“Signs of the Times” magazine interview by Brandon Taylor



Steve invited me to his home where he had turned his garden and a spare room into his studio space, which were both home to overlapping amounts of signs, both finished and in production, resembling the fast paced work rate that this self taught sign painter has adopted. He showed me an impressive photo album full of photos of hand painted signs he had taken on his travels and a portfolio of his own signs to match. After meeting Steve I feel as if he has shown me a way into sign painting just by teaching me a few of the techniques he uses and I feel as i sign painting might be a bit more accessible than I had previously perceived at the start of this project. Steve has established himself as a prominent figure in the Bournemouth sign painting scene on his own in a short amount of time.


Steve Blackwell's bikeSteve: “With no car, I often find myself having to smuggle paint on buses and riding my bike to jobs, carrying ladders and signs I’ve painted on big wooden boards on my back. Business and shop owners have instantly said no when I’ve asked if they’re interested in me painting some sings for them, but if they catch a glimpse of the signs I’m carrying with me, thats what usually grabs their attention. And then they have a proper look at the signs and this is usually how I end up getting most of the jobs that I do.

It just goes to show that in the fast paced society everyone will overlook investing in some hand painted signs for their businesses because they know they can get it a lot quicker with vinyl. However, when they are willing to look into it deeper they appreciate the time, effort and love that went into the art and recognise that their business will benefit from it.


Sign painters really analyse letters and hand painted signs and can see from a mile off when they are hand painted and really appreciate it, whereas someone who does not share the love of letters and hand painted signs may not know difference between hand and vinyl. Althought I believe that they will still appreciate the hand painted sign more, because subconsciously they can see the human touch and are drawn to it.”

drawing drawing sign writing paints

Steve taught me about a number of techniques he uses, the most memorable one for me being his version of pouncing. This is a technique he uses to transfer a sketch of a sign design on a piece of paper onto the desired surface. Usually, a sign painter uses a piece of equipment called ‘Pounce Wheel’, which allows them to make tiny holes on the outlines of their letterforms. They will then place the sketch paper onto the surface the sign is intended to be painted on, and dust chalk or powder over it to seep through the holes to create a faint outline for them to use as a guide to paint over. However, Steve showed me a way where he uses a more similar principle to that of tracing paper, where he dusts the back of a sketch with chalk, then lays onto the surface and lightly traces the outline of the letters with a pencil. A sufficient alternative for using a Pounce Wheel, being quicker and easier.


Mr. Barbers, Southbourne

 Mr. Barber, SouthbourneMr Barber Gentleman’s Grooming on Southbourne Grove is no ordinary barber shop, Jason Bailey, the owner, has decorated the place outstandingly with all sorts of rare and vintage furniture and paintings, and has stayed true with the traditional gold leaf and hand painted signs by Vaughan Jones and Steve Blackwell. I went to visit Jason to have a look around and have a chat about the signage he’s had done.

Jason: „I’m very happy with my shop signs, the fit in well with the vintage look of the place. After I got the signs done, I found it had a knock on effect down the high street with other shops starting to get hand painting signs and gold leaf. And the amount of people that stopped and came in to watch Vaughan when he was doing the signs was incredible.

Vintage is in at the moment, and I think that people do want to find the craftsmen that do things like sign painting. Hand painted signs are original, you can try and copy it with vinyl, but it will never have the same effect. Each hand painted sign is different. The shops that have painted signs do have that certain one-off look about them. With vinyl you don’t get that reassurance of quality. They can be put up in an hour or so, whereas with my window for example, Vaughan spent a week doing the gold leaf sign on that alone, making sure it was perfect. Now my friends that own shops say, „I’ve gotta have my window like that!“

Check out Mr. Barber for a very Gentlemanly haircut or just to check out the authentic signs and decor of the place.

Signs of the Times magazine coverSigns of the Times

Issue 1: Bournemouth

Editor: Brandon Taylor

Photography and Illustrations by Brandon Taylor