A Sign for The Whimsical Pig

Ron and Susan Bishop

Ron and Susan Bishop

Today’s post was kindly written by Susan Bishop, of The Whimsical Pig Bed and Breakfast in Copley Ohio.

Whimsical Pig Sign

The sign we made for The Whimsical Pig

The Copley area, near Akron Ohio, was part of the original Western Reserve Territory of 1807.  In 1876 James and Sarah Moore built the first home on the current site of the Whimsical Pig and began farming nearly 100 acres.  In 1910 Lewis and Naomi Brenner purchased the farm and immediately added a ‘second home’ to a common wall of the 1876 farmhouse in order to better accommodate their large family of 8 children.  For nearly 50 years the Brenner family ran the livestock farm, an orchard and at times a meat market, until the land was sold off for the Brenner Heights housing development in the late 1950s.  The home, now on approximately two acres of the remaining farmland, is still referred to by many longtime area residents as the ‘Old Brenner Farm’.

Farm in Ohio

‘The Old Brenner Farm’

Ron and Susan Bishop purchased the combined homes in 1995 with an eye on restoration. The initial plan was to reconfigure the structure over time into a home suited for a contemporary life style, while at the same time retaining a warm, welcoming farmhouse period feel. Through years of research and loving attention to detail, the couple has combined Ron’s carpentry skills with Susan’s foresight and sense of decorating to restore and transform both the exterior and interior of the residence. Extensive work was done so that there was a seamless flow between the two original structures in order that the home remained true to its farmhouse beginnings. The present home is an example of livable preservation beautifully realized.

Ohio B&B renovation

Now the final goal has been realized…opening the home to others as the Whimsical Pig Bed and Breakfast at Wolf Creek near Akron Ohio. This small niche bed and breakfast offers guests a relaxing getaway featuring large guest rooms with luxurious bedding and spacious bathrooms.  Multiple areas to relax and unwind are available throughout the house, including the parlor with wood burning fireplace, study and garden patio.

Whimsical Pig B&B Ohio

Since it used to be a pig farm, I thought I would continue with that idea.  Since it is no longer a “serious” working farm, I thought I’d use the idea of it being a “fun” pig farm and whimsical seemed like a catchy word to use!  I then named the rooms after heritage pigs which would have been found in this area:  Chester White, Gloucestershire Old Spot, Tamworth, and Hampshire. We got a whole little theme going here!

Steel Pig Sign

Metal Sign made by Lance Shook, from an artwork by Eric Immelt of Red Core Designs in Worthington, Ohio

We stayed in a bed and breakfast in Granville, Ohio [The Welsh Hills Inn] that had a beautiful hand-crafted sign both by the street and on the home itself.  My husband and I talked about what a lovely sign it was several times after our visit and remarked that we would like one like it.  I emailed our host and asked if he would mind giving me the name of the company that had made his sign.  I contacted you regarding my sign wishes, submitted the plans I had for the sign, and hung it proudly once it arrived.

Inn Sign Ohio

Sign for The Welsh Hills Inn, in Granville, Ohio. (image courtesy of The Welsh Hills Inn)

Our whole experience with your company was wonderful. The sign is beautiful!  We get comments about it all the time.  Living in a small town, there are many signage restrictions.  Our sign had to be fairly small to fit within the required limits.  Even so, it is very noticeable from the street and very eye-catching.

pig logo

The logo for The Whimsical Pig – also by Eric Immelt – from which our sign was derived. It already looks like a sign, doesn’t it?

Whimsical Pig Sign

Ron and Susan’s granddaughter shows her appreciation for quality signage.

Lance Shook from the original artwork by Eric Immelt

Braving the Woods with Brad Woodard

Brave the Woods

Krystal and Brad Woodard

If it’s true that Texas is the new California – Austin must be the new San Francisco. No trolley-cars, but the town has a vibrant community of independent businesses, and some very creative design houses (a symbiotic relationship). In other words, it’s a hothouse for creative signage. Today’s post takes us to sunny Austin to meet up with illustrator Brad Woodard, one half of the husband and wife design team known as ‘Brave the Woods‘. Though not in the sign industry, this duo has produces a never-ending stream of beautiful posters and typographical creations.

I haven’t had the chance to design an actual sign yet. You better believe it is on my bucket list, though – someday!

Logo Sign Brave the Woods

Not a sign, but definitely inspired by the roadside signage of the fifties and sixties – a logo for The Make Den

logo pencil sketches

Original Pencil Sketches

Why ‘Brave the Woods’?

I chose the name, Brave the Woods, for multiple reasons. One, it shares my initials. Which was actually quite important seeing as I was re-branding myself, and I didn’t want there to be too much of a disconnect initially between me and the new brand. Two, it comes from the etymology of my surname, Woodard. Which actually means “guardian of the woods”. And lastly, number three, I like that it is a call to action. It is our logo and slogan all wrapped in one.

Business Card Letterpress

Does Brad go after projects, or do the projects find him?

Today I am fortunate enough to have a bit of both. Many times I will contact companies who create or sell awesome products, and shoot them ideas for new products in my style. But yes, people come to me asking me to do a project in the style of one of my previous works. That has been the biggest testament to me, to make sure the work on my website is the type of work or style I wouldn’t mind doing again.

Poster by Brad Woodward

My process varies almost every project. Each project I try something new with colors, technique, the tools I use, whatever. I have a hard time getting into a routine process for creating because I am too curious and rarely satisfied. Currently I have been working a lot more in Photoshop. I tend to create and scan in a lot of my own textures and create brushes out of them. And the Wacom tablet is becoming more of a friend to me than ever. I love the clean shapes and edges that vectors can provide, but right now I am in the phase of experimenting with a more loose style. Check again in a few months, and I will probably be doing something completely different.

Poster by Brave the Woods

Brave the Woods started in Boston. Why the move to Austin?

We have wanted to move to Austin for four years now. My wife visited Austin back when we were in college, for a journalism conference, and she fell in love with the town. From then we have been researching and asking everyone about the town. The biggest things we liked about Austin were the excellent schools, creative culture, low cost of living, warm, and just a great place for small business, though we would only move here once we were ready to start our own business. Then last year we decided we were ready after building up a client base and stocking our savings account. So here we are. Living in Austin so far has been exactly what we hoped it would be like.


Oh yes, all the beautiful signage here is so nice to see. Signage says a lot about your company right away. Effective signage attracts and excites the onlooker. Signs are meant to capture your attention and provide you with a small glimpse of what you will experience with that business. The first impression is everything when people are deciding which business they are going to choose over the myriad of others just like them. A solid brand, displayed creatively and boldly out front goes a long way.

signs in Austin

A great example of Austin’s signage; Frank Sausages & Beer, by Helms Workshop

At the moment I am working on a lot of fun projects. I am illustrating a children’s book, creating a logo for a clothing company, making dinosaur toys, creating science posters, and more. I love that I get to work on something completely new every day.

The older I get, the more I appreciate things. For example, I love certain music from almost every genre, because I can appreciate the talent and skill that goes into a specific song. Same goes for most everything else. I used to solely search out my inspiration from the era of mid-century modern design. Though I still very much love the work that came out of the era, with Alvin Lustig, Charley Harper, Ray and Charles Eames, and so many more, I like to glean inspiration from a larger pool. It is changing how I approach my work, and helping me discover my own unique approach to design and illustration.

Charles and Ray Eames Blocks

Eames-inspired Alphabet Blocks, by House Industries.

Making connections, collaborating on projects, doing people favors and cross-promoting are just some of the things I have tried very hard to do as a professional in the creative world. Other creatives inspire me. I look up to them and admire their work. By sticking close to them I learn a ton and I make good friends. Not to mention, when we put our heads together we can make something ten times better than if I just did it myself. Now that I work alone in my studio, it is important for me to stay connected. Good things happen when you have talented friends. I just do my best to make sure I am being genuine and giving as much as I take. I am not the best or smartest, so I make friends with people who are.

Speaking of collaboration, take a look at the Brave the Woods Blog, in which Brad and Krystal generously feature the work of dozens of other designers and makers. But here’s a bit more of their own work:

Mid Century LA Map

A Map & visitor guide to ‘Old L.A.’, for Herb Lester

Map design

Map Detail

Branding for Camp NaNoWriMo Brave the Woods

I enjoy any project that let’s me play and experiment. I feel fortunate to have a whole host of those on my plate at the moment, so I can’t complain. But if I had to name one that stood out, I would say one of my more favorite projects to work on was the Camp NaNoWriMo poster and swag. It was a mixture of everything I love: camping, colors, animals, lettering, promoting education…so fun. – Brad

Finally, if you are interested in hiring Brad to design a sign, we’d be happy to make it!

Blue-Collar Graphic Design

Gibbs Connors at Work

Gibbs Connors (image courtesy of Chevrolet)

‘Sign-Painting is basically blue-collar graphic design’

Gibbs Connors

What an apt description of the sign-making trade! That really sums it up. White collar graphic designers may battle carpal tunnel and neck cramps, but we of the  blue-collar cover ourselves with sawdust and splatters of paint.

Sign-makers aren’t alone in our hands-on treatment of letters and colourful substances, however. There is another group of passionate and creative blue-collar graphic designers. Their industry – like ours – has also enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in recent years. They use ink instead of enamels, and paper instead of plywood. I’m referring to the letterpress printing industry.

Letterpress Printed Gifts

Printed Items from Print for Love of Wood

In October, we received a small package in the mail. It was a letterpress-printed disc case, from Pristine Video Productions in Narooma. The case incorporated the logo we designed for them last June. Didn’t it look spiffy in a warm brown hue, pressed into some very natural-looking paper!

Letterpress Printed Disc Case

‘The Pristine logo seemed to suit itself to being printed in just one colour on a nice rustic brown kraft. The finished product looked like an effective little package!’ – Jacqui Sharples

It was printed in the UK by self-taught printer Jacqui Sharples of Print for Love of Wood. Since 2008, in a small studio in Lancashire, Jacqui has produced thousands of posters and printed gifts on a range of antique and vintage printing presses collected over the years. Jacqui says she loves the smell of ink, and describes letterpress printing as ‘addictive’.

Jacqui Sharples

Jacqui Sharples

She was once a white-collar graphic designer, doing work for newspapers and magazines, but it was the recession that brought that chapter to an end.

At first I was going to teach but print is in my blood and soon found myself bitten by the letterpress bug. I started my business whilst doing my full time degree and when I graduated I decided to take my business full time. You could look at it like I’m recycling my past in a way, except I’ve taken it back to it’s very roots…I feel so lucky to be doing what I love everyday. (The Art Market)

woodtype letters

(image courtesy of Claire Sutton)

I only used recycled stock so all my paper and card is carefully sourced and most of my inks are recycled from printers closing down. (Nook and Cranny)

I started off working from home with a small 8×5 Kesley Excelsior circa 1890, progressed to a garage, then finally in July 2012 I moved into my own studio in an old mill. My current setup is more or less what I’ve been dreaming of all along!

Letterpress Business Card

(image courtesy of Claudia Rose Carter)

I work using traditional methods of hand setting wood and metal type. Wood type being my true love, I enjoy the limitations it offers of only having a certain amount of typefaces and wood letters to choose from. It’s a very slow and time consuming process but very rewarding and makes you use your brain!

Print for Love of Wood Studio

Jacqui’s Studio (image courtesy of Claire Sutton)

With the advance of technology I can also use more modern methods of letterpress which allows me to work with small businesses like Pristine to produce branded products.
The beauty of letterpress is that you can produce small runs and by using polymer plates you can print almost anything without breaking the bank.

letterpress print

An antique Victorian plate, from Jacqui’s collection, and the the resulting printed image. (image courtesy of Paper Runway)

For photopolymer plates first you have to create a black and white version of your artwork. Each colour has it own plate and is run separately through the press.
In the case of Pristine I had to take the logo into Adobe Illustrator and change all the colours to black.
Most of the time this is very simple but the logo you guys designed consisted of hundreds of colours. When I converted it to monochrome, it just looked like a black blob. So, I had to eliminate some of the leaves.

tree of life logo

The Full-Colour Pristine Logo (Hundreds of colours!)

The plates are made by exposing a negative of the artwork on photopolymer to UV light. The plates are then washed out with water which leaves a raised image of your artwork.
Letterpress is best kept simple and using only one, two or three colours.

Unlike Colt Bowden, we will probably never have a letterpress of our own, standing in a corner of our sign-shop. But we look forward to collaborating on future projects with more colourful characters of the traditional printing industry!

Letterpress CD Case Recycled Paper

Stefan Schutt, Signage Archaeologist of the South

Stefan Schutt, ghostsign hunter

‘When you get close to these signs, you can see the strokes that the guys have made with the brushes and, obviously, in the digital era you don’t really get that any more. It has parallels with the new craft movement and yarn bombing…that yearning for something that has a human aspect to it, something tactile that you can see.’ – Stefan Schutt

One of Melbourne’s ‘urban archaeologists’, Stefan Schutt, tells how he came to be fascinated with the faded lettering and advertising that still adorns many of the older walls of his city.

I’ve always been into collecting ephemera and urban exploring, especially in industrial locales.

In February 2012 I noticed a piece of paper flapping in the bushes outside my workplace in an old industrial area of Melbourne. I worked then in a new concrete and glass building, built on the spot where a row of workers’ cottages used to be, and surrounded by factories and warehouses that were in the process of being knocked down to make way for a new railway line.

The piece of paper was a blank sign-writing invoice from the 1940s, with a beautiful letterhead. I looked and saw other pieces of paper: job sheets, quotations, sketches. All from the same era, and the same sign-writing company. As I picked them up I saw they were blowing in from the fenced-off end of the street, where demolition was underway, next to the soon-to-be expanded railway line.

The gate was unlocked so I went in and collected more pieces of paper until the site manager drove in, saw me and told me to leave. I waited until he left, then went back (the gate was still unlocked). In the bushes on the pavement next to the railway line, I found a tattered, bound book labelled ‘Incoming Correspondence’ that contained letters, telegrams, statements and other documents.

The book contains the 1947 and 1948 correspondence of a company called Australasian Radio Productions, producers of radio serials during the ‘golden era’ of radio in Australia (before the advent of television, I found out later, Melbourne was a centre of radio production). The co-owner and director of ARP was Morris West. West would later become Australia’s most internationally successful author with 70 million book sold. The book contains a wealth of material including correspondence with writers about serial plots, negotiations with radio stations and the Australian Performing Rights Association, memos to other ARP staff and royalty statements from West’s first book, Moon in my Pocket.

Now excited, I noticed that these scattered papers seemed to originate from the fenced-off demolition site next to the street, which until recently had been a Vietnamese-owned mechanic business that I  passed every morning after parking my car. So after work, and after the blokes in hard hats had left, I went back, jumped over the fence and found a large pile of damp, musty papers unceremoniously dumped on the concrete and exposed to the elements:

For the next two hours I rummaged through the pile. It mainly contained the records of the Lewis and Skinner sign-writing company back to the 1920s, but also contained other ARP records, in various states of decay.

Lewis and Skinner Documents

The Pile of Documents

By the time I sneaked out in the dusk (and was seen leaving by the security guard on patrol) I’d found the outgoing ARP correspondence book, invoices and a pile of other loose correspondence that spanned from 1946 until 1954, when, I’ve found out, West sold the company. I also found a wealth of the Lewis & Skinner stuff, but didn’t realise how many until later (over 10,000 documents that are now scanned and uploaded to the website)

I went back another night and picked up more stuff – and by the next week the rest of it (most of the pile) had been carted off to landfill.

Since then, I have been actively trying to match the signs with the jobs. I have only found one so far that matches and is still around. It was uncovered during the demolition and construction works of a large wall sign in Surrey Hills (Melbourne East). It included a sign for Robur Tea and another for Medallion Foods. That sign has been covered up again now that the new building has gone up.


The only sign by Lewis & Skinner that Stefan has discovered so far.

Ghostsign detail Melbourne

Detail shot

Signwriters Signature

The proof!

Melbourne is ghost sign central really, in terms of Australian cities. My theory is that Melbourne has always been a boom-bust city: rapid expansion of the city, followed by decades of benign neglect (unlike say Sydney, where everything is always being knocked down, rebuilt, reinvented). Plus traditionally a large working class manufacturing base…meaning more poorer suburbs with less repainting etc. Some regional centres are good too I’ve heard, for example Launceston, Tasmania and Portland, New South Wales.

Melbourne Ghost Sign

‘Alex was probably destined to work with feet…’A Ghost Sign on Ridgway Place (image & comment courtesy of Simple Glee)

I asked Stefan whether Melbourne’s street art subculture poses any threat to the city’s ‘ghost signs’.

It depends on the street artists I guess. You get all types. Generally, there has been respect but not always, especially with taggers.

ghostsign in Melbourne

Graffiti and ghost sign lettering mixes on a milk bar in Preston

In London and other cities, there are guided tours in which people can admire ‘ghost signs’ around the city. Does Melbourne have anything similar?

I’ve had contact with Meyer Eidelson [of the Melbourne Ghost Signs Tour]. He quoted our seminar with Stephen Banham in his promo for the walk, and I asked to join his ghost sign walk.

What’s Stefan’s take on groups – such as the Letterheads – refurbishing ghost signs to their former glory?

I recall that the Letterheads – a group like the Walldogs – here have [repainted a few ghost signs], such as a large ‘Indian Root Pills’ sign on a shed in the countryside, in Raworth, New South Wales. Here in Seddon, Melbourne, someone badly repainted an ETA peanut butter sign after it was tagged. The sign featured in a Channel Ten TV report the other night.

Restored Indian Root Pills Sign

The ‘Indian Root Pills’ sign, restored by the Letterheads in Raworth, New South Wales (Image courtesy of The Maitland Mercury)

My take? I think they’re meant to be ephemeral and layered – that’s part of their appeal. They were advertising, and never designed to be around forever. I say: let them be submerged under tags or peel away naturally, and record them with photos. I kind of think the same thing about street art – Banksys and the like. But nothing against the Letterheads or their ilk’s good work. In the US, some civic-minded folks have started campaigns to repaint their local signs. It kind-of misses the point to me. For ghost sign luminaries like Frank Jump in the US, these signs are symbols of survival against the odds. Their survival has an accidental quality about it. I like that, the idea of the trace.

Recently, Stefan held an exhibition an exhibition of the Lewis and Skinner documents, at Lady Moustache Cafe, in Melbourne. After being pulled from a pile of rubbish, these documents were now framed behind glass, and being admired by Melbourne’s artistic set.

It’s going this week, and going very well – better than expected. So many people have heard about it (there was an article in the paper) and have come from country places two hours’ drive away to see it. It’s in a cafe so people can have a drink and meal afterwards and chat. I’ve met so many cool people over the last three days – two days to go. Many signwriters have turned up, local history buffs, art directors, locals interested in their area, the writer of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries…quite a mix. And we’ve got a massive Lewis & Skinner mural being painted on the side wall too.

See the blog for latest news on the exhibition and painting of the signwriting company sign on the wall.

A few photos from the exhibition:

Art Exhibition Melbourne

Lewis and Skinner Exhibition at Lady Moustache Cafe, Melbourne

exhibit of old documents melbourne

tony mead signwriter

Tony Mead, from the Industrial Art company, painted the Lewis and Skinner logo onto the cafe wall

tony mead

Are there any other events coming up?

I’m hoping to have more events coming soon, including an online video of the Lewis & Skinner logo being painted on the cafe wall this week.

Take a look at Stefan’s prolific blog, Finding the Radio Book