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Here at Coaltown Coffee, supporting local craftsmen and women isn't just a choice; it's a commitment to revitalising our post-industrial town and fostering a vibrant local economy. Today, we're excited to shine the spotlight on Nick, The Sign Painter - a talented artist who has become an integral part of our journey.

From painting our Ammanford Espresso Bar, to being an essential part of the grand opening of our Pontarddulais Bar and even adding to our event’s van and signs, Nick's craftsmanship has left an indelible mark on our brand.

We caught up with Nick to delve into the journey that led him to his current success and to learn more about his personal narrative as a craftsman. 

Meet Nick – a true testament to the spirit of local talent, from our town to yours.

What inspired you to become a sign painter?
So, I did graphic design in Uni, in Newport’s new campus. I always loved lettering; I’ve always been good at art but lettering has always inspired me. So, by the end of the 3-4 years, I just couldn’t stand computers anymore. I used to work part time in a pub and would do their chalkboards with a chalkboard pen. One day, I was painting one of the chalkboards outside when someone walked past and asked me if I could do their pub. So it just sort of spiralled from there.

How did you learn this style of craft?  
I went on a day course with a guy in Surrey called Wayne Osbourne. It was full of older, retired women looking for something to do for the day. So, Wayne said if you come back tomorrow, I can give you a one to one. Which I did. It was a lot of taking those skills back and refining them on my own.

How long have you been a sign writer?
This would be my 13th year come October that I’ve been a sign writer. I can’t believe it’s been that long. I’ve always wanted a brand identity but I’ve never had the time to do it. I look around for inspirational accounts, things that inspire me, and I think I’ve got the work now. Maybe it’s just not the right time now to do that. Like social media, I’m awful at social media. I think the next step would be to get an apprentice. But as soon as they realise it’s just colouring in letters, they’ll be my direct competition then.

Why have you decided to pursue your career in Wales?
I think that people are moving out of the major cities like Bristol, where sign writing has almost become a bit of a trend. Especially now with Instagram and TikTok. I think people are looking for quieter places, where the work is still there.

Do you think that was impacted by the nationwide lockdown?
Definitely.. and social media. I think it’s quite a therapeutic thing to watch and is quite accessible to people. You can buy all the materials from one place and have a go. There are lots of people that are really good at it, lots of youngsters.

How do you prepare for a sign painting project?
So, Nick (Creative Director of Coaltown Coffee) is kind enough to send me the art works full scale, which is great. Because normally I have to design it and trace it myself on illustrator. So then I have to create this pattern, which just means tracing the illustrator artwork, making the paths and checking they don’t have a stroke on them. I then reverse them so when my plotter plots out these dots, it plots them out in reverse. I do a lot of freehand stuff, but I can’t really do this freehand. I used to do all these dots by hand before I had this machine. It had a little tool with a wheel on the end and the wheel would have pins on it and I’d have to go round each line. It used to take hours. I still see some people do massive designs like this by hand.

Is there a particular style or trend you enjoy including in your work and do you have much freedom?
Ah, so no.
I tend to stay out of the process. I’ll give advice but what I am is a commercial sign writer. So generally, I’m given a job, I’m given a font and I’m given where to paint it. Whereas a lot of sign writers do it properly, they design from the ground up. I’ve done that lots of times. I design logos, I do take photographs and I will photoshop somebodies’ logo on a shop front for a mock up (I think it needs to be bigger, I think it needs to be smaller etc.) It helps my clients choose a final size, but I think some sign writers get some stick just painting logos rather than painting free designed letters. Whereas that is just what I want to do. Its speed isn’t it. 

Is there a memorable project you’ve worked on?
I did a job for Coca Cola in Covent Garden. It was a massive project. I lived in London for a year and hated every second of it. I was there for about a week painting this huge Coca Cola mural, they wanted it to look distressed, so after I painted it all I had to sand it down and make it look like it had been there from the 50’s. It was just a pop up.

Is the Coca Cola sign the largest scale sign you’ve painted?
It was, along with a sign I finished yesterday that is being used in the new Shia Labeouf movie. It was down in Barry Island where it’s being filmed. It was a two day turn around, 4 and half metres long and 2 metres high. I had to make it as well. I’m not a carpenter, I would never pretend to be a carpenter. I’ve got all the gear, just no idea!

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a sign painting as a career?
Yeah, so, practice the basics. Just practice, practice, practice. I know that sounds so cliché, but block capitals, straight lines, trying to get into the corners of letters - it's key. And then once you've developed the straight lines and some curves, it's almost like karate kid. Just wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off. Then you can go on to like a script or casual style which is your own, make your own version of that style of lettering. I'd say to start with, you use three or four alphabet styles and you're on your way. You're in the mess as you go. But, obviously, if you see any sign writing courses, they’ll all just be doing the exact same thing. Just learning how to get into corners of letters, like I didn't do there.

Thank you so much to Nick for chatting with us whilst also painting our most recent event signs. We really enjoyed getting the lowdown on his journey and hearing the personal stories that fuelled his craft to what it is today.

We really recommend looking at Nick's work either on Instagram @nickthesignpainter or on his website here.

Get ready to be inspired by the tales behind the signs!

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