Ever wondered how beautiful shopfront signs are created? IN Covent Garden sat down with the man behind some of London’s most beautiful signs to discover more about the signwriter’s craft. 

Nick Garrett is an interesting man with an interesting job, he spends his days designing and painting signs, many of which can be seen in and around Covent Garden, greater London and even further afield.  

Nick’s enthusiasm for his work and his love of London is apparent straight away. He speaks with passion and animation about his career, parts of London dear to him and the intricacies of his art. We all strive for job satisfaction and for Nick, a walk through the capital is punctuated by uplifting examples of his work on shopfronts, in bars and the interior walls of restaurants. 

Nick graduated from Camberwell with a Fine Art degree and a love of lettering. Following an apprenticeship under the renowned poster designer Andy Whitmore, Nick ploughed his own furrow, first focusing on traditional pub signs, then establishing himself as a specialist typographer. He explains that the nib and the brush deliver results which are fundamentally different: with a nib the outcome is formulaic and rigid, whereas by using brushes, the flow and dynamism of letters can be realised. You can guess which medium he favours. 

That is not to say that any precision is compromised with a nib, however using brushes gives a softer, almost organic quality to the lettering, rather than the clinical obsessiveness of a jagged point. When letters are your livelihood, these things really matter and it is clear that there is more to being a signwriter than meets the eye. Nick says his art is driven by style not fashion. For any creative endeavour, these may be considered wise words indeed.  

In Nick’s opinion, even some of the most acclaimed typefaces could be improved; we all know that Comic Sans is a font for infants and halfwits, but Nick can also find fault with Times New Roman where, to his eye, the proportions are skewed. As well as being a fine proponent of the art, Nick is also knowledgeable about the history and origins of sign writing and he uses traditional approaches alongside bleeding-edge technology to bring this vocational profession roaring into the 21st century. Or in his words: “we don’t want to be part of the herd if we can break the mould”.  

 

We only have 26 letters to play with but, with wisdom, skill and patience, they can be arranged into any number of beautiful constructions. A computer can create scientific perfection but you need the keen eye and quality-control of a master craftsman to create elegance. Similarly, any old mug can take a photo but for an exceptional shot, you should leave it to the professionals. 

If we can improve on the “always used”, the mundane and the mediocre, we should. While a transfer print is the quick and cheap option, who wants to aim so low as to be considered slapdash or stingy? Like Andy Whitmore before him, Nick now welcomes apprentices to shadow him, to pass on his years of experience and learn the subtleties of the trade. He encourages protégés to take risks and be expressive in their output, if lessons can be learned from mistakes, they have been mistakes worth making. We can rest assured that the noble art of sign making is in safe hands with the next generation.