A Logo & Sign for Abla’s Patisserie

Ronald Abla

Ronald Abla at work (image courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald)

If you live in Sydney or Melbourne and enjoy Lebanese sweets, you’ve probably heard of Abla’s Patisserie. In 2006, Michael Abla asked us to design a logo for the sweets shop in Merrylands, Western Sydney. The shop is a large one and it needs to be, to fit the long display racks of baklava, chocolates and cakes on offer. As for the logo, Michael wanted it to somehow represent the unique gift packages which are an Abla’s specialty. The mark would also need to lend itself to neon signage.

Pencil Sketch

We explored the concept of ribbons & bow ties in our initial sketches.

Pencil Sketch

Logo Sketch

The pencil sketch that eventually became the final logo design

Although neon is a beautiful art form, our specialty at Danthonia Designs is hand-carved, dimensional signs. After some discussion with Michael over how best to brand the space, we settled on having one of our dimensional signs inside the shop, and two large neon signs on the outside for the benefit of the motorists on the busy Sherwood Road. ‘Neon is part of our culture’ he explained. At the same time, a palladium-leafed handcrafted sign would look very classy atop a shelf of gift-wrapped goodies.

Abla's Patisserie Logo

The final logo

Abla's Dimensional Sign

Abla’s Dimensional Sign

Sign Detail

Now, eight years later, Abla’s is a growing enterprise. Michael has opened two new shops in Melbourne (Preston and South Yarra). Last year two Abla’s chefs, Jack Abd El Nour and Hazim Hazim won first and second place in the Melbourne Baklava Bake-Off. This is no small distinction. In short, it’s proof that the bakery is home to the best baklava in Melbourne.

Abla's Chef Jack Abd El Nour

Abla’s Chef Jack Abd El Nour at the Baklava Bake-Off

Jack & Hazim

Jack & Hazim

The success of Abla’s surely has more to do with the quality of their products than the design of their logo. There is, however, a certain satisfaction in seeing one’s logo design rendered in giant neon letters and emblazoned on packets of delicious sweets, carted around Sydney and Melbourne and enjoyed with a cup of strong black Lebanese coffee.

Abla's Neon Sign

Abla's Patisserie

Abla’s Patisserie in Melbourne (image courtesy of Alpha)

Abla's Cake

Steven Heller

Steven Heller

Steven Heller (image courtesy of Masters in Branding)

Both Damon Styer and Christian Cantiello mentioned his books as a source of inspiration. He has written a small library of them, and his name can be found on many a dusty bookshelf in sign shops and design studios around the world. The American Institute of Graphic Arts wrote this of him:

In this process of impossible Herculean output Heller has managed to completely chronicle the past hundred years of graphic design to such an extent and depth that his influence cannot help but be felt by every design student and practitioner everywhere in the world.

Steven Heller's Bookshelf

Steven Heller’s Bookshelf (image courtesy of A Walker in LA)

Many of his newer works have been co-authored by his wife, Louise Fili. For today’s post, Steven Heller kindly took some time to answer a few of our questions.

How and why did you first get interested in design?

I was a wanna-be cartoonist, publishing in underground papers. Design was not an issue. I learned to do paste-up and the next step was composition. Design or layout was what came next. My interest evolved as I saw what could politically be said through type and image.

Comics Sketchbooks by Steven Heller

Comics Sketchbooks by Steven Heller (image courtesy of Manuel Gomez Burns)

Do you still see design as a political tool?

It can be. Look at the first Obama campaign. Graphic design is a means, it can be a tool for anything.

Design for Obama Cover

‘Design for Obama’, a book by Steven Heller, Spike Lee and Aaron Perry-Zucker (image courtesy of Taschen)

You’ve written a lot of books about design. Is there any danger that you’ll run out of ideas?

I’ve done 168 books more or less. Ideas come easy. But I am in a niche. There are some ideas I wish I Could do, but don’t have the chops.

Design Literacy

Like what?

I’ve always wanted to do a full length feature film on the history of propaganda.

Propaganda Poster

An image from From Steven Heller’s “Iron Fists: Branding the 20th Century Totalitarian State”
(image courtesy of Studio 360)

Do you prefer designing/art directing or writing?

I prefer saying things. I loved designing until I reached my limits. I loved art direction but after 40 years I was spent. I love writing, but I’m not that good.

Typography Sketchbooks

A Page from ‘Typography Sketchbooks’ by Steven Heller and Rita Taraliko (image courtesy of Otaku)

Louise told me that she has another book on the way (Grafica della Strada), Were you involved in that one at all?

Only moral support.

Grafica della Strada

(image courtesy of Creative Bloq)

What projects are you working on currently?

A book on Edward Gorey covers, a book on “anti-design,” books on Stencil Type and Slab Serif type, book on design entrepreneurship, a book on design education, a revision of my Becoming a Graphic and Digital Designer, and a bunch of other things.

Masters Series: Steven Heller exhibition documentation

Steven’s SVA Masters Series exhibit 2007

Here in Australia, the stencil is almost an icon of rural culture, because of the stencils used on wool bales. Each farm had its own stencil, with the name of the property. Many still do. That book sounds like an interesting one.

I wish I had known. I don’t cover Australia. The book is part of the series with Scripts and Shadow Type. It’s a compilation of how faces are used as stylistic language. Lots of examples that show the roots of the style and its long running applications.

Wool Bale Stencils

Australia Wool Bale Stencils (image courtesy of Steve Swayne)

Which designers do you admire the most?

Louise, Seymour Chwast, Paula Scher, Ross MacDonald, Milton Glaser, Mirko Ilic, and dozens more.

Bread Alone Bakery Logo

Glaser’s Bread Alone Bakery Logo, branded into a loaf of bread (image courtesy of Milton Glaser)

How did you first meet Louise?

I admired her work and invited her to a book opening.

Have you noticed a resurgence of ‘craft’ in the design industry, in recent times?

Yes. I see students more interested in the hand than ever before. Its great. It will be integrated into common practice. Craft is essential.

Michael Doret Sketches

Michael Doret Sketches from Typography Sketchbooks, by Steven Heller (image courtesy of Grain Edit)

What do you think is behind this trend?

Stuff happens. Too much computer, perhaps. The need for the unique.

Do you photograph old signs on your travels?

Sometimes. But I leave that to Louise. I buy paper and artifacts for my books.

A Page from Shadow Type by Steven Heller and Louise Fili

A Page from Shadow Type by Steven Heller and Louise Fili (image courtesy of 37 E 7th St)

Steve Heller and Louise Fili Discuss Their New Book: Shadow Type from Designers & Books on Vimeo.


Pineapple Welcome Signs: A Brief History of a Colonial Tradition

Pineapple Welcome Sign

(image courtesy of The Carving Company)

In the New England region of America, it’s not an uncommon sight to see a wooden welcome sign at the end of a driveway, emblazoned with a sculpted and gilded pineapple. I’ve seen probably dozens of these gilded pineapple welcome signs in upstate New York and Connecticut. I’m sure Maine and Massachusetts are full of them too (though I’ve never been there in person to confirm this suspicion). The pineapple is a beautiful symbol, but I always wondered how a tropical fruit came to be such a ubiquitous symbol in a part of the world better known for maple sapping, cold winters and autumn colours. A little research revealed an interesting story.

Georgetown Entrance

A Front Door in Georgetown, D.C. (image courtesy of do/conversations)

It’s widely known that a pineapple is a symbol of hospitality. But why a pineapple? Couldn’t an apple (or, anything edible, for that matter) represent hospitality just as well? Some research revealed a fascinating story of a fruit and its symbolism. Pineapple welcome signs are just a small part of this story.

Pineapple Welcome Mat

Pineapple Welcome Mat (image courtesy of Steve Moses)

To fully understand why pineapples are the ‘welcome fruit’, let’s look at the history of the fruit itself. It originated in South America, on the border of present-day Brazil and Paraguay where it was bred by the native peoples. From there it spread to the coast, and then to Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands. The first European to taste a pineapple was Christopher Columbus when, in 1493, the Callinago Indians introduced him to the fruit. (Okihiro, Interview)

Once Columbus got his hands on it, it wasn’t long before his sponsor, King Ferdinand of Spain, had tasted it too. In fact, as Karen Hursh Graber (2008) wrote, “King Ferdinand, upon being presented the only pineapple in a 1516 shipment to Spain that made the journey without spoiling, said it was the best thing he had ever tasted.” Soon pineapples were a much sought-after delicacy and status symbol in Europe. The fruit was so rare, however, that it was shrouded in myth and rumor. In an influential work on the flora of the Americas of 1578, Christopher de Acosta asserted that if you stuck a knife into a pineapple for more than half an hour, the blade would dissolve (Beauman, Fran 71). In fact, this claim is utterly false (try it). The myth shows, however, that there was no lack of speculation and intrigue surrounding the newly-discovered fruit.

While it may not dissolve steel, the pineapple does have a distinct and exotic flavor, described in 1640 by John Parkinson, Royal Botanist to Charles I as: “…being so sweete in smell… tasting… as if Wine, Rosewater & Sugar were mixed together.” (Theatrum Botanicum) This, and similar reviews of the day led to a flurry of attempts to cultivate the fruit in the glasshouses of Europe. However, it took some time before Europeans were able to perfect the art of cold-climate pineapple cultivation. It is no surprise then that the pineapple soon became a symbol of wealth and opulence.

King Charles II Pineapple

In this 1670’s painting by Hendrick Danckerts, the Royal Gardener, John Rose, presents King Charles II with the first pineapple grown on English soil. (image courtesy of American Garden History)

The wealthy and powerful classes of America and Europe alike, in exhibits of privilege, reserved for themselves commodities – rare, expensive, and desirable – from far off places. The pineapple was not simply a delicious fruit, the “princess of all fruits” came to symbolize the tropics, the Orient in opulence, leisure, a terrestrial paradise. Its possession accordingly meant the attainment of social standing and its trappings. – (Okihiro, 88)

Gilded Pineapple Trafalgar Square

A Gilded Pineapple Adorns the Top of a Domed Building in Trafalgar Square, London (image courtesy of Mike)

Strange as it may seem in today’s globalised economy, a pineapple – in those days – was such an emblem of affluence that sometimes a single fruit was rented several times for various parties, banquets and dinners. It would be used as the centrepiece – an apex of a mound of fruits of various kinds (Okihiro 89). This practice, in turn led, European artists and craftsmen to embellish ceramic dinnerware, silverware, and other table pieces such as napkin holders and candle holders with the depiction of a pineapple.

Stone Pineapple

A pineapple, carved from stone, adorns a hotel in Wales. (image courtesy of Charlie Powell)

Prior to the American Revolution, the upper classes in the New World kept a close eye on the fashions in the old country. Hence, pineapple tea sets and similar artefacts soon made their way across the Atlantic to fill colonial homes. Being a fruit of ‘the Americas’, it may have been the patriotism of the early colonists that made the pineapple even more of a popular and long-lasting motif in the thirteen colonies than back in England.

Pineapple Teapot

Pineapple Teapot (image courtesy of Curated Objects)

All this explains how the pineapple became a prized sign of wealth.  How is it then a symbol of hospitality and welcome? One oft-repeated story is that New England sailors returning home from long voyages in the West Indies would bring with them a fresh pineapple and place it on their gatepost or at the entrance to their house signifying that visitors would now be welcome. This practice had apparently been brought back with them from their travels. Was this the origin of the pineapple welcome sign? It’s a possibility, though there is no confirming evidence that indicates this. And, in fact, it’s doubtful that such a treasured fruit would simply be left unattended on a gatepost. Another theory surmises that – being an icon of expense and rarity – the pineapple was accordingly a sign of bountiful hospitality.

Colonial Inn Sign

A Colonial-Style Inn Sign in Virginia (image courtesy of Nancy Shepherd House)

To give the pineapple as a gift conveys your intention to promote friendliness and graciousness to the recipient. – (Romilla, D.)

Clearly, to give of one’s best carries with it the essence of friendship and respect. If one is offered such an expensive luxury – seeped in the time honored symbolism of wealth – it would be amply clear in what sense the gift is being given. The hospitality shown by such a gesture would be self-evident.

To offer a slice of pineapple to a visitor was eloquently to express real respect or affection for them, and if the pineapple had connotations of hospitality (a vital tenet of colonial society), this is where they came from. (Beauman, F., 135).

Welcome Pineapples

These days, it’s not so hard to leave pineapples out on the gatepost – or a sawhorse, for that matter. (image courtesy of Great Islander)

The cities of Europe were well-furnished with theatres, racecourses and a myriad of entertainment options for the elite classes. In contrast, colonial American towns were relatively simple places, and the main form of entertainment consisted in inviting friends over and throwing lavish dinner parties. Hospitality was held in high regard in early American society. It was inevitable then, as the New World became slowly settled, that the pineapple symbol would weave itself into the fabric of the colonial United States. It was no stranger to the woodcarvers of New England either. A hand-carved pineapple was just as likely to embellish a Nantucket quarterboard-sign as was a scallop-shell or whale.

Pineapple Quarterboard

A Pineapple-esque ‘Leafy Curl Fin’ on the end of a Quarterboard (image courtesy of Lonborg Woodcarving)

A tenacious tradition has the resilience to abide centuries of changing times and customs. Although pineapple tea sets and snuff-boxes have had their day, the pineapple welcome sign remains a common fixture of the historic American home. I have a new appreciation for the sculpted and gilded pineapples I see as I drive through Upstate New York and Connecticut. Through a long and convoluted series of events, this spiky South American fruit has come to symbolise hospitality and welcome in the land of maple syrup and covered bridges.

Being a carving shop, we’re no stranger to pineapple welcome signs either. Here are a few that we’ve done:

Pineapple Welcome Sign

We may not have a website category dedicated to pineapple welcome signs, but we do have a section for Welcome Signs in general. Feel free to peruse it.

Gilded Pineapple Sign

Sculpted Pineapple Sign

Here in Australia, the pineapple tends to carry less symbolic meaning. This sculpted specimen in Armidale simply invites passers-by to buy ‘the princess of fruits’


Beauman, Fran. The Pineapple: King of Fruits. Great Britain: Chatto & Windus, 2005. Print.

Karen Hursh Graber. “The Pineapple: Sweet Symbol of the Tropics.” Mexconnect.com. Web. 2009

Okihiro, Gary Y. Interview with ROROTOKO. “Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones.” ROROTOKO. Web. 12 August 2009.

Okihiro, Gary Y. Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones London: University of California Press, 2009. Print

Parkinson, John. Theatrum Botanicum. London: 1640. Print.

Romilla D.  “What does the Pineapple Symbolize?decoratkaccents.wordpress.com. Web. 28 September 2008.

Golden West Sign Arts

Derek McDonald

Derek McDonald

Derek McDonald has left his mark around the Oakland area in the form of crisp, hand-painted signs on local businesses such as Siegel’s Tuxedo Shop, Temescal Alley Barbershop, and many more. Further afield, he is possibly better known as ‘The Signpainter’ from the short video Jack Daniel’s Meets The Sign Painter. Coming from a background as a veterinary technician, Derek could almost be described as a ‘neo-luddite’ (in the best sense of the term) for his computer-free approach to sign-making:

‘The computer is a tool. It’s a useful tool, just like a hammer is, just like a paintbrush, but living in the world where everybody does that, why not not do it?’ – Derek McDonald

Showcard Lettering Derek MacDonald

Derek paints a showcard.

Here are a few of Derek’s thoughts about his own work, at his shop (Golden West Sign Arts) and the future of hand-lettered signs in general:

I got into sign painting through a general interest in car pinstriping. I soon found that often the two are closely related and the same paint is used, et cetera. My first sign person I looked up to was Jimmy The Saint of San Francisco, California. He had some work around my neighborhood in Oakland and I was – and still am – amazed at a really nice script he did on a transom. It really got me excited about learning to letter. That was in 2004.

Silver-Leafed Transom

A Silver-Leafed Transom Window, by Derek

How did ‘Jack Daniels meets the Sign Painter’ come about?

We got an email from the ad agency doing the ad campaign for them [Arnold Worldwide]. They simply asked if I would be interested in designing and painting some stuff and having a little short film made to show the process. Of course we felt – and still feel – extremely lucky to have had that opportunity and I can say that it was certainly a blast even though not something I was used to being involved in. It was a total coincidence but a friend of mine in Los Angeles who makes music for film [Neil Cleary] was the guy who got hired to compose this song playing in the background so that made it even more cool!


Derek’s little hand-lettered sign transformed into a billboard in Los Angeles

The shop here works just like any old school general sign shop, I suppose. I am happy to reproduce logos if they are within reason to be painted by hand or I’m happy to draw up my own patterns and layouts. If I lived in a dream world all the customers would let me make everything look a certain way but I know that that is not being realistic at all if you expect to pay the bills doing this full time.

Derek MacDonald

I think that’s a big difference with trying to be a ‘general’ or commercial sign painter versus using sign painting techniques in your art. If you’re doing it as a pure art then you get to do whatever you want, use whatever colors, do the craziest letter styles, et cetera, and in the sign painting in a commercial sense your main goal is to give the customer something that fits their business and most importantly it needs to read well. It’s art that is functional. But it needs to be functional before it’s art. If it’s just art and not functional (doesn’t read well) then we’re not doing our job. Luckily for the past couple years we’ve had a steady flow of jobs and haven’t needed to do any advertising other than posting pictures on our website etc. Although we have a street shop on a main avenue, the majority of our customers contact us via email and then we might meet later to go over designs, colors, et cetera.

Golden West Sign Arts

Inside & Outside the Shop (image courtesy of Christina Richards)

I enjoy so much of what I get to do. That’s not to say there isn’t any stress, haha! I think I just enjoy the fact that this craft is a constant lesson. As long as you have the ambition there is always plenty to improve upon. I like doing loose work like paper banners and show cards but I like the end result of a nicely done gilded window. I equally enjoy setting up my scaffolding and doing walls. So, it’s hard to say. I think I’m happy I don’t have to do the same thing over and over. It’s a variety of types of jobs and the techniques change a little with each one.

Hand-painted Paper Banner

A Freshly-painted Paper Banner

What’s in the shop right now?

Let’s see…I just finished a small showcard for a vintage clothing store in San Francisco. I just finished lettering a motorcycle tank for a guy in New York. It is engine-turned gold leaf, with black outline and shade. I’ll be starting six A-frame signs for a small chain of butcher shops called Belcampo Meat Co. We have quite a few little signs to make for a circus. Coming up shortly I will be gilding a large carved inscription in a mausoleum for the Family of the Borax Mining Company. There’s more, but those are the ones I need to get going on in the next week or so.

Belcampo Sign

Hand-Lettered Trampoline

It seems handcrafted signage is becoming more of a commonly known thing. It’s good that customers are more aware of it. I just wish we had mentor or apprenticeship programs here in the U.S., or more ways for younger people to learn the traditions and the written and unwritten rules. If we have a whole new generation of sign painters out there skipping the fundamentals it may not be such a pretty sight, haha! Seems like a lot of workshops are popping up here and there. Some are being offered by amazing professionals and some are being offered by people who just picked up a brush six months ago themselves…haha! Be careful out there!

Derek McDonald & Mike Meyer

Derek McDonald with veteran Sign-Painter Mike Meyer

My all time idol is E.C. Mathews. I look through his books and really try to soak in that era of layout and design. Of course, I don’t come close to his awesomeness in the least bit but I do go to him for inspiration. Also the letter styles of Alf Becker, his letters work well for show cards, board signs or gold leaf on a bank window – timeless.

E.C. Matthews

A Page from ‘The Sign Painting Course’ by E.C. Matthews (image courtesy of Public Collectors)

I just really love the 1930s, 1940s and the early 1950’s stuff. I love good classic storefront window layouts and good old classic truck door layouts! It’s the stuff I feel most connected to for some reason. Not the overly elaborate filigree, scroll filled stuff, even though its a nice look too, but I just love the simplicity and efficacy of the more streamlined stuff; a simple thick-and-thin letter style with a nice personalized loose script and some good shades and shadows in the right colors will blow most stuff away. I myself am no master and have a life’s work ahead of me, but I do try to stick close to the masters I look up to as far as how to approach a sign. I think Pierre Tardif in Canada is a living example of the previous guys I mentioned above. If you look at his work it is clean, simple, loose and professional all at the same time. It always does its job as a sign in that it reads well. He usually sticks with the basic four: Egyptian (block), Thick and Thin, Script and Casual….and it works beautifully! He is my favorite living sign painter by far. The work he does is what I wish my work would look like.

Pierre Tardif

Pierre Tardif (image courtesy of Pierre Tardif)

To end with, here’s a short video about Golden West: