Art + Design

From The Design Desk: Old-Fashioned Hand-Painted Signs


Chronicle Books’ main office is in a San Francisco neighborhood filled with large brick warehouses left over from a more industrial time. We ourselves occupy one such building. One of the things we love about our neighborhood is the old hand-painted signs we still see on many of the buildings and which we sought to emulate.



Chronicle Books Building

The short film Up There, produced by Mekanism, reminded us of how amazing the old art of hand-painted signage can be. Up There is shot in New York City, and shows the craft and hard work of a team of painters as they work on a large-scale advertisement for Stella beer.

Here in San Francisco, a group of designers and sign writers working under the moniker of New Bohemia Signs is doing its part to keep the old art alive and spread beautiful typography around the city. They paint on windows, walls, wooden boards, cars… and always the old-fashioned way with brush in hand, dipped in paint. They have an impressive portfolio, a great blog, and their Flickr page is sheer eye candy to any type enthusiast.

New Bohemia

New Bohemia

Jeff Canham, who hand-painted the cover title and slip case for The California Surf Project for us, spent some time himself at New Bohemia Signs.
California Surf Project

A documentary film, called The Sign Painter, is currently in production about these fascinating craftsmen, designers, and artists. It looks like it’s going to be a great film, judging from the content on their website and the great images on their Flickr page, which shows many of the profiles in the film, like Jeff Canham and New Bohemia Signs.
Meanwhile, we’ll keep appreciating the hand-painted signs we see in our neighborhood, and will continue to use hand lettering in our books when right for the content. As much as we might love our computers, nothing can really replace the uniqueness and charm of a great hand-painted sign.

Suzanne LaGasa



  • Diane H K July 26, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Great post.
    As a former sign painter, I always look for hand-painted signage wherever I go. It's become rather rare in these modern times. I still have my brushes and my sign kit, but they've been retired for more than a decade.
    Last time I drove down to New Haven, CT, I was pleased to see that the Smoothie building sign had been repainted after years of neglect. One of my favorites!


  • Irene July 27, 2010 at 8:30 am

    I paint signs at Trader Joe's, so I really appreciate this!


  • lovebirdstationery July 27, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Sigh. Yet another good reason to relocate to SF. No old signwriting like this where I live. It's only been in modern day existence just over 30 years.


  • Yvette Rutledge October 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    It’s such a pleasure to see Damon Styer and his company getting such recognition–my former partner and I sold New Bohemia to Damon when we left San Francisco for New Orleans. He has done a splendid job of representing hand-painted signs in San Francisco.

    Our New Orleans shop Mystic Blue Signs has a similar role of preserving the old traditions of sign painting–I will say both cities have a well-developed historically-conscious aesthetic that encourages hand-made signs.

    PS We’re BIG fans of Chronicle Books–my reference shelf is well populated with them! Thanks for chronicling.


  • Brooklyn Signs June 4, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    Great list of hand painted signs… I love the New Bohemia one. Keep up the awesome work!!!


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