Thursday, 13 June 2013

Hand Painted signs of Costa Rica

I just returned from a vacation in Costa Rica, and thought I would do a post on the hand painted signs I had seen. I have spent years perfecting my craft as a sign painter, but must admit that I enjoyed the visual appeal of their signs. Although digital printing is everywhere, the hand painted signs are the ones that got my attention. The small streets were over run with signs as everybody wanted you to stop at their shop. Most of the digital stuff didn't look like it was fairing well in the sun, and  had little zip to them. The hand painted stuff seemed to take on a life of it's own, showing the personality of the sign artist loud and clear. Although a lot of the signs broke most of the rules of sign painting, the one they didn't break was getting the message across on what they were trying to say.

 In most cases the proper use of spacing and letter structure was non-existing, as they would put "what-ever where-ever" to make the sign work. They have a raw beauty to them that I think is being lost in today's signs. I don't think they used patterns or projectors for most of the work. Just walk up to the wall and as Larry the Cable Guy would say " Get er Done"
I think the signs were more about the message than the sign itself,. opening the door to creative freedom and artist expression. Another contributing factor would be the poverty, the average Costa Rician lives on less than $6000.00 a year. They seem to have this " we can fix and do anything " attitude that would also explain the look of the signs.

The small back streets were crowded and small, so getting the message out could be quite a challenge. As I usually do when I travel, I like to get off the beaten path and explore. Although I find this exciting, it can also be a little dangerous as you really start to stand out as a tourist, my wife was a little nervous to say the least.

 It was an interesting mix of signs on the streets, between the hand painted and digital stuff. Some of the hand painted signs were done by someone who obviously possessed hand lettering skills, while others were done by shop owners or an amateur sign artist. In the end, that's what gives their streets the life and charm I enjoyed. 

Here's just a few examples of their street signs. Some are from the city centre in Liberia, the others from the  resort areas around Del Coca.  

It definitely was an interesting mix. I"m sure there are some excellent sign painters around Costa Rica, but I think the digital age has also taken hold, as it was everywhere. And like everywhere, there's a mix of digital done well, and a lot not so well. While waiting for my wife at a grocery store, I watched two guys apply digital window graphics for a Coors Light beer ad. When they finished, it had little more appeal than the blank window that they started with.

 These little Soda stands were everywhere, great place to sit and have a cold beer and bite to eat. All and all, I found most of the people to be quite friendly and helpful, although the language thing was a bit of a challenge. It took me 15 minutes to find out what time a store was closing, lots of hand gestures and staring at each other. Thank god someone who spoke a little English finally stepped in or I would have found out by when they turned off the lights and pushed me out the door. It seems that learning just enough Spanish to ask for a beer only takes you so far.

This coastal wall was obviously done by someone who had hand lettering skills. Nice way to spend your day, hang out at the beach and paint signs. Does it get any better. 

Their use of color sure added a lot of life and vibrancy to the small congested streets. They really did have a life of their own. 

Not every sign was well done, but you do know where to get a phone, or your camera fixed.

I love the use of space on this one. It got my attention, so in the big picture, it's an effective sign. Hopefully you found my post on the hand painted signs of Costa Rica interesting. It's refreshing to see the artistry and hand lettering from different cultures around the world. Like the old expression goes, sign painting is the second oldest profession. Thanks for taking the time to drop by.  


  1. There is no end to the wonderful world of hand-painted signs. It's funny, I visited Costa Rica in 1998 which was before my interest so was no doubt blind to what they clearly have to offer.

  2. Hi Sam, thanks for dropping by. I also seen a few ghost signs. Unfortunately I only managed to get a picture of a small one. Hope all is well.

  3. Great post Rick! I was recently in Sayulita, Mexico. With a very similar experience, hand painted signs galore, it definitely added so much more character to the environment. I had to laugh when you mentioned the "what-ever where-ever" as I saw quite a few that started with some nice kerning in the initial stages of the sentence, but as the end of the wall neared the letters became very tight and thin in order to not run right off. But it did add a lot, I am a graphic designer by trade, but there is a lot more life in hand painted signs, it's just authentic, one of a kind, not so disposable as our society has become. Thanks for sharing your images!


  4. Rick I also wanted to ask about your workshops. I see that you have one coming up with Better Letters, I have family coming into town that weekend and will not be able to attend because of it. But I would love to come to one of your workshops, so if you have some in the future planned. Please let me know.

    Much appreciated!

  5. Hi Ian, thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed the post. My only regret is I didn't drop into some of the local sign shops. As for the workshop thing, if you send me your contact info, I'll let you know when I might be doing another one. Take care.

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  7. Hi Reena, thanks for posting your comment, unfortunately I don't allow 3rd party links to be post within the comment. Sorry.

  8. Digital Shop Signs are important while are you going to open a new business. Because by Shop Signs we could easily promote our things and people get attracted by clear Signs. Because they can easily understand what we are promoting.


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