October '20

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8 2 G R A P H I C S P R O O C T O B E R 2 0 2 0 G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M S I G N A G E & P R I N T I N G R E G A R D I N G D E S I G N then I began to read the text and realized that this rare 1906 manual provided in- formation about a craft with which I was completely unfamiliar. The descriptions of products, meth- ods, and theory were imparted in an esoteric shorthand, clues written in a mysterious jargon intended for the use of persons already familiar with the ver- nacular. The deeper I delved, the harder I was hooked. The whole thing seemed wondrously exotic. Was there still such a thing as a "sign painter"? If so, was it possible to learn how to become one? I applied myself then and there to discov- ering the answer to those questions; after five decades, I am still trying to do so. Within a few months of my exposure to Mr. Atkinson's tome, I learned that sign painters did indeed still exist, and that many of them belonged to an orga- nization with the remarkable name of the International Brotherhood of Sign and Pictorial Painters. The trade union offered a training program, to which I promptly applied and was accepted; all notions of higher education or other careers banished in search of my dream. After a five-year apprenticeship, I earned my Journeyman card, and the lifelong discipline of making a living, practicing my trade, and extend- ing my learning began in earnest. Among the things I learned (from a few grumpy employers) was that my treasured Atkinson book had already been an obscure, late-Victorian artifact by the time I'd received it; an arcane col- lection of obsolete designs meant for art- ists who'd labored in the decoration of a dusty and forgotten streetscape, who had used materials and techniques that had fallen utterly out of fashion. I then learned to respectfully accept instruction from these masters, but to ignore their prejudices. I resolved to broaden my interests of the world, and especially the world of design. I began to diligently research its history, to under- Atkinson's illustrated plates paid homage to notable sign artists across America. Each page included detailed notes, explaining how the designs could be interpreted in col- or. (Image courtesy of the collection of Mark Oatis) The greatest of all sign manuals, the Atkinson book, has educated and informed thou- sands of aspiring artists. Frank Atkinson worked in Chicago during its heyday: the 'teens and '20s. (Image courtesy of the collection of Mark Oatis) This large-scale glass sign was created in 1985 by Rose and Mark Oatis and was meant to evoke a specialty brewery advertisement. All work was performed by hand in reverse (on the back side of the glass) and featured numerous effects of the Victorian period, including glue-chipping, gold leafing, and mother of pearl. (Design and image courtesy Mark Oatis)

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