Profile: San Francisco’s Bob Dewhurst
I first met Bob in 2008 when he showed up at my studio in San Francisco unannounced. It turned out that his home and studio was just a few blocks away and he had heard we had moved in down the street. I liked him immediately and we chatted for a while and he came back the next day with the gift of a Royal Langnickel Fitch that I still use every week. Bob is an amazing combination of painter, published poet and philosopher that I am privileged to call friend. I also affectionately call him “Hippie Bob”, but that’s another story…
TSM: How long have you been painting signs?
BD: I’ve been painting signs since 1976. That’s like 36 yrs. now! It was a couple of years though before it was a bread & butter gig because at first it was just something I thought I could do instead of ranch work in the blazing sun for 2$ an hr.
TSM: Who were your inspirations/mentors in learning the craft?
I always loved labels & packaging & letters & colors though. Notably the Coca-Cola logo & the Del Monte logo on the can of peaches or whatever.
So I knew this guy who had escaped from a mental institution & survived for months by painting signs in San Francisco before being captured; & making 7$ an hr. on top of it! (which was very high pay back then). So I guess I had filed this as a possible ace-in-the-hole to use someday. And, only after being a signpainter for decades did I remember as a small child in Albuquerque watching in fascination as a man knelt on the sidewalk & beautiful lines & script letters flowed off his brush, “I wanna do that when I grow up” I said, & he said “Well maybe you will.”
I never had a teacher or got to hang out around a shop though: I kind of developed my own ways, at first using hardware-store paint & Grumbacher fitches only, even on trucks & glass. You can learn wonderful things that way (I even had re-invented a kind of pounce-pattern without knowing it), but also you learn a lot of wrong habits that are very hard to un-do. So my first advice to anyone wanting to learn the trade of course is do whatever the hell you want & try to get lots of regular nookie.
TSM: Advice for those wishing to learn the craft?
BD: As far as signs are concerned, try to get some guidance from a pro on the basics, & talk to other signpainters as much as possible to compare notes–especially now that there are so few. Mainly, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. Look at signs all the time. Layout is the most important thing. Remember not to let an artist’s ego get in the way of painting a SIGN– you want to be readable & simple to the squinted eye regardless of how much fancy trimming you put on. Also work the colors so the main message jumps out & the subliminal copy relegates itself in relation to it’s importance. If you’re gonna stick with it you’ll have to pay attention to business. Always follow through on your word & don’t space people out. Get a good price & earn it with good work. I say, ALWAYS get a downpayment with a written contract . Write exactly what you will do: copy, colors, size, etc. That way no-one can complain later.
Signs are beautiful & as I sometimes say maybe the premier native art-form in our consumer culture. Best of luck to all of us! Thanks for listening.
TSM: A link to your website?
BD: My website is www.signlanguagesf.com if you want to check it out.