Traditional Signwriter

Steve Blackwell - Traditional Signwriter

My name is Steve Blackwell, I am a traditional signwriter and painter/decorator living in Bournemouth, Dorset. In my younger years I attended Camborne College, Cornwall and the University of East London studying graphic arts and illustration. I have had an interest in lettering through graffiti and comic art from a young age and have been producing various styles of signs for a few years now. I am a City and Guilds qualified decorator mostly specialising in exterior shop fronts, windows and doors but undertaking all aspects of the trade.

I display examples of my signwriting work on this website and update it regularly with the aim of promoting my business and the signwriting trade, which is making a fast paced comeback for various reasons, offering so much more to businesses than the usual high street vinyl signs.

I make the majority of my signs with high quality exterior woods and paints, buying my supplies from selected sellers over the country. Traditonal signwriting can be applied to most surfaces including vehicles, glass and masonry. Whether its a sign for the home or business, large or small, please contact me if you have any enquiries.

Why do you paint and what do you most enjoy painting?
I originally started sign painting as I’ve always been interested in letters and their construction, I’ve always been liked drawing and creating artwork, and I just really liked the mechanics behind sign painting (the way the brushes are used is much different from other forms of painting). The more I looked into it, and practiced it myself, the more I liked it and I seem to like it more the longer I keep doing it and the more I learn. I particularly like painting vehicles and painting signs on exterior brick and masonry surfaces, I just like the way they look as a background compared to the usual sign substrates like wood and aluminium.
What do you think are the qualities a piece of hand painted signage can bring to a shop/brand?
First and foremost hand painted signs, generally speaking, stand out more from other computer made signs, particularly in UK high streets. We’re used to seeing plastic letters everywhere and most shops we recognise and hardly need to look at the signs anymore. There’s the odd discrepancy in a painted sign, it’s not even recognisable to look at but the subconsciousness will pick it up and it will make the sign stand out over other more ‘perfect’ computer generated fonts. It could be an ‘O’ that isn’t quite as round as it should be or a crossbar of an ‘E’ a fraction shorter than another ‘E’ in the wording.
Most vinyl signs are the also the same colours, you can only buy vinyl in a limited range of colours and shades, a sign painter has a massive range of colours to choose from and we often mix our own colours to get it just right. We can also paint on surfaces that vinyl can’t be applied to, like rough brick or old distressed wood. With all the recesses in brick, even if the vinyl would stick, it wouldn’t look right, we can adjust with brush as we work to get the best visual appearance.
What is your opinion of machine cut and printed signs?
I’m not completely against computer made signs, I think it’s great for certain jobs, particularly for big companies. For example, we wouldn’t want all the road signs on the motorway painted by hand, it would take too long and it’s good to have that uniformity. Neon signs and machine cut signs can look great, vinyl is ok but doesn’t last as long as hand painted lettering, though the vinyl sign companies always say otherwise much to our annoyance. The real problem with computer made signs are some of the people that make them; when the first vinyl cutters came onto the market a lot of people realised they could buy a machine, make signs and make lots of money. They had no background in sign painting, or lettering, and a takeover happened of badly designed signs. Now you can buy cheap signs anywhere, and see them everywhere. A lot of customers don’t understand the difference between a well designed sign and a badly designed sign, they just see the price difference. A sign can make your business look classy, trustworthy, professional, caring, modern, traditional, established. It can also make it look cheap, unreliable, uncaring, dishonest and unprofessional. An example I could give would be a funeral directors; they would benefit from having a sign showing that they’re traditional and caring, maybe a pale varnished wood background (or gold leaf on black ground) with a nice script or roman lettering. They wouldn’t benefit from using an arial bold magenta cut in vinyl and stuck to a plastic yellow background, i’ve used an extreme example of a bad sign but I really do see similar mistakes on the high streets.
Can you comment on the resurgence of hand craft and the increase in interest towards hand painted signs?
There is a definite resurgence of painted signs and hand made craft generally. I think while the big companies have tried to do everything quick and cheap, it just doesn’t appeal to the human mind. Most people want things that are fun, pretty and appreciate skill and hard work, there’s only so much robotic conformity that the public want to take. People love history, they respect the benefits of how some things used to be and they don’t want it to disappear.
What do you think is the future of sign writing?
I think the futures good, there’s lots of people getting into signwriting, and there’s lots of the older generation wanting to teach it to them. It will never be like it was before the computers, but I wouldn’t want it to be. At the moment it’s a bit rare, a bit special, in the old days it was just another trade, though people still appreciated the skill involved.
My only worry is that there a lot of new signwriters that don’t have the skills of the old signwriters, but seem to get more of the ‘fame’. I’d like to see the older signwriters properly respected and I hope the newer signwriters will strive to get to that level of skill. It will be harder for us I think, with a lot less work around and less signwriters to 1; teach us, and 2; compete with. We really need to train ourselves hard and practice so much, to get to a good level, and then keep trying to improve. A lot of old signwriters would work as an apprentice for a year or so before being allowed to paint a customers sign, now there’s people picking up a brush, advertising themselves as a signwriter and making money, very similar to the people buying sign computers in the 1980s and selling badly made signs- there’s a risk of signwriting getting a bad reputation. But overall I think it’s brilliant that newer people like myself are learning to paint signs. We have a good community, we can pass on jobs we feel might suit someone’s particular skills more, we can learn from each other, and we can compete with each other, making signwriting a thriving industry for the future.




Poole Museum

“Steve did an excellent job producing and painting a range of signs for Scaplen’s Court in a very limited amount of time. He listened carefully to what was required, took the time to visit the site and understood what would be in keeping with the building. He was a good communicator, professional to work with and able to adapt last-minute to several additional requests that we had. The signs are now in place and look great.”

Rebecca Rossiter, Events, Exhibitions and Commercial Officer, Poole Museum






“Steve has completed a few jobs for us that have been a challenge for him, but not only has he done a fantastic job, he also still has a passion for our classic VW’s.”

Gary, Coolcampers


Lulubelle's Cakes

“Steve recently revamped our shop front with a fabulous new sign. Not only is the sign out of this world but the process was so simple. I gave Steve our branding and left him to it – a couple of weeks later and the results speak for themselves!
Thank you Steve – would happily recommend you to anyone else who needs a sign!”

Louisa, Lulubelle’s Cakes





“Very pleased with everything Steve has done for me including my lovely twist and go coolbox. Always very happy with his work and recommend to all”

Katie, Totally Trimmed




“I commissioned Steve to renew the artwork and signage on the door of my Victorian safe. This by no exaggeration was an intricate and demanding piece. The results are fabulous and a credit to his passion and artistic abilities and I can only say what a pleasure it was to meet him too. I thoroughly recommend him to anyone requiring first class work.”