I seem to be getting more request these days to paint ghost signs in pubs, restaurants, and stores. In the film business, it's just another day at the easel or wall. Out of all the different types of sign work I do, the ghost sign is my favorite type of sign to paint. Aging a sign to look believable takes a little work to get it right, from the background colours and breakdown, to the lettering itself. I can't say I'm a big fan of crackle paint finishes, but everything has its place.
One thing that can really help to pull it off, is to start a collection of reference pictures. It's best to separate them into categories, such as various stages of aging, from the slightly aged, to the ones you can barely read. Also, signs painted on different surfaces, wood , brick, metal and such. It makes it a heck of a lot easier when you want to find a reference for the job you plan to do.
To make a believable sign, you really want to pay special attention to the brush strokes. Paint breaks down in different ways, and so does the lettering. If you pay close attention to those little details, it makes it a lot easier the paint a convincing ghost sign. If you are doing a job for a paying customer, you should really put some extra attention into the layout. Nothing spoils a good ghost sign more than a terrible layout. If your not strong at lettering, look at actual signs for reference.
If you're just doing them for fun, or for friends, it's not as important, but it doesn't hurt. Sometimes you get to design the sign, other times, you'll be working with client supplied artwork. You may feel the design could be improved on, and it doesn't hurt to make a suggestion or two. If they insist that's what they want, then that's what you paint. You could tell them their design sucks, but you probably won't be doing the job after that. Here's a few examples of some of the recent, and past jobs.
Hand painted ghost sign for the TV series "Fargo" 2nd season. It was painted on a surface that was already breaking down, for real. They wanted something interesting to fill the big blank wall. I got luckily with the weather the day I was suppose to paint the sign. It was still early spring, and quite cold during the days. As luck would have it, a Chinook blew in, and it turned into a beautiful day. Thank god for Alberta Chinooks.
Another piece for decor. New sign painted and aged to have a rustic feel. I really enjoy making this types of sign. Lets me use my limited wood working skills along with my painting skills. The crab painting looks complicated, but is really like a pen and ink illustration, just takes time and patience. I used a release before painting the background so I could remove paint at will.
Another simple brick job. Quick to do, and very effective at filling space. The trick with this type of sign is to keep the colours muted and transparent. It's easier to add more paint than to remove it.
Sometime it's all about filling the space. They were also using the slogan in their marketing campaign.