Sign Painting Workshop

Sign Painting Workshop

I’ve always loved sign painting and mural work, so it was very fortuitous that Mrs. Norma Jean Maloney - a master sign painter - moved her shop, Red Rider Studios, to Taylor, TX. Since the shop is less than a few blocks, I took the opportunity to take a two-day hands-on workshop and begin to foster a new skill set. Along the way, I got to meet extremely talented people with whom I’ve grown a friendship. 

Photo Credit: Matthew Franklin Carter

Photo Credit: Matthew Franklin Carter

Things I Made

To begin, I didn’t know there was a lot of prep time necessary for painting. First, there are supplies, and with sign painting, the higher quality of your brushes and inks generally translates into a much finer final product. Supplies include everything from One Shot paint, levels, Pantone books, Mohl sticks, transfer tape, and of course, brushes. Second, you must ready the brush, which involves a combination of applying paint thinner and motor oil to a brush all while holding it over a fire to burn off impurities from previous jobs. This process can take at minimum a half hour per brush. Finally, you must ready the application surface whether that be a canvas, wall, car, etc. This mainly involves directional based prime coating and time; depending on the application surfaces and type of colors being used, this can take 1-3 days.  

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Practice Makes Perfection

Fortunately, a lot of that was done for us the days before and so we were able to jump right in for the two-day workshop. The first day we mainly spent learning about tools and techniques, while also getting to know one another. That day, I learned to use a Mohl stick, which basically prevents you from rubbing wet ink and keeping better control over your hand. It took me back to so many times as a kid where I’d smear one of my super hero inked drawings - where had you been all my life Mohl sticks! We also practiced creating strokes, contours and letter forms. It was stressed that this should be done at all times, even before beginning to paint so that we would begin to understand the movement and relations of the shapes we were making. The second day, we got to making our signs!

Overall, the trickiest concept was learning to use one’s drawing hand in a whole new way. It was very trying but also very necessary. I’m a hacker when I sketch, meaning I like short, quick, hacking strokes where in I can find the right shape and line over time and then solidify it later - either digitally or with ink. Sign painting involves a whole other set of muscles, where you are rotating hands, fingers, wrists and sometimes ones whole body. Essentially, one is working to control X, Y & Z axises for the wrist, hand and brush tip while also taking into consideration pressure of the brush and the brush’s properties itself. It’s something that was very foreign too me because it forced me to work gently and smoothly instead of quickly and aggressively. I have since used this to help me begin to add more fluidity to my sketches and to streamline the amount of line segments I use for my renderings. Again, the idea of practice makes improvement was stressed. It took Norma Jean didn’t 30 years of dedication to be able to effortlessly render the biggest, most curvaceous, “S” with a single stroke, it took years of practice, love and dedication. 

PHOTO CREDIT: MATTHEW FRANKLIN CARTER

PHOTO CREDIT: MATTHEW FRANKLIN CARTER

In closing, it was simply awesome. I was able to learn new skills, which I immediately began applying to other portions of my personal and professional life. I was able to meet a few new friends while also forming a bond with a creative master and community member. Most importantly, the age old ideal of the hours we put into all the little details will help position ourselves for success when the opportunity arises. 


Friends & Contributors

 

Norma Jean Maloney

Norma Jean is an artist, a teacher and a friend. Her bright personality and love for life is genuine and completely infectious. From the start, she treats you like family. Norma Jean is a rare find: she’s immensely talented and internationally famous yet extremely humble, all the while sharing her skills and learnings with anyone who’s willing to ask.  

See her remarkable work at redriderstudios.com