Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Painting Building Signs..."Old School"

I recently was hired to re-paint a 3 story vertical sign for one of Calgary's historic buildings in the downtown core. It was a straight forward lettering job,except for its location. The sign was located next to a underground parkade entrance, with plenty of traffic. I had roughly 8' to fit a 45' lift into, so it was tight. Myself and my helper managed to complete the job in 3 days. Thankfully, the weather cooperated. It's always a little risky doing a job like in the fall, as Old Man Winter can show up at any time. Another issue was, my permits that only allowed us to work between 9am to 3pm. The first thing that had to be done was to block out the old sign. To do this, I used a grey primer, then re-coated with white. I like to cut in the letters, as I feel it gives a better finish. Also, you don't have to paint the white letters over a black background, re-coating them a number of times to get the same results as cutting in. Time is money, plus I hate heights. My next step was to use pounce patterns to transfer the letters. I just made a pattern of each individual letter, that way, your not fighting with a large pattern, 3 stories in the air. I could have done the layout directly on the building, but that takes time. All in all, it was an enjoyable job to do, and it let people see how it was done back in the day. A lot of people were surprised to see us doing the lettering with a brush. They thought we would use a stencil or something. I enjoy jobs like this once in a while, just not the heights. It's funny the things you'll do for money, not to mention the challenge that comes with it. Feel free to comment, or send me an email if you have any questions.

Here's a picture of the sign I was asked to re-paint. I guess not everyone was interested in artist from around the world, the business when under. One of the problem I faced was not knowing if it was painted with oil, or latex. I tried some test, but could prove it 100%. When in doubt, prime it with a bonding primer. That way you know your paint will stick. I used latex for the job, so this was an important step. Rule of thumb is, you can paint oil over latex, but not the other way round.

   The first step is to neutralize the lettering against the background. To do this, I had the paint company tint the primer to a grey color. It doesn't have to be that dark to knock out the lettering. Doing this helps when you roll out the white. It only took one heavy coat of white to get my working surface. After I finished cutting in, it only took a  light coat to finish the letters. If I had lettered over a black background, it would have taken 3 or 4 coats to get the same results. Far easier to roll out a large area apposed to re-coat individual letters.

With the background finished, it was time for the layout.  First, we used a chalk line to snap a vertical guild line. This would be used to center the patterns. I drew a center line, and also a horizontal line across the bottom of the letter. Using a scale drawing, it was just a matter of measuring and pouncing. I used a level to make sure they were true. By the time I reached the bottom, I was only a 1/2" out. Not bad for a 30' sign.

Now comes the fun part, doing the actual lettering. We just start at the top, and work our way down. With everything established, it's just a matter of cutting in the letters and the boarder. I always feel better as we get closer to the ground, as the top letters make me feel a little un-easy, due to the height. The things you'll do for money.

With all the lettering and boarder done, it's just a matter of one more pass to do the 2nd coat. I used a low luster high quality latex house paint to do the job. It covers well, and will still look good for  years to come.

                                                                                                   Photos courtesy of  Olivier Ballou
 The finished sign. My customer was extremely pleased, and also enjoyed watching the process from beginning to end. It also entertained the people that work in the area, and also the next building. It gave them something to watch while they were having a smoke. My client has hired another company to remove the sign to the right, not sure how that's going to work. But at least my part is done. Thanks for taking the time to drop by. Make sure to check in again as I have a very interesting project coming up.