Sign painting and hand drawn typography has been declared a dying art by some. We have met a young man facing modern ages, whilst maintaining a steady grip of both tradition and craftsmanship. If you have ever stared at a single blank A4 page and felt like spending +50 hours in its intimate company, you’re just like Carl Fredrik, better known as Frisso.
Frisso, what do you do?
I draw letters, thats my thing. Draw and paint letters, and everything I can imagine that needs typography: logos, packaging, signs and so on.
How do you work?
All my work starts off by drawing everything by hand, from the first sketches to the finished design. If its for a sign, I very rarely use anything digital in the process. But If I am making a logo for example, I then vectorize my final hand drawn design digitally. I only use the computer as a tool to finalize my designs and to test out different colour combinations. The design process is in my hands.
Many thought sign painting was gonna die out, but we see this revival of it and it’s starting to get accepted into the art scene
Were you always set on becoming a sign painter?
At Kolding Designskole we learned many aspects of communication design, like interactive media, illustration, graphic design and animations. I thought animations were pretty cool and it would be the thing I was going to do, until right before the bachelor, where I found a video of a sign painter. I had always, since the first day, drawn letters and really enjoyed it. I didn’t think you could make a living of just one thing, like that.
During school I realized what I wanted to do… and what I didn’t want to do. Which is probably equally as important.
Where does hand painted signs and hand painted typography fit in, during the current trend towards digital design?
We have had digitally designed signs for some 20 years now, and we can see the impact is has on the city landscape. The first thing you notice when you walk down the street is the stores’ front signs. People don’t realize how much impact it has on the whole feeling of the street. They all look the same to most, but not for a sign painter who is passionate about his work. He is going to put his heart and soul in to every design, – they have to be good.
Most sign painters you meet are older. Where do you see yourself in this group?
Well, theres a lot of people at my age now, who are starting to get into lettering and sign painting. I think the older generation think it’s cool that so many young people are getting into it. Many thought sign painting was gonna die out, but we see this revival of it and it’s starting to get accepted into the art scene, which I think is a huge part of it. We are starting to see more and more art shows with sign painting, and it raises the awareness about the craft.
A lot of young grafitti writers went into sign painting. I am a grafitti writer myself, well, was. There are letters in grafitti and letters in sign painting, and we work with the same type of paint, just instead of spray painting, we use a brush. Theres a good transition between the two fields.
There is something about having to prove ourselves though, to the older generation of sign painters. I feel it is pretty important to get their respect, because they have been in the field so long.
looking at frisso work
Frisso shows us an alphabet he spent three days drawing. He started with capital letters (ABC) , and then went on to non-caps (abc). Here, he formed the letter ‘f’, in which the curves appealed to him. “… the perfect swing of the curve…” is a sentence frequently used in his explanations of letters. He stays clear of rulers of any kind, during this ongoing quest for perfect curves, compositions and graphical constellations.
After an initial sketching phase and back-and-forth correspondence with the client, comes the +50 hours of final drawing. The tools strike you as simple form-follows-function equipment. Long slender brushes are long and slender in order to carry enough paint for long seamless strokes. Skilled sign painters twist brushes when reaching an edge too, to achieve perfectly angled corners.
Techniques as these, knowledge as this, is often referred to as ‘wisdom of the hands’, the sort of wisdom that cannot be explained but has to be learnt through hands rather than ears or eyes. Hopefully, this sort of wisdom and dedication will not be trivialized nor pacified by the current convenience of digital tools. Our talk goes on, as Frisso elaborates on his approach to tradition and new trends.
What can you bring into sign painting and typography as a youngster?
Maybe a fresh approach. Hopefully an inspiration to young ones, that might be held back, thinking that there is so many old ones and this is a dying art. Most people don’t know this is something that exists though, people look at letters and don’t think that there is one guy drawing each of these letters. Everything done by hand for thousands of years, is taken for granted by the computer generation.
The process of sign making is the same, but there is a new course of the media. In New York they still paint huge commercial signs on buildings, and they pretty much use the same techniques as Michelangelo did when he painted the Sistine Chapel. The process hasn’t changed, the market has.
You cannot learn this over night. You have do dedicate you life to it, not everybody can do it; you need an eye for form and you need a steady hand. I use a lot from what I have learnt back in school: composition, colours and the basics of aesthetics.
The social media has definitely been a big part of the resurrection of sign painting
What else is new?
Another thing is the social medias such as Instagram. Almost every young person nowadays has Instagram, and it has been the perfect way to show your work. If you stand out and do good work, you are going to get noticed, shared and followed. And then, the jobs are going to come. Coffee shops, stores, etc., they don’t only use Instagram to post their own things, they also look for inspiration and people to work for them. It’s a good media for people to look into things such as sign painting, and not just young talents, you see many of the experienced masters showing their work there as well.
The social media has definitely been a big part of the resurrection of sign painting.
What is you favourite letter to draw?
I love working with the curves of each letter and making sure the letters has a natural ‘swing’. It is, in my opinion, one of the most important factors to making letters that are aesthetically pleasant to the eyes.
The “S” is mainly just one curved line and is one of the most challenging letters to get right, which makes it a fun letter to draw.
You mention the word ‘passion’ quite a lot, what’s this passion to you?
Its more like an obsession to be honest. I draw letters, its what I do every day. I’m an obsessed nerd to be exact. All sign painters I’ve met, all the good sign painters I’ve met, they’re all obsessed with letters and can’t walk through the city without noticing the signs, typography, bad lettering and so forth. You have to be obsessed with every little swing of every curve.
Carl Fredrik Angell
- Self employed
- Graphic designer and sign painter
- Grid Design, Oslo
- Leo Burnett, London
- Best Dressed Signs, Boston (apprenticeship)
- SignFidelity.com (partner)
- MA. Graphic Design, Kolding School of Design
- 1st sem., Furniture Design, Oslo National Acadamy of the Arts
- The Scandinavian Design College
- Adobe Nordic New Creative Talent Award 2014
- Partaking in various exhibitions,
- e.g. at Lot F Gallery, Boston, MA
- Teacher at ‘Make Skilled Hands’, Berlin
- Brush Lettering Workshop
More about Frisso: