© 2014 Lynsey

Twos are like esses

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I noticed these numbers the other day and I was transported back to my late teens. I was keen to become a signwriter [works outdoors] or a ticketwriter [works indoors]. These are such old trades that my spellchecker thinks I’ve spelled the words wrong.

I panic a little and check wikipedia:

Traditional signwriters use methods closely related to those of the fore-bearers of this craft and do not depend on technology – they are able to set ou a sign with chalk and writ it by eye in freehand. They do not rely on fonts and normally have their own individual lettering styles yet with the ability to render fonts closely to brand and for example architectural design briefs.

Oh yes, this entry has definitely been written by a signwriter.

I attended a lettering course, and I spent many hours wrestling paint on to newspaper using a lettering brush, quaintly known as a quill. After a few months I began to master the vertical, diagonal, horizontal, and curved strokes that make up our alpha/numeric character set.

There are two characters that are hard to master. I never really did. When I’m doodling type taking notes in meetings I find myself revisiting the ‘S’ and/or the ‘2’. It’s reversing the curves so that they look elegant that is so hard to capture. Just getting the character shapes to look good is a battle.

When the characters are added into a line of other characters – now that’s when the battle really starts. In the case of the ‘S’ the crown and the foot of the letter needs to extend slightly above and below the line of the other letters. Too much and the letter looks awkward and lanky, not enough and it looks short and fat.

Once you’ve started to get this right then there is the battle of identical twins. The same two characters, side-by-side. English is full of twins. Getting the letter spacing right, and the kerning consistently right, first time and by eye, is enough to drive a man to drink.

In many respects, signwriting is a lot like life drawing. The human form is so subtle in shape, so difficult to capture. But even the untrained eye can immediately see when the artist has missed the line, even if the viewer can’t describe what is wrong with the picture.

The signwriter’s job is to get the characters perfect, exactly the same, sized and spaced correctly, on a rough surface, while standing on a ladder, in any weather, and usually in the full glare of the public view. Using paint, applied straight on the wall. Get it right, first time. No ctrl-z, no clean up recovery available. Chalked on, painted. Job done. On time, on budget. Ideally, with artistic flair.

Small wonder words get misspelled. Letters get misshaped. I suspect this work [found hidden well away from the public view, on a back wall in a parking garage] might’ve been executed by an apprentice. They’re a bit rough and ready. Ugly, actually. But they do communicate. They’re not perfect, but they’re good. Good enough. They’re twins, and only their mother can tell them apart.

14. Every day the ordinary can be the extraordinary.
43. Every day accept you will make mistakes. Learn from them. They are opportunities in disguise.
47. Every day you are responsible.

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