The Brilliant Sign Company was once the world’s biggest signmaker with 400 employees working in a factory spread over seven acres in London’s Shepherds Bush. Today’s incarnation is a more modest affair. Ashley Bishop revived the name in 1999 after the original company went bankrupt some 20 years earlier. After a law degree, a spell in the army and a few years spent decorating gypsy caravans, Bishop took a signwork course at Hammersmith & Fulham college. There he learned about the illustrious history of the Brilliant Sign Company and decided to try to continue its tradition and history, re-registering the old name.
The new Brilliant Sign Company is based in Buckinghamshire. Although it operates on a much smaller scale than its predecessor, Bishop offers similar services, with glass signs, gilding, wooden and handpainted signs all available. His customers are a mix of the historic and contemporary. Eton College, Windsor Castle and the Tower of London are regulars – when CR spoke to him Bishop had just finished painting a noticeboard in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula where Anne Boleyn is buried.
More contemporary clients include Pret A Manger, for whom Bishop handpaints signs on interior walls, and Tesco’s Euphorium Bakery chain. Glass signs are in demand from all sorts of high street businesses while he has also attracted custom from the Shoreditch/Brick Lane bar scene where interiors combine the vintage and contemporary.
Though his work is all hand-made and beautifully crafted, it is not necessarily more expensive than vinyl or plastic alternatives, Bishop says. “If it’s just a handpainted sign onto a shopfront, it’s as cost effective as anything else – half a day and you’ve got a lovely, unique job.”
Bishop says he has noticed a big upsurge in interest in signwriting. He recently ran workshops in Berlin, Warsaw and Amsterdam as well as London. Many of those attending, he says, have a background in tattooing or street art and are looking for a longer-term career.
Wherever they come from, what unites them is a love of craft and the beauty of hand-lettering. This has found a ready audience among designers keen to offer their clients a sense of authenticity. Bishop’s passion for his craft elevates an everyday task into an artform that enriches our built environment, just as the craftsmen of the original Brilliant Sign Company were doing over a hundred years ago.