Interview: Mark MacDonald, signwriter

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To celebrate the re-opening of our shop at 7 Redchurch Street, we’ve worked with celebrated sign writer Mark McDonald on an exclusive design for our shop window.

Mark will be finishing off the design tomorrow night during the re-opening party (6 – 9pm, catering by our friends at Albion Cafe, drinks from Meantime Brewery, good vibes guarenteed).

This afternoon we sat down with Mark for a quick chat about the ‘forgotten art’ of sign writting.

How did you get into sign writing?

Through the Japanese denim brand Evisu. I began as an intern, but was soon involved in all of the design processes. Through Evisu I began working with a Japanese master painter, learning how to paint directly onto denim and onto glass.

These two materials are really tricky to paint on. It takes a lot of persistence, skill, and craftsmanship to do it well.

I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, and still learn from every single project I work on. Each is different – each brand has a different style, a different medium they’d like to use. Each brand brings a very different vibe to the table, enabling me to bring my own set of skills to the project.

Obviously different projects require different aesthetics; is there room for you to apply your own style, or is it simply a case of producing what you’re asked to?

The style is largely dictated by the medium that I’m work on. I work predominantly with glass, leather and denim, each of which differently influence the piece I’m working on.

Having said that, there aren’t a lot of people who specialise in this field, so I certainly feel that within the world of sign-painting, I’ve got a recognisable style.

Is your piece for the window of 7 Redchurch St your design? How did the design take shape?

This is a design of mine, influenced by various factors from Sunspel’s history. I visited the Archive and borrowed a few elements from there that caught my eye, and that I thought would translate well to a piece like this.

The design has a number of aspects that reference the incredible 150 year history of the brand – the old crest, for example, or details from old adverts – but hopefully we’ve been able to lend it a contemporary edge too. I’m really pleased with how it’s all come together.

So what can we expect at tomorrow’s opening event?

It’s not a quick thing that I do – it takes a lot longer than people assume. If you’re in the area today you can see me prepping the design, getting the outline worked up, working towards finishing the piece during the event tomorrow night.

It’ll be a lot of fun – people love to ask questions about what I’m doing, so it’s a great to be able to explain and demonstrate the craft of sign painting to a fresh audience.

What have you been working on recently?

My most recent project has been reproducing some of Levi’s vintage denim banners. You can see them in a few stores around Europe: for example Cinch on Newburgh Street in London, Tenue de Nîmes in Amsterdam, VMC in Zurich, Rocker Speed Shop in Paris – all over the place really.

I’ve also been working with Lewis Leathers, a deeply historical and nostalgic biker-wear shop, based just off Tottenham Ct Road in London. The project involves distressing, bleaching, painting and customising a set of 100 limited edition leather jackets for a collaboration between Lewis Leathers and COMME des GARÇONS.

What you do is pretty rare to see these days. Is sign painting a dying art?

I don’t think so. It’s often a question of time: most brands want their messages visible NOW, not ‘in a day or two’. And for that you need a vinyl. But there’s absolutely no substitution for the look and the craft of a hand painted window or sign.

It provides a far more beautiful, finished effect on a window, or on wood, than a vinyl can ever achieve. The brands that I work with – for example Levi’s Vintage Clothing, Evisu, Lewis Leathers, and now Sunspel of course – all appreciate the craft of what I do, because it’s central to what they do. Taking your time to do something because it’s the best way of doing it.

 

You can see more of Mark’s work here on his website.

 

 

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