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Ches Perry: An American Sign Painter

I hold a special place for sign painters in my heart. It’s an art form that I have never really dove into on account that deep down I’m terrified of it. It brings back memories of art school and trying to draw these huge still-lifes on big, white, empty pieces of paper. A wall is just a bigger, more empty, white canvas of terror!

Obviously that means I’m fascinated by all sign painters and their abilities. I have spent years looking at type, learning the intricacies of letter spacing, type anatomy, type classification and the list goes on. But to try to not only design the typeface WHILE I’m trying to spell, letter space, be creative, and in a medium that does not include apple + z, well you can imagine it takes a brave soul to attempt such creative feats!

In my quest to learn more about sign painting, I came across Chicago-native Ches Perry who has been sign painting for 40 years. Now that’s a career. He co-founded Right Way Signs and while sign painting is only one sign service the company offers, it’s the part that Perry embodies. As I am finding true in many of these newly documented stories of masters in various crafts, Perry thought he was taking a commercials arts class and ended up in a lettering class and just stuck with it. I for one am very grateful he did.

On a broader view, I am so glad that videos like this one are starting to pop up. I’ve watched seemingly similar videos on people and their craft ranging from letterpress, woodworking, bookbinding, cloth makers, cheese making, and the list goes on. It’s a beautiful thing to capture the work of these people. Their dedication and mastery of their craft is a sight to behold. I also always find it amusing that an often held sentiment by the subjects of these videos is that they just do what they love and it’s not all that special. I’m glad there are people out there that recognize these people’s worth and ignore their grumblings of dismissal. Our culture is inspired and richer for knowing their stories.

A “press worthy” new addition to the family…

I am very happy and proud to announce that I have added a new addition to my family: a absolutely beautiful Sigwalt Press! Affectionately known as Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt (The street he was found on + name of press and since he’s an older fellow, so Sir was added as a form of respect), I purchased him a few weeks ago at a sale in Zion, IL at a Platen Press Museum (pictures to follow in a later blog post!) I had been dancing around the idea of owning my own press for several years now, but the funds were just never there. With a little change of financial luck and steadily putting money away in my savings, I finally did it! With the help and direction of several friends who have already taken the leap into purchasing presses, I headed North to see what I could find and find something I did!

When it comes to table top presses, historically, most people recognize the name Kelsey as a major manufacturer. In truth, there used to be many manufacturers of table top presses, but in the end Kelsey bought out most of the smaller companies. John Sigwalt held out though. Sigwalt migrated to Chicago in the early 1800s at the age of 16. His initial foray into business was with sewing machines, but after the devastating fire of 1871 destroyed his factory he started selling a ticket printing device that he had invented.

That little machine that eventually grew into larger production was called the Sigwalt Press and came in two different varieties: The Chicago and the Nonpareil. The differences between these presses dealt with the arm location, either at the side or directly in front of it. Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt is a Nonpareil, which later became known as the Sigwalt “Ideal.” I won’t even get into what these presses used to go for, but it will make you cringe at how cheap they were. However, cheap isn’t exactly the adjective I would apply to Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt…haha But it’s completely well-spent money.

Sigwalt Press: Chicago (front lever)

Sigwalt Press: Nonpareil (side arm lever)

The last thing to note is that the Sigwalt Ideal is a platen press. The same concepts of letterpress printing still apply, but I was “raised” on cylinder printing on presses such as a Vandercook. So while I’m definitely part of the letterpress world, I’m foraying into a new area of letterpress printing. To say I’m excited is an understatement, but will have to work for now!

So welcome my Sigwalt Ideal (Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt) into your hearts as I have done and you might just be lucky enough to get a print from him!

Inspiration #2

I originally thought that when I did these “Inspiration” posts, it was be other people’s work, pictures, paper, etc. So basically it was inspiration that affected my own work. But then I saw this video and it made me think: Why not have inspiration to inspire your life and not just your work? Life inspiration, career inspiration, I often feel it’s one in the same for graphic designers and often times for creative people in general.

So this week, I was inspired by by a video. A young woman who owns the company/store front called Orange Beautiful, based out of Chicago, Illinois. So enjoy the video and feel inspired about more than just your next project!

Emily Martin of Orange Beautiful from ReadyMade Magazine on Vimeo.

Expanding my horizons…

So sometimes you don’t realize how dense you’re being when you’re, well, being dense. I most often live in a world where a graphic designer either does, print, web, or both (the most marketable). But with technology being what it is today, that’s pretty much loosing it’s validity. Graphic designers, more than ever, are starting to add their 2 cents or even 10 cents to projects around the world that would otherwise be “none of our business.” Move over traditional roles: Graphic designer coming through.

My preamble was to introduce my thoughts on video. My friend Laura, a great graphic designer out of Chicago, sent me this link (see below) of a video of lightening striking 3 buildings simultaneously in Chicago. One of the most amazing things I’d seen! So I start looking at this man’s other videos and low and behold! He had just gotten back from HOW in Denver! I knew I recognized him! His name is Craig Shimala. Truly his work is phenomenal. I sat at work and watched all his films. I just couldn’t get enough.

As I was watching I started thinking: A t-shirt designer (He works at Threadless), a graphic designer, and a movie maker. That’s a lot of hats! But it all started to make sense. T-shirt designer and graphic designer, we can easily see the connections. The movie maker part took more pondering, but then it hit me: Graphic design is the organizing of information to best communicate an idea, and at best to communicate an experience. And there was the connection! On a print piece we organize words, colors, fonts, and pictures to create an experience. Isn’t movie making just that? Organizing moving images, shot in certain color palettes and laid out in a sequential order (possibly to music) to create an experience for the audience?

So I see my horizons changing. While I most likely won’t be picking up a camera tomorrow to make a movie, the divisions I once saw between what a designer could/could not do are no longer quite as defined.

Lightning strikes three of the tallest buildings in Chicago at the same time! from Craig Shimala on Vimeo.