Some trades are very familiar, some are lesser known.
Sign-writing is one of the latter, particularly for younger generations.
Even though we see sign-writing every day, we don’t often hear about how it’s done.
The detailed processes involved from conception to completion require patience, perseverance and precision — you must set yourself up carefully from the start, before any of the brushwork even begins.
BJ Graham is a 70-year-old retiree whose passion for this artistic trade is as strong as when he first started out as a sign-writer at the age of 19.
Being largely a self-taught artist and craftsman, learning many of his skills on the job, BJ is dedicated to sharing the benefits of hands-on learning to keep his vast knowledge of the craft alive for generations to come.
Halle, 21, is studying visual communications and has only recently discovered what sign-writing is. She is now fascinated by it, and wonders if it could be a future career path.
We brought BJ and Halle together to share, step-by-step, how to create sign-writing letters.
I’m a senior citizen and I’m still putting brush to wall — sign-writing is my life.
I was sign-writing from the age of 19 and my biggest aim since retiring is passing on my knowledge of the trade.
When I stood at the wall and pulled at those brushstrokes, [I] felt in my veins that this was going to be worth the aggravation of pushing through, because I really had struggled with being a self-taught sign-writer.
To younger artists like Halle who are unsure if this is the path for them — when you hear from customers who want to buy your work and love what you’ve created, you get the enthusiasm to know that you’re on the right path.
I’d expect a younger person might have the idea that a computer has all the answers, rather than someone like myself using brush and paint. But it’s good to see somebody so young taking such an interest in a hands-on practice.
Young people have to learn about this trade, or it will disappear.
I’ve spent so much time talking to people about trying to get the younger generation involved — otherwise, without that, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, it’s all just going to deteriorate into nothing.
To know that you’re giving younger people older knowledge feels great.
To see someone younger show an interest in the sign-writing industry is a big positive; it gives me more enthusiasm to promote the industry and to keep it alive in my own heart.
I’m half-British, half-Filipino, and in the Philippines we always bless our elders. I have respect for anyone older than me and I enjoy learning from them.
I first came into contact with sign-writing a few months ago when I was watching an Instagram video — and I was amazed by it. My friends definitely don’t know what sign-writing is, they would have no idea. It’s not a well-known trade.
I’m not sure what career path to take in visual communications, but I’m honestly in awe just watching BJ paint.
The way someone instructs you about their craft can encompass years, their whole career’s worth of teachings, in that one lesson. It’s like they’re passing over the baton to you.
It sounds cliched, but the idea of picking up a brush is like picking up a wand, because you can create anything you want. There’s so much power in that.
Spending time with BJ was really cool. I feel so grateful for this experience. Just one brushstroke, it’s someone’s lineage right there.
It reminded me of my own grandparents — learning how to spend time with older people and learning what they can do and watching them do something they love.
It just. … oh no, it’s going to make me cry… it was really fun.
You can watch Old People’s Home For Teenagers on ABC iview.
Quotes lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-11-18/old-peoples-home-for-teenagers-sign-writing-art-bj-graham-halle/103119912 This sign-writing master is determined to keep the trade alive, so he’s teaching his craft to a teenager