

Hope that helps!

Scott Biersack

Scott Biersack | Danthonia Designs Blog

Scott Biersack (image courtesy of The State Press)

Early every Saturday morning, university student Scott Biersack faithfully made his way to a public chalkboard on the Arizona State University campus and spent the next several hours decorating it with an intricate original typographic work. While the works themselves often lasted only a few hours, Scott’s perseverance earned him a growing reputation among those fascinated with hand-drawn letterforms. Today, Scott shares some of his experiences, inspirations and hopes for the future:

I love lettering and everything it entails. Just about a year and a half ago I had no clue what ‘lettering’ really was. Then one day I jumped onto the Instagram bandwagon with some friends and decided to use it for good instead of shooting photos of my food or random other things. I stumbled across a few pieces from Zachary Smith and instantly fell in love with the style and execution. From that point forward, I knew I wanted to practice it myself. So I forced myself to draw a new lettering piece every single day for an entire year to continually practice and get better at it.

Hand-Lettering by Scott Biersack | Danthonia Designs Blog

Hand-Lettering by Scott Biersack

Every week I used to hand-letter a motivational message onto a public chalkboard at Arizona State University, every week. I wish I still had time to create more of these, but sadly schoolwork is consuming all my time! That project was to inspire and motivate others as well as myself. So I woke up at 5am every Satirday morning to practice my lettering by writing some inspirational or motivational quotes and phrases for the students to see the following Monday when they returned to class. Each piece took five to seven hours to complete and were occasionally destroyed a just few hours after completion (since it is in fact a public chalkboard for all to use). A lot of people asked me, ‘Don’t you get upset when people erase your work that you spend hours on?’ My response is, not really because it just gives me a reason to create another piece.

Chalkboard Lettering | Danthonia Designs Blog

What was project 365?

Project365 was the name I gave to the self-initiated goal to draw lettering every single day for an entire year, never missed a day, and constantly shared every piece via Instagram to show my process and progress.


One of the pieces for Project 365

There are sooooo many people that inspire the heck out of me. I can’t name them all because there are so many. I learned and grew the most by viewing works from very well known letterers and sign-writers such as David Smith, Ged Palmer, Neil Secretario, Drew Melton, Jessica Hische, Dana Tanamachi and many more. Viewing their works allowed me to understand how they are constructing their letterforms and the methodology behind their compositions.

Ged Palmer's Sketchbook

Ged Palmer’s Sketchbook (image courtesy of Ged Palmer)

I absolutely love working on branding/logotype projects. I developed a logo/logotype for a cider business called Craftycider. Sadly, it seems the owner has gone MIA and I haven’t talked to him in months… I’m not sure where the project stands, but the logo is complete and ready to be shared with the world if the owner wants to progress further! (Either way, I plan on sharing the project in my portfolio someday soon).

Crafty Cider Logo | Danthonia Designs Blog

Currently I’m working on a deck for Girl Skateboards. It’s nearly complete, just needs to be tweaked a bit more before it heads into production. So I’m excited for the world to see it sometime – this spring I believe!

Skateboard Deck Designs | Danthonia Designs Blog

Skateboard Deck Designs by Scott

Have you noticed a growing interest in handcrafted letterforms, in recent times?

Definitely! Hand lettering has risen from the grave, it appears. The computers and other forms of technology these days have made “lettering” into an art form and something almost every company wants because of its uniqueness and how custom it can be. I feel like it’s something every designer wants to do (at some level) nowadays since nearly everyone likes it.

Laser-Cut Letters | Danthonia Designs Blog

Scott had one of his designs laser-cut to make this dimensional ‘sign’.

As for my future? I love lettering/typography so much that I think I’m going to move to New York City to further my education in the Cooper Type design program. First, I’ve got to get accepted, then somehow manage to pay for housing in that super-expensive city! I’m not worried about it though; if there’s a will, there’s a way. It’ll happen and work out somehow!

Handpainted Showcard by Scott Biersack | Danthonia Designs Blog

A Quarterboard for Madaket Millie

Madaket Millie | Danthonia Designs

Madaket Millie (image courtesy of NPR)

This is Madaket Millie, a folk heroine well-known to the people of Nantucket, and more specifically, the town of Madaket. Her real name was Millie Jewett.

‘No one visiting Madaket could miss Millie Jewett. She was a powerfully built woman in her fifties with stringy gray hair and a light brown complexion…Of her many feats, she had beaten the head of the YMCA at Indian wrestling, had harpooned a shark with a pitchfork…and so faithfully volunteered for the coast guard that in later years she was made an honorary warrant officer…She ran a small store to which we would often go for ice cream.’ -Bill Hoadley Please Walk Your Horses Up This Hill

She lived on Nantucket from 1907 until her death in 1990, and has been immortalised as a local legend. Although she was never one to brag about her accomplishments, she didn’t mind confirming or denying the many wild and humourous tales that surrounded her. Since her death, a children’s book has been written about her, and a bridge and a restaurant have been named in her honour.

View from Millie's Bridge, Madaket | Danthonia Designs Blog

View from Millie’s Bridge, Madaket (image courtesy of Greg Hinson)

The tourist trap of the northeastern USA, Nantucket is filled with eateries of every price range and description. Millie’s restaurant is unpretentious and proudly local, like its namesake.

Millie's Restaurant, Madaket | Danthonia Designs Blog

Millie’s Restaurant, Madaket (image courtesy of Timothy Valentine)

Although Millie’s Restaurant is not the same building as Millie’s house (sometimes a source of confusion to tourists), it certainly shares some similarities. Both are wooden weatherboard structures at the water’s edge. Both have beautiful views of beach and ocean. One notable difference had been that Millie’s house was adorned with a carved and gilded quarterboard sign while the restaurant had none. Now, the restaurant has a quarterboard, too – actually two of them: One hanging above the entrance, the other hanging from the ceiling above the bar.

Madaket Millie's House | Danthonia Designs Blog

Madaket Millie’s House (image courtesy of knockdown7400)

Millie's House with Quarterboard | Danthonia Designs Blog

..with a quarterboard on the wall (image courtesy of Nick)

The restaurant quarterboards were made in our workshop. It does seem a little strange to be carving quarterboards in Inverell and shipping them to Nantucket (a bit like selling coal to Newcastle). But it was a fun project, taking us back to the roots of the sign-carving tradition. Furthermore, several members of our crew grew up in the Northeastern USA and enjoy making signs for ‘the old country’ from our shop in New England, Australia.

Gilded Stars | Danthonia Designs Blog

Gilded Stars, ready to mount on the quarterboard

For Millie’s quarterboards, we used the typeface Aviano, which has a gracious classical elegance that goes well between the two gilded barn-stars. The combination of black and gold showed up well against the light weathered wood of the restaurant.Millie's Restaurant | Danthonia Designs Blog

Millie's Restaurant Sign (Danthonia Designs)

The quarterboards have now been hanging for more than a year and have even resulted in further enquiries. One gentleman from Florida, after enjoying a meal at Millie’s, bought a similar sign for his own house – ‘Dovey’s Nest’.

Gilded Quarterboard | Danthonia Designs Blog

So, next time you’re in Madaket, be sure to turn your sandy bare feet towards Millie’s Restaurant for a New England Lobster roll and a mug of Whale’s Tail Pale Ale!

Millies Nantucket T-Shirt | Danthonia Designs Blog

Our sign even found it’s way onto a T-Shirt (image courtesy of cyn4)

Should I Paint a Protective Coating on My Sign?

Hello . . .

Sign arrived this afternoon and is everything we had hoped for.  Great work! Question: Would you recommend using an automotive type wax on the sign? Any other form of applied protection?  I live in the northern part of the U.S. with snow, sleet, freezing rain added to summer sun, etc.


Dear Customer,

Glad you like your new sign! To answer your question about a protective coating:  Unless you are in an area prone to the work of graffiti ‘artists’, we recommend that you do not try to ‘protect’ the sign with wax or any other clear-coat finish.

Your sign looks like wood, but is actually a weatherproof HDU/PVC laminate covered with a coat of Resene Primer and three coats of Dulux Weathershield Acrylic paint. Dulux paint uses color-fast mineral pigments. When cured, it remains very flexible. The rubbery finish stands up well against wind-borne sand, dust, snow, sleet, hail or freezing rain. And – developed and extensively tested here in sunny Australia – the UV resistance is second to none.

Painting a Sign Panel | Danthonia Designs Blog

Applying a coat of Dulux paint to a sign panel

If you happen to live in an area prone to tagging, we do offer a solvent-proof graffiti coating. On the one hand, it gives the whole sign a very glossy finish and it’s not compatible with gilding. On the other, it’s a tough coating, and it does what it’s designed for very well. I’ll also mention that very few of our signs get vandalised. Probably about one-in-a-thousand on average. The ones that do tend to be school signs. That’s why we recommend a graffiti coating on signs for educational institutions. That said, even the vast majority of our school signs remain unharmed.

Palladium-Leafing a Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

Graffiti coating can’t be applied to a sign with gold, palladium, copper, or any other metal-leaf.

In general, our signs require minimal maintenance. Gently rinse your sign with warm soapy water twice each year or whenever tree sap, bird droppings, dust storms or volcanic eruptions leave their mark. If one side faces south (or north if you’re in Australia) and gets significantly more direct sunlight, you can open the Quick-Links and turn the sign around once a year. If cared for like this, your sign will not show any significant fading or weathering for eight to ten years. The scroll is rust-proof, powder-coated marine-grade aluminium, so it will hold up for decades.

Folk Art House Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

This sign has lasted for centuries! Just kidding, we made it about twelve years ago.

Hope that helps!

P.S. We’d love to see a nice photo of the sign once it is installed!

Merry Christmas!

Business? Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business! – Charles Dickens

With Christmas just a few days away, these words of Marley’s Ghost, from A Christmas Carol, are a good reminder to those of us involved in selling things, that our business is so much bigger than rushing those last orders out the door. The dealings of our trade are but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of our business!

Even in our business dealings, a bit of extra care, friendliness and personal touch can go a long way. Last year, we enjoyed getting a hand-lettered card in the mail from sign-painter Brett Piva, of Pocket Design in Newcastle:

Hand-Lettered Christmas Card | Danthonia Designs Blog

Hand-Lettered Christmas Card by Brett Piva

I found the concept of a painted card very appealing and determined to hand-letter a few Christmas cards this year.

After many hours of practice, I got my script lettering to a level acceptable for Christmas cards (although still a far cry from Brett’s crisp letters). Here are a few photos of the process.

Design Pencil Sketch | Danthonia Designs Blog

Hand-Lettering | Danthonia Designs Blog

Hand-Lettering | Danthonia Designs Blog

Hand-Lettering | Danthonia Desdigns Blog

Merry Christmas! | Danthonia Designs Blog

Hand-Lettered Christmas Cards | Danthonia Designs Blog

We would have loved to send you each a hand-lettered card, but by its nature this project had a very small ‘run size’. We mailed the cards to sixteen people who we’ve had the great pleasure of working with in the past year. For those of you who didn’t get one, we’ll take this chance to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy and productive new year!

A Chat with Louise Fili

Louise Fili | Danthonia Designs Blog

Louise Fili (image courtesy of Uppercase Magazine)

As designers and sign-makers, we are fascinated by the work of those craftsmen (and sometimes women) who preceded us, adorning shopfronts, walls and windows with their finely-crafted specimens of sign-artistry. And we’re not alone in this fascination. Graphic designer Louise Fili, of New York, often photographs old signage in her travels. She recently put together a book full of beautiful images of Italian shopfront signs. Today, she tells us a little about her career as a graphic designer and sign photographer:

I was always fascinated with typography. I remember being four or five years old and carving letterforms into the wall above my bed, even though I didn’t yet have the ability to form them into words. When I was in high school, graphic design was called commercial art, which was a pretty unsexy term. During those years, I sent away for an Osmiroid pen, which I had found advertised in the back of the New Yorker magazine. With that, I taught myself calligraphy, still not understanding that this would have any relation to what I’d be doing later in life. It was only when I got to college that I discovered that all the things I loved – letterforms, calligraphy, and books – were appealing to me because I loved graphic design.

Louise Fili Logo | Danthonia Designs

My studio is a walk-in archive of all the restaurant menus, business cards, matchbooks, specialty food packages and wines that I have designed, interspersed with vintage posters and flea market finds from decades of traveling in Italy and France. And at any given time, the freezer is always filled with gelato.

Louise FIli's Studio | Danthopnia Designs Blog

Louise FIli’s Studio (image courtesy of From Your Desks)

I approach logo design in much the same way that I designed book jackets for so many years. After discussions with the client and extensive research on the subject, I sit down with a tracing pad and I start sketching. I will write the name over and over, letting it speak to me, going from an amorphous jumble of letters to a more precise design. At that point I will most likely have a typeface that does not exist, and it will have to be hand lettered. I will gather specific reference, make a more informed sketch, and off it goes to be transformed on the computer.

Louise FIli Sketch | Danthonia Designs Blog

Having grown up in an Italian-American household, I was steeped in the culture (and especially the food) even before my first visit to Italy as a teenager.

Juliana's Pizza Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

Sign for Juliana’s Pizza, Logo designed by Louise Fili (image courtesy of John Passafiume)

I don’t know that old signage inspires me directly, but it gives me immense pleasure to find these signs and then, back in New York, look through the photos on a regular basis. It’s not just the typography itself, but the context – the beautiful colors of stucco backgrounds, the painted wooden shutters, and the jasmine or ivy framing the signs – that gives me great delight.

Sign Photos by Louise Fili | Danthonia Designs Blog

Sign Photos by Louise Fili (image courtesy of Shelley Davies)

I’m inspired by any of the Italian and French poster designers of the 1930s, and all of the anonymous designers who made the packaging and signage that I love to collect/document.

Louise Fili's Vintage Italian Tin | Danthonia Designs Blog

Part of Louise Fili’s Vintage Italian Tin Collection. To see more, take a look at this page on Design Observer.

Recently, I’ve noticed a definite shift towards ‘craft’ in design. I think that the loss of tactility in our tech-driven lives has fostered an interest in craft. Designers crave the use of their hands.

Perfetto Pencils by Louise Fili | Danthonia Designs Blog

Perfetto Pencils by Louise Fili – an excuse for designers to use their hands!

I remember exactly when I first became interested in Italian typography: I was 16 and on my first trip to Italy when I spotted a billboard for Baci Perugina chocolates. In the years that followed, Italian designs would have a profound influence on my aesthetic — and I remained particularly fascinated by the country’s elegant signage. Grafica della Strada: The Signs of Italy documents my obsession with Italian lettering, with photographs I have taken of restaurant, shop, hotel, and street signs from all over the country. The collection spans three decades and countless materials and styles, from classical to futurist and gold leaf to neon.

Grafica della Strada  | Danthonia Designs Blog

A Spread from Grafica della Strada (image courtesy of Coolhunting)

A few more of Louise’s designs:

Label by Louise FIli | Danthonia Designs Blog Louise Fili Logo | Danthonia Designs Blog Labels by Louise FIli | Danthonia Designs Blog

Gilding Two Signs for Tanglewood Farm

A rather unusual project presented itself a few weeks ago. Jim Green, of Tanglewood Farm near Tamworth, had purchased a large timber sign from a local cabinet-shop. It was a little over three meters long, and the letters had been routed into the panel, which consisted of a solid piece of Merbau. A smaller sign of the same construction displayed the address number of the farm – 388. Both signs had been stained in a deep brown hue, and certainly held a rustic and understated beauty. But just as Jim was about to install them at the front gate, he noticed that the lettering was not as readable as he had imagined it would be. The sign needed to catch the attention of passing motorists.

Jim tried applying gold paint to the numerals on the smaller sign, but was still unhappy with the result. He knew that the sign would need gilded text. He loaded both signs onto his truck, and drove three hours north to drop them off at our shop.

The following photo series shows the steps which we took to gild the letters on the signs:

Sign for Tanglewood Farm

Jim holds up his timber sign.

Carved Wooden Sign

On a table in our shop

Gold Painted Letters

The Gold Painted Letters: Not as Shiny as Jim had Hoped

Gold Carved Letter

Furthermore, the woodgrain looked a little rough.

Masking the Wooden Sign

We first covered the sign with stencil mask.

Carbon Paper

Then, I rubbed the surface with carbon paper, which brought out the shapes of the carved letter.

Cutting out Letters

Next, I cut each letter out of the stencil, with a razor blade.

Wooden Sign in Process

Here’s the sign, with all the letters cut out.

Sealing the Stencil Edge

Then, I sealed the stencil edge with water-based clearcoat.


A coat of primer next.

Sanding Carved Letters on Wooden Sign

Sand & repeat (three times over).

three hour size

Next came a coat of three-hour size (glue), for a smooth surface.

Lefranc's Twelve-Hour Size

Once the three–hour size was dry, I applied a coat of twelve-hour size.

Gilding a Wooden Sign

After leaving the sign overnight, I gilded it in the morning.


The Finished Piece!

The Finished Piece!

Carved & Gilded Wooden Sign

And the smaller sign, this time with gilded letters.

Sign on ute

All loaded up & bound for Tamworth!


A Sign for The National Goanna Pulling Championship

Wooli, New South Wales is a picturesque seaside resort town north of Coffs Harbour. It’s also home to a somewhat unusual annual sporting event – The National Goanna Pulling Championship. A goanna is a large monitor lizard that can be found throughout most of Australia, but ‘Goanna Pulling’ is a sport for humans, not lizards. It’s essentially a two-person tug of war, in which the neck of both contestants plays a leading role. Here’s what I mean:

This year, we were approached by the Clarence Valley Council to make a sign for the event. They wanted it rustic and maybe just a little outlandish, in keeping with the sport itself. Here are a few images of the sign being made:

Rolling Paint on a Sign Panel

Rolling Paint on the Background Sign Panel

Painting Faux Rust

Applying a Faux Rust Effect with a Sponge


Creating a Woodgrain Texture in the Paint on the Add-On Panel, Using a Broom

Painting Faux Woodgrain

Painting a Lighter Tone of Brown on Top

Faux Woodgrain

…And Rubbing Most of it Off Again!


Cutting gout the Script Lettering on a Scroll Saw


Painting the Letters


Gluing Everything Together

Gluing Letters


Wolli Goanna Pulling Sign

And finally, here it is installed & ready for next year’s big event!

Wooli Goanna Pulling Championship Sign | Danthonia Designs Blog

(image courtesy of bearomite)


Jon Contino, Alphastructaesthetitologist

Jon Contino

Jon Contino

To my knowledge, ‘Native New Yorker’ Jon Contino is the world’s only Alphastructaesthetitologist (a self-proclaimed distinction). From his home in the bucolic Hudson Valley, New York, Jon produces an astounding volume of gritty, hand-drawn letters for customers around the world. Jon’s is a distinctive style which draws inspiration from the Layered history of New York City and the Northeastern US. A few weeks ago, I chatted with Jon about his work and inspiration:

Basically, I’ve been designing as a professional freelancer since age fourteen. I was part of a band and I was the guy who designed all the T-shirts, logos and all that. Then my friends and family would refer me to other people, and it grew from there. Just little twenty-five, fifty-dollar projects, you know.

Jon Contino Sketches

(image courtesy of Logo Design Love)

I’ve always liked the clean, minimal sensibilities, but I can’t do that sort of design. I find using my hands to be a lot easier than using a computer, and so my work just always has that handmade, gritty look.

Jon Contino Lettering

(image courtesy of Allan Peters)

I’ve designed a lot of different fonts, but none of them are available commercially. Normally, I’ll design a font for projects that are just too big to be one-hundred-percent hand-lettered. Or, if it’s rolling out in multiple languages, that sort of thing. I don’t plan to make my fonts available commercially (at least not at this point), and I basically don’t use other people’s typefaces in my work at all.

Jon Contino Alphabet

A Font Jon Designed for an event Called ‘We Run’ (image courtesy of Satellite Office. See the whole project on their Behance Page)

I do my lettering with pencil, ink, markers…I gave up on tracing paper years ago. So, I’m constantly drawing, erasing and redoing. It’s a destructive process. A lot of my work has a patina effect, and I try to keep it as natural as possible. Sometimes I overlay a texture in Photoshop. I’ve been photographing different textures for years. Often the smaller clients are happy to just let things turn out how they turn out, but the bigger corporate clients are more detail-oriented, so having the ability to make those changes in Photoshop is a huge help.

Jon Contino

New York City has been a commercial place for so long. It’s been jam-packed with signage since the very beginning. It’s just part of the town and you can’t ignore it. I especially love the older signage that you can still see around. It’s so cool because it was just purely functional, just getting a message out there. There were no carefully crafted brands like we have now. It was just ‘Hot Bagels’ or whatever. I find that stuff totally fascinating. These old signs had personality, little mistakes… I’m obsessed with it!

Old NYC Signage

(image courtesy of Christopher Richey)

I now live in a small town called New Hampton, right on the Jersey border in the Hudson Valley of New York. It’s only an hour’s drive from Manhattan, but a beautiful place to raise a family. It’s full of history as well, and actually, although it’s less densely packed than Brooklyn, the historical stuff is better preserved out here in the country. We’ve got a lot of antique shops, old stores, creative people…a lot of stuff from the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Our house is actually a restored schoolhouse.

Jon Contino's Studio

Jon Contino’s Studio (image courtesy of Freerange)

For a few of my projects, I’ve gotten signs made by okMitch Studio, here in Brooklyn. They’re a great little shop. They’re experts at what they do. They know how to do a wide variety of styles, and they get the job done, without slowing everything down with unhelpful suggestions or recommendations that some of the bigger, non-creative shops tend to do.

Mitch, from okMitch Studio

Mitch, from okMitch Studio hangs the sign for Silk Road Cycles.

 These days there is such a growing interest in hand-lettering. Years ago, I couldn’t sell the hand-lettered stuff. Now, it’s all anybody wants. Actually, it’s a bit of an over-saturation at the moment. People who shouldn’t be doing it are doing it. Hopefully those who know what they’re doing can stay in business!

Yardsale App

But the internet provides so much inspiration now, with Instagram and all these design websites. I get inspired by so many people, I can’t begin to list them all…veterans like Kimou Meyer, Invisible Creature, and the guys at House Industries have been huge influences for so long, and now a lot of kids in their early twenties are learning how to do things right, like the old-timers. It’s great!

Jon Contino from Kevin Steen on Vimeo.