From Skater to Sign-Maker: Colt Bowden

Colt Bowden

Colt Bowden at Work (image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

You may remember the name Colt Bowden, from our post about the Pre-Vinylite Society. He is certainly a colourful character and a driving force in the creative sign-making movement, not to mention his other pursuits, such as skateboarding and stop-motion animation. Since then, I was able to catch up with Colt and find out a little more about his sign-painting history and a few other interesting tidbits:

OK, I first got into painting signs after skateboarding. I was already doing a lot of art and the skateboard shop I skated for in high school (Milosport in Salt Lake City) needed some logos painted on the side of their building. So I did it and it was super tough trying to paint with regular paint instead of sign painters’ paint, which I didn’t figure out existed until many years later. That was about 12 years ago. Maybe five years ago I discovered proper sign painting for myself and started painting with the right brushes and paints.

backslip Colt Bowden

His great-grandfather was also an influence on his work.

I did know him personally, but it was long after he retired. After I bought my letterpress my grandma started telling
me all about his career as a printer. Lead must have been running through my veins!

Vintage Letterpress Colt Bowden

Colt with his Letterpress (image courtesy of Artduh)

Regarding Colt’s 3-volume publication ‘How to Paint Signs and Influence People’:

I started getting asked to teach workshops about the basics of sign painting and I decided to make a small pamphlet to supplement the class. After the first one I put it out there to see if people would be into buying it and I have been surprised to see how much popularity it has gained this year. I just released the third issue, about script lettering. The first two are about block lettering and casual lettering, the two fundamental lettering styles for a sign writer to have.

Hand-Lettering Handbook

The first issue of Colt’s zine (image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

The third issue, on script lettering was just released. When I asked which artists were included, he replied,

‘All of them! Frisso, Pierre Tardif, James Cooper, Lonnie Tettaton, Max Middleshaft,  Josh Luke, Kenji Nakiyama, Ken Davis, Jeff Meadows, Christian Cantiello, Brian Kaspr, Chris Sharp, Ross Trimmer, Dave Gunning, Gary Martin, Rod Axtell, Dusty Signs, Bob Dewhurst, Serge Nidegger, Will Lynes, John Lennig, Damon Styer, Derek McDonald and a few more cats that are out there ruling the sign painting universe in their respective ways.’

What about Colt’s short films?

I have always been fascinated with stop motion growing up watching Gumby and Sesame Street. When I learned how to do it myself, it opened up so many possibilities for fun projects. I definitely want to get more into it. I was lucky enough to have some friends that were into high-end stop motion, so I was able to skip a few of the pitfalls in projects I did.

Here’s a video he produced, using stop-motion techniques:

The second film was commissioned by Lost Type Co-Op, a unique font foundry that sells their typefaces for any price the buyer wants to pay!

I used some of their typefaces in a design I did for a company. Also, the owner of Losttype, Riley Cran and one of their Contributors, Dan Gneiding had a font project – Dude – that worked perfect for the way that I make little nerdy stop motion sign painting animations.  I love those guys, and I don’t love too many type designers, but those guys are doing it right!

More than just a sign-painter, Colt describes himself as ‘a folk artist of sorts’. Some of his better-known pieces are handcrafted, three-dimensional bearded ‘characters’, that can be hung on the wall.

bearded character wall hanging

‘I grow the saddest beard known to man, and so I feel there is a sort of obsession that has been created in my mind. I also appreciate the way they are able to conjure up more of a mysterious storyline in your head when you see a drawing of a bearded face than a shaven one.’ – Colt Bowden (image courtesy of Artduh)

wooden face

(image courtesy of Artduh)

wodden faces with beards colt bowden

(Image courtesy of Roxy Marj)

How did Colt become involved with the Pre-Vinylite Society?

It started with meeting Josh Luke and Ken Davis at a New Bohemia art show in San Francisco that me and my friend TJ drove out to see from Salt Lake City one winter. After that I kept in touch with Josh Luke and have supported all the great things he and his wife Meredith have done for the sign painters community.

Hand-Painted Art Show Poster

Poster for a PVS art show, featuring Colt Bowden (image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

Colt has been a regular attendee of a prestigious glass-gilding event in Hayward, California:

Deadman [the name of the event – borrowed from the title of a 1995 Western film] is such a great weekend. Old men, young men, and three days straight of watching old westerns and making art on glass. It’s kind of a special, secretive group and activity – invite-only kind of thing – and I’m  stoked every time I think of how I get to be a part of it.

Gilded Glass Art

A Glass Gilding Piece, created by Colt at the ‘Deadman’ gilding weekend. (image courtesy of Colt Bowden)

Does Colt make much use of the computer in his work?

Not so much actually. I try to keep it to a minimum.