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Calligraphy at the dinner table.
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Ewan Clayton demonstrates how to cut a goose quill for writing.
→ Summer is almost over and at last I got myself a new USB cable for the digital camera. Look what I discovered when I finally hooked it up to my Mac again. Back in May John Downer had come to Brooklyn all the way from Iowa to work on this beautiful sign.
A sign painter at work
The fascia lettering originally painted in the 1940s
Two guys in NYC were responsible for John getting the invitation, thanks to Paul Shaw and Matteo Bologna. These days Lewis Drug Store really is an Italian restaurant called Locanda but the owners (husband and wife) wisely decided to keep the historic sign along with most of the interior decoration of this former Brooklyn drug store. We were invited to enjoy the tasting menu and it blew our collective minds. John graciously helped out with these captions.

The assignment was to restore, and to slightly improve, the fascia lettering originally painted in the 1940s. The substrate first had to be replaced. New opaque black glass was installed for the purpose. Note that the name Lewis needed to be smaller than the original, and higher in relation to the other words, in order to be visible above the rollscreen casing. John also italicized the 'i' in Lewis to make it conform. The few surviving letters in DRUG STORE were traced before the old fascia was removed to make way for the new. Saved were the D, R, S, T, O. The U, G and E had to be recreated from photographic evidence and existing letter parts.

John's Sidewalk Laboratory. The fascia was black glass, recently installed. The glass still had residual adhesive on it from the protective paper covering that was put on it at the factory. Before lettering the fascia, John had to give the glass several cleanings.

- Once with mineral spirits
- Once with Bon Ami and water
- Once with ammonia & baking soda
- Once with vinegar & baking soda
- Once with pure water alone
Rinsing the lettering brush in mineral spirits cleans the bristles before use. The brush is called an angle fitch. An aluminum can is cut down and a lip is fashioned to keep the sharp edge of the can from scraping the brush.

A nice shot of the angle fitch. The pointed end allows relatively crisp corners of letters to be formed. (Surely good enough for work that's high up, away from close scrutiny.)
Left: The name Lewis has been pounced onto the fascia.
Right: The pounce pattern in position for the word DRUG.

A close-up of the white dotted outlines for the name Lewis.

The pounce bag is made from an old sweat sock. Inside it is talc (in this case, baby powder). Any kind of nontoxic white dust will suffice.
Transferring the word DRUG to the black glass surface by beating the perforations in the pattern with a pounce bag. The powder from the bag passes through the tiny holes in the paper pattern. This transfer method has been in commercial use since the Italian Renaissance.
Lettering White, straight from the can.
John begins with the top of the L in Lewis, using a brush that's exactly the right size for the job.

Lewis looks clean!

Scotch tape aids in masking straight edges quickly & easily.

Removing a piece of Scotch tape from the intersection of the crossbar and the stem of the T while the paint is still wet.
The two parts of the letter blend together better when they're done in quick succession. Doing so helps hide the seam and keeps the buildup of overlapping paint to a bare minimum.

The finished job. Located at 129 Gates Avenue, Brooklyn.



  • To learn more about John Downer check out the links on his typophile page.
  • The restaurant with the new sign is called Locanda.

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created   Sep. 29, 2007
updated  Aug. 11, 2012
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