Posted by Stephanie Boyle on

There’s Atari old-school and then there’s hand-painted-sign old-school ~ meet Glasgow based Signwriter, Rachel E Millar. 

It was in her third year studying Graphic Design at Edinburgh Uni that Rachel was told that she’d be moving to Boston for 5 months.. Going from her familiar surroundings close to home, to living with a roommate who she’d never met, in a place that she’d never been, was daunting at first, but it was here that she made a load of new friends and discovered signwriting.

“So I did a typography class (kinda boring, but technical, which was good) web design (which was interesting but I never use now) hand lettering for design and letterpress. The last two were the ones that I really loved, like LOVED, and the professors were so cool. John Cataldo, in Boston ,was 90 when he taught me. He was so great. He’d go around and be like ‘it’s a handsome piece of work’ and if you got a handsome, you knew it was good.”

Fast forward to today, Rachel has her own studio in Glasgow’s southside (our hometown!) and works as a freelance Signwriter. There has been a real comeback with hand-painted signs - vinyl started to take over from paint in the mid-20th century, but as time has passed (and hand-painted signs have aged way better than vinyl) we’re starting to see more and more creatives picking up a brush. Even though it’s a skill that has existed for centuries and there’s a lot to learn from back then, new technology and digital has meant that it’s pretty different from what it used to be. Back in the day, the Signwriter would have a couple of typefaces that they’d know by heart - so a couple of styles like a gothic, a thick-and-thin and their own style of casual that was personal to them - but that usually came after a 9 year apprenticeship and it limited what they could do.

“It [digital] crosses over a lot, more than you’d think. In this renaissance of sign writing, you can’t not know how to work things digitally. In the old days, sign writers would draw everything by hand, and I do know a few people who can do that and render type so quickly, but it’s a whole other skill in itself. I usually set everything up on (Adobe) Illustrator to create patterns or recreate logos to paint something exactly as they’d like it to be. It’s essential as everything is just so fast paced now, even for something that’s done by hand”

On the flip side, signwriting has also had a huge impact on digital - with over 155K posts tagged #signwriting on Instagram alone, and a whole new community and interest growing around what was once considered a dying art. In August last year, Rachel went to London Letterheads - an event that’s been around since the 70s - with over 200 other signwriters.

“This year was the biggest one. It was amazing because you got to see a huge breadth of styles and skills and I came back like ‘yes, I’ve got a fire in the belly'"

Favourite project story? 

“The guys from Studio Something in Edinburgh phoned me to live paint the line up of the King Tuts stage at TRNSMT for Facebook. I called up Ciaran to give me a hand - we did the background and the top part in the morning, got the dates on and then started filming, so it would be like ‘ohh - who’s the next act going to be?’. It took like 2-3 hours and it was absolutely freezing, then afterwards we went straight to the pub, got some pints and read through over 700 comments of people just ripping us to shreds - it was hilarious”

Go-to podcasts? 

🖌️ The Blindboy Podcast - it’s by one half of the Rubberbandits

🖌️ I listened to the entirety of My Dad Wrote a Porno - I nearly fell off my ladder I was laughing so much.

🖌️ Drunk on Lettering - Phoebe and Roxy from Pandr Design Co get drunk and interview lettering artists

🖌️  The Guilty Feminist - the best!

🖌️ The Honest Designers Podcast - great one for really practical design stuff

Today, we see a lot of things coming back that make us feel nostalgic (hands up if you’ve just bought another Tamagotchi) but it goes way beyond a novelty. As sustainability becomes more important than ever, we’re looking back to things that last, and that goes for everything from fashion, to products and of course, in Rachel’s case, design.

Check out all of Rachel’s 🔥 work 🔥 over on Instagram: @rachelemillar

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