Talking Creative Hero

David Smith on the craft of signwriting


David Smith is a truly atavistic artist who has honed the disciplined craft of signwriting. Having studied under renowned sign artists like Gordon Farr and Rick Glawson, Smith has created an inspiring career of keeping this historic art alive. Recently, acclaimed musician John Mayer sought Smith out to design the cover of his latest album, Born and Raised.

What was the first idea or piece of work that you sold?
Glass-wise, probably the old tea rooms in a place called Dartmouth here in Devon, England. I think it still might be around today.

What drew you to such a specialized and unique art form?
I left school in 1984 and went straight into a signwriting apprenticeship. I got lucky to work with 3 older gentlemen, all were time served and incredible sign writers. I was 16 they were all around 50 to 60 years old then. I was working with the best and never realized it for at least a couple of years. I was too young to see what was in front of me. Sheer talent! These guys ignited my creative gene I guess. Drew me in! Great friends all of them, only one is left now and he's like a dad to me.

What piece of artistic kit, gear or equipment can you not live without?
My sign writing quills – a must for every sign painter tools of the trade! Oh, and my stone wheels for brilliant cutting.

I was too young to see what was in front of me. Sheer talent!

What are the experiences and/or people that helped you realize yourself as a creative and directed you towards your craft?
I was lucky enough to meet an exceptionally talented sign artist/gilder based in Wilmington, California by the name of Rick Glawson. Rick was such an influence on my work and others; he was willing to share his knowledge of reverse glass to everyone who passed through his life. Rick sadly passed away at the age of 55 in 2003. He certainly left a legacy to look up to – amazing person to know.

See David Smith in action creating the artwork for John Mayer’s Born and Raised.

Which part of your process is the least enjoyable and why?
Emailing and computer work. I would rather be working with my hands to be honest. It is part of the process that we all need these days, I guess. Here I am using one now! I use it as a tool!

Where is the most unique place that your work has taken you?
The States and Canada I would say, lovely countries and lovely people. I have some wonderful friends in both, and great memories too!

I like his music and I'm not just saying that because I made his album cover.

Assuming that there is music – what music is allowed and not allowed in your studio?
Love Coldplay, and those types of bands. And now also with discovering John Mayer, I like his music and I'm not just saying that because I made his album cover. The guy is very talented and has a great sound going.

Coffee, tea or energy drinks?
Definitely tea! A cup of English Twinings goes down as a treat every other hour! Plus the odd Devon Cream Scone!

What piece of design/art from another artist do you wish you could call yours?
Love the work of Alphonse Mucha, incredible work!

See David Smith’s portfolio

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