Carnival Sign Painters

Artistic Eye – Carnival Sign Painters

The Magic Behind Carnival Lettering And Sign Painting

Sign Painting is an invisible art, sign painters are an invisible industry. You see it everyday. So it becomes part of the scenery. People just take it for granted.

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The carnival midway is full of carnival signs – you may even see some that remain from the carnival show painters that made the midway stand out.

There is an old hand-painted sign somewhere in your neighborhood. Plastered to the side of a building or rusting in an alleyway, peeling and long forgotten, these typographic remnants of another era are usually hawking a product or service that no longer even exists. You might walk or drive by these signs every day, but have you ever stopped to wonder just who painted those letters?

Faythe Levine and Sam Macon’s documentary Sign Painters answers that question, shining a light on the world of unsung artisans like Keith Knecht, Ira Coyne, Bob Behounek, Wayne Reuben, and Jeff Williams. Where hand-painted signage could once be seen on every street corner and every storefront in North America, it is now a fading urban craft facing an uncertain future.

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Robert Wicks, painting The Royal American 90 car train. April 1972

Though their names may not have the same cultural currency as a Saul Bass or Maurice Binder, sign painters share an important artistic lineage with title designers. From the ranks of the legendary Pacific Title and Art Studio to Star Wars and Taxi Driver title designer Dan Perri (who as a teenager painted signs for bars and restaurants), the history of title design is full of sign painters. The very first title designers were, in many cases, painters and letterers hired to apply their eye-catching trade to the new medium of cinema. Early film credits and intertitles were meticulously crafted efforts featuring hand-drawn typography not unlike the kind seen on signage of the time. Both fields required a steady hand and a lot of patience; the only real difference between the two was the size of the canvas and the product being sold.

It is fitting then that the Sign Painters title sequence is able to unite these invisible and corresponding crafts in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.