Signwriting Dundee city centre shopfront

Signwriting Dundee Historic Environment Trust’s shopfront

Dundee Historic Environment Trust
DHET’s completed shopfront in Dundee city centre

Dundee Historic Environment Trust encourages the conservation, protection, and improvement of the city’s architectural and physical spaces. The not-for-profit organisation is supported by Dundee City Council and Historic Environment Scotland.

In 2020, it was time for DHET to move premises. After more than ten years in the city’s Dock Street, new signs were necessary.

Choosing traditional signwriting

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Hand lettering the original hanging sign

In October 2020, director, Adam Swan contacted me for advice about hand lettered signs. DHET promotes traditional signwriting on buildings whenever practical. For this reason, hand lettered signs were preferred for DHET’s new premises.

The Dock Street shop had been signwritten years before by skilled Dundee signwriter, Stewart Wallace. A double-sided hanging sign displayed DHET’s logomark, in addition to the trust’s name on the fascia sign. Adam wanted a similar design, adapted for a shopfront in the city centre’s Exchange Street.

I provided a quote based on Adam’s original brief, and we agreed to stay in touch. As a result of the 2020 pandemic, Adam contacted me again in August 2021. Due to the shape of the new shopfront, Adam considered additional signs.

Designing the signs

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The first coat of flat enamel

Adam wanted the circular logo added to a panel above the entrance door. And a short sentence declaring the trust’s status. With the original projecting sign repainted, Adam chose to add the trusts’ name to the sign faces. The fascia would be clean and legible, in addition to the shop address number. Ornamental lines below the window sills were also considered.

I replicated the logomark and adjusted the lettering. Along with providing different layout options for the projecting sign and shopfront. Adam liked the layout options and asked for revisions. The fascia lettering was spread further along the top and minor adjustments were made to the projecting sign.

The shop colours are distinct. Two shades of blue contrast with the logomark’s palette. Several iterations of pale yellows and off whites were tested for the lettering. I revised my quote and scheduled the project following Adam’s approval of the artwork.

Painting the signs

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All of the signs and lettering were matt finish

Once I’d collected the projecting sign and shop paints, I gave the faces another coat. I also shaped the aluminium panels above the door, then sanded and painted both with primer before two coats of lilac blue.

Patterns were made to transfer the scaled artwork. Matt finish paints were purchased for the logomark’s colours. I knew the paint’s coverage would be weak on the blue backgrounds so several coats were required for each colour.

Paying extra attention when handling the lettering brush, I second and third coated DHET three times on the two signs. With the pale yellow testing me, five coats were applied before outlining the logos in matt black.

Hand lettering the fascia

Shop signwriter in Dundee
Hand lettering in Dundee, on a cold October morning

Arriving early in Exchange Street on a brisk October Sunday morning, the scaffold was built quietly.

The fascia lettering pattern was taped up, centralised, and levelled. With the scaled lettering pattern in place, the matt finish off-white paint was mixed and first coated.

Slowly, the painted lines began to construct the letters. The fascia is old and uneven, causing the letter’s edges to appear cracked. For good flow, paint is thinned regularly which is necessary for cold temperatures.

On a second pass, edges were refined and curves smoothened. Before the entire lettering was painted again to make the off-white solid on the lilac blue background. ’29’ was added to the door pillar and my Sunday was almost complete.

A new era for DHET

Fascia Signs Dundee
Classic sans serif letters painted by hand

When I returned the following day to deliver the door signs and projecting sign, Adam was delighted. Curious passers-by were keen to learn more now the shop had lettering.

Signwriting Dundee Historic Environment Trust’s new premises was important. The shop signs are a model for how hand lettering can add character and warmth to an old shopfront in Dundee and beyond.

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