Archie Proudfoot discovered sign painting after graduating from university with a degree in English Literature. Inspired by US artist Steve Powers’ project A Love Letter For You (a collection of rooftop murals in Philadelphia), he began researching the profession and fell in love with the mix of artistry and old-fashioned craft.
Proudfoot learned the basics of signwriting in a course at Carters Steam Fair – a travelling Victorian fun fair based in Maidenhead. The course was run by Joby Carter, who creates signage for the fair’s vintage rides and attractions.
“It was an incredible five days spent at their yard surrounded by all these beautiful old rides – but really only scratched the surface of what I needed to learn,” says Proudfoot. “It [took] many more hours of repetitive practice before I really started to feel comfortable.”
Proudfoot now runs an online shop selling typographic artworks and prints as well as badges and t-shirts. He also creates signage for shops and restaurants around London.
He is fascinated with language: his giclee prints and glass pieces feature single words and short phrases that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Designs offer a contemporary take on traditional signwriting, combining bold colours with gold leaf lettering and geometric patterns.
“I love how language is this incredibly imperfect and simultaneously expansive tool for expression. That’s why I generally find it more interesting to isolate a single word or short phrase, removing it from its context, to examine our emotional response to it,” he explains.
Artworks on glass are created using a technique known as reverse-gilding. Proudfoot begins by sketching out initial ideas and welding a steel frame before creating a final pattern or “roadmap” for his design. This pattern is painted onto the glass in reverse and the glass is turned over to reveal the final design.
“Because everything is done on the reverse, there’s no painting over something if you don’t like it – dealing with something being not quite how you envisaged after several hours or days of work is definitely one of the most challenging aspects [of the job],” he says.
Proudfoot sells most of his work through his website. He also showcases new work on his Instagram feed and says encouragement from strangers on the platform helped him overcome insecurities about his work when he was just starting out.
“I certainly think it helps generate business as well, with both my artwork as well as signage jobs. I think it’s really helpful for potential clients to get an understanding of my visual style and the kinds of work I might be good for,” he adds.
Alongside creating artworks for sale, Proudfoot has painted signs for a shop in Herne Hill, a cafe in Islington and a design studio in Shoreditch as well as pubs in Streatham, Dalston and Chelsea.
Signpainting can be an arduous process but Proudfoot finds great joy in transforming the look and feel of buildings with his work. “The painting and prep work involved can often be a bit of a physical and mental endurance test. But once it’s done and the client is happy, you’ve helped give a shop its identity and hopefully made that street or area feel a bit softer and bit more human,” he says.
He has come a long way since his early training – and his signs are beautifully crafted – but Proudfoot doesn’t feel he has yet mastered the profession. “I don’t really think I ever will. There will always be more to learn and more to refine and that’s a big part of what’s so alluring about it,” he adds.
He has recently been experimenting with mixed media artworks and recently collaborated with design studio Form to create bespoke lettering for V Festival. The studio’s founders Paul West and Paula Benson discovered Proudfoot’s work at The Other Art Fair and asked him to create a full alphabet plus numerals and glyphs for the music festival.
“I had no idea if I would be able to design a complete alphabet but they believed I could,” he says. “I’ve got a lot to thank them for, showing that much confidence in me, and I was really pleased with the finished result.”
Proudfoot is keen to collaborate with other creatives from different disciplines and is now hoping to start work on a non-commercial public signage project. “Hopefully that will be getting off the ground very soon,” he adds.
New Talent is part of Inspire, a year-long partnership between Creative Review, Facebook and Instagram showcasing outstanding creative work and emerging talent on both platforms. More advice and inspiration for creatives using Facebook and Instagram is available at www.facebook.com/ads/creativehub. You can see more of Archie Proudfoot’s work at archieproudfoot.com or follow him on Instagram at @archieproudfoot