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Street Typography
April 2, 2014 11:56 AM   Subscribe

In a remarkably satisfying video, London city workers painting street lines, show off some excellent freehand typographic craftsmanship. [va]
posted by quin (45 comments total) 87 users marked this as a favorite

 
I said, out loud, "awww.... you guys" while watching this.
posted by chrillsicka at 12:00 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by signal at 12:04 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Love the pensive hand-behind-back posture of the letterer. Also: teamwork!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:06 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Cue Americans asking what the hell is a STOP BUS
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:18 PM on April 2 [12 favorites]


So cool.
posted by jsturgill at 12:29 PM on April 2


Very old tymey for some reason, like watching workmen pour metal. Also, WHY NO USE STENCILS?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:30 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Stencils are, presumably slower, and have a tendency to bleed if dirty. This is both quicker and better looking, I imagine.
posted by bonehead at 12:34 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


That IS remarkably satisfying!
posted by Erasmouse at 12:35 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


The careful stepping around the already-painted bits was at least as impressive as the freehand lettering.
posted by dragstroke at 12:37 PM on April 2 [14 favorites]


I think they've used a stencil to chalk out the letters beforehand - the loop of the "P" is just about visible in the video. Still very impressive though.
posted by grahamparks at 12:43 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


my grandfather was a sign painter, so I'm getting a kick out of this.

also, thanks to computers for schoolwork and lots of high school drafting classes, my penmanship is horrendous but my block letter printing is flawless even 25+ years later.
posted by davejay at 12:46 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Those are some sick burners.
posted by gucci mane at 12:48 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


Oh gosh, that is lovely.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:08 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


It's amazing what you can do with a straightedge, a steady hand, and some practice. Watching humans draw implausibly-straight lines always pleases me. Even more satisfying are the rare occasions when I manage to make a nice straight line or cut, myself.

Most of the trick is to use your whole body to direct the tool (pen, drywall knife, line painter, whatever) and to keep your arm and wrist steady. The rest of it is just practice, learning how to make smooth and controlled motions with your shoulders and hips. It's like dancing, really.

Also I imagine that they don't use stencils because the line-painting tool he's using puts out fat, heavy swaths of super-tough road paint that are like half a centimeter thick and have good crisp borders, whereas spray-on stencils would look a bit blurry by comparison and would only give a thin layer of paint that would be quickly worn away by the wheels of passing cars.
posted by Scientist at 1:09 PM on April 2 [9 favorites]


It's also just cool to see that this is done freehand like this. Normally when I see something (like road markings) that has to be done in a precise and standardized way, I just assume that it's been either automated or reduced to a menial and skill-free procedure so as to remove the possibility of errors caused by untrustworthy humans. Seeing that this is done by hand using nothing more than training, teamwork, a straightedge, and some concentration is a pleasing reminder that we humans are capable of doing these things. This kind of everyday craftsmanship is quickly fading in the postmodern world, and it's good to see evidence that it's not totally extinct.
posted by Scientist at 1:15 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


I secretly hope there is a whole hidden world of streetpainting waiting to be discovered: competitions, painting jams, heroes, history, schools of thought, scandals, and so on.
posted by Thing at 1:26 PM on April 2 [17 favorites]


Oh man, I would so write a script treatment of an 80's style slobs-vs-snobs streetpainting movie.

Wet Paint I: Life in the Fast Lane

Wet Paint II: Even Wetter

posted by Think_Long at 1:45 PM on April 2 [5 favorites]


Seeing the worker with the paint bucket walk off camera reminded me of the Sven and Ole joke my Norwegian grandpa loves to tell. Here's a variation:
A Wisconsin man got a job with the Minnesota highway department painting lines down the center of the highway. The supervisor told him he was expected to paint two miles of highway a day, and the man started work the next day.

The first day the man painted four miles.
The supervisor thought, "Great."

The next day the man only painted two miles but the supervisor thought, "Well, it's good enough."

But the third day the man only painted one mile and the Boss went out to talk to him. He said, "Is there a problem? An injury? Some reason you keep painting less and less highway?"

"Well, I keep getting farther and farther from the bucket."
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:49 PM on April 2 [17 favorites]


Man 1: S'alright?
Man 2: S'alright.
Man 1: Cup of tea?
Man 2: Lovely.

posted by PenDevil at 2:10 PM on April 2 [12 favorites]


Very nice.

grahamparks, in the comments on the Vimeo link the original poster has this to say:

They block out the area of each letter pretty roughly as you can see by the faint chalk marks, then just freehand within that. No stencilling.

posted by asok at 2:41 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I came in to comment about the footwork, but someone beat me to it. That's the most impressive part, to me....no one stepped in the paint, even while not looking AND drawing.

Also, I've had to paint floors a number of times now. There's nothing more satisfying than having someone pour paint for you while you cover an entire floor in 15 minutes with a roller. I only have to do it once or twice a year, but it's fun.
posted by nevercalm at 2:46 PM on April 2


Very satisfying indeed!
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl at 3:12 PM on April 2


Have I got a movie for you.
posted by dhartung at 3:14 PM on April 2


Man, on Sesame Street they showed the guys using stencils. What are you gonna tell me next, that dog was a slacker?
posted by Sphinx at 3:35 PM on April 2


Almost sure the men are not paid enough.
posted by Cranberry at 4:02 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


I'm pleased by the fact that the break between ST and OP almost certainly involved tea.
posted by cacofonie at 4:26 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


When I've noticed painters like this in London, they do quick chalk marks but not from a stencil or even apparently from a plan.

Not just straight edges too, you know the bicycle symbol in bike lanes (which I'd thought was printed on by machine), I saw one bloke sketch the square and proportions, then his mate freehand roll the image perfectly, all within 30 seconds.

Something great about seeing arcane skill performed in Hi-Vis.

I wonder if you could use such well-meshed teamwork in fields like design (one person sketches, stops for tea, the other perfects, stops for tea, repeat cycle constantly and love your job)?
posted by Wonton Abandon at 4:45 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


This appears to be some blokes on the ground doing the same thing, although this is in Leeds, not London.

In some ways, I think this is at least as much street calligraphy, as street typography.
posted by carter at 5:13 PM on April 2 [8 favorites]


Wet Paint I: Life in the Fast Lane

Wet Paint II: Even Wetter


Surely that would be Wet Paint II: Acrylic Boogaloo.
posted by gauche at 5:35 PM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Hell, I could do that drunk. But mine would read:

B̀ÜŚ
̂ ̀ ̂ ̂ ̀ ̂ ̂ ̂
ŚT̃ÔÞ̂
posted by bricoleur at 5:35 PM on April 2


This is how they do Chinese characters here in Taiwan, I've watched them do it many times and it's fascinating...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1igxmixRWfk
posted by rmmcclay at 6:11 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


It's also just cool to see that this is done freehand like this. Normally when I see something (like road markings) that has to be done in a precise and standardized way, I just assume that it's been either automated or reduced to a menial and skill-free procedure so as to remove the possibility of errors caused by untrustworthy humans.

It's not so apparent from a car because you're moving faster, but on a bike you notice all sorts of wiggly road markings.
posted by hoyland at 6:21 PM on April 2


Almost sure the men are not paid enough.

Yes. It reminds me of that bit that Louis CK does, where he is walking by the truck driver who is backing up a semi, and he says he just looks at the guy and feels like applauding at the skill it takes to accomplish something like that.
posted by anothermug at 6:27 PM on April 2


How do new workers practice to become that good? (My secret silly hope is that there are a bunch of less traveled roads with misspelled, crooked and foot-printed street signs that the newbies have done...)
posted by comradechu at 9:02 PM on April 2 [3 favorites]


This is actually video taken from a microscope looking at a dot matrix printer /Flintstones
posted by blueberry at 11:44 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


How do new workers practice to become that good? (My secret silly hope is that there are a bunch of less traveled roads with misspelled, crooked and foot-printed street signs that the newbies have done...)

You might be right.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:37 AM on April 3


Love the pensive hand-behind-back posture

I do that too when I'm painting!

the hand that isn't doing anything needs to be kept out of the way.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:09 AM on April 3


Sign lettering, previously. Master pinstriper Glen Weisgerber demonstrates the single stroke lettering technique. youtube link.
posted by jjj606 at 5:51 AM on April 3 [3 favorites]


Watching the FPP link, I just thought they were using a spray guy on a stick.
I didn't see the tool clearly until carter's link. That looks like just a box. Somehow that's even more impressive to me.
posted by MtDewd at 6:16 AM on April 3


Wow. The Ss (S's? Esses? Ssi?) especially. Just that angle and centering and wow.

On Preview jjj606: That's amazing, too.
posted by seyirci at 7:32 AM on April 3


Not to be a kill-joy (I'm as impressed as anyone), but I have two questions. Does anyone know if there is a "maximum radius" gizmo on the painting device that causes the wheels (left and right) to allow for only a certain set of circular shapes by limiting the speed that they roll? This would be more of a "helpful guide" than anything.

Second: Isn't the film sped up a bit? I'm guessing approximately double-time.
posted by cleroy at 10:08 AM on April 3


carter's link above shows the painting device closer up. It has no wheels.
posted by bonehead at 10:22 AM on April 3


Yeah, it just looks like a box on a stick. And the paint was steaming, which makes me think the paint has to be heated?

It also makes me think of a new way you could do this wrong. If you overfill the box and have too much left over at the end of the line, would you leave a blot when you lift the box?
posted by RobotHero at 11:28 AM on April 3


It also makes me think of a new way you could do this wrong. If you overfill the box and have too much left over at the end of the line, would you leave a blot when you lift the box?

I thought that was what they were doing when they went over the end a couple of times to even out the paint and use up what was left.
posted by koolkat at 1:31 AM on April 4


Just a box with a slit on the bottom trailing edge to let the paint out, I think. Have you ever really looked at the lines on a road? They don't look anything like regular paint, more like slabs of brightly-colored asphalt. In fact there's probably a lot of asphalt in the paint, which would explain why it has to go on hot. Road paint needs to be able to withstand being driven on for years and years; it takes a lot of abuse and closing the road to redo it is a big deal. It's a thick enough goop that you can just let it ooze out through a slit in the box and as long as you maintain a steady speed it will neither pool nor skip. It's pretty tough stuff and a fair amount of research goes into making it last longer. There are roads up in the Rockies where the U.S. Dept. of Transportation tests new paint formulae -- if you find yourself on one you will know it because there will suddenly be wild patterns painted all over the road for a few miles. People have put some thought into this stuff.
posted by Scientist at 12:49 PM on April 4


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