I have noticed a strange phenomenon in humans: the ubiquitous desire to make basic signage interesting. The most prominent example of this I have found is in back alleys. I’ve told you before that I have a fascination with back alleys, and as I wander around with my typographer eyes on I see some fascinating things. People can’t just make a simple sign that says ‘No Parking’ behind their downtown storefront location, they have to make an attempt to make it unique or notable in some way. For some people, this appears to be hand-lettering, for others it is using a stencil. I decided to start a collection of this Back Alley Typography and I’ll share my first installment of it here. Most of these are collected in the downtown core of my hometown Cranbrook, BC. This hand-stencilled sans-serif appears to be Bauhaus-inspired. The varying thicknesses of the lines leads me to believe that someine actually hand-cut this stencil letter by letter and spray-painted it onto the wall. This hand-stencilled sans-serif appears to be Bauhaus-inspired. The varying thicknesses of the lines leads me to believe that someine actually hand-cut this stencil letter by letter and spray-painted it onto the wall. When you consider the time it would backalleyType10take to make a sign this way, it is even more fascinating that just up the alley there is another example of the same words, with another hand-cut stencil, but in a completely different font. This nice slab-serif shows some typographic flair but they haven’t gotten the baseline or the x or cap height consistent. Also, it appears they had some difficulty figuring out how to create the inside of the bowls of the letters so they simply left them out. The overall effect, however, is quite interesting. Notice how the letters are carefully kerned so the words are justified. Also of note, as pointed out by my brother in the comments below, the ‘G’ is upside-down. backalleyType11This next sign is from days past, when the sign-painter was a time-honoured vocation and the hand-rendering of signs was considered a worthwhile art. Digital typography has all but put an end to this fascinating trade, but even around here a few samples remain. This one is not in the best condition, but you can see the thought put into it. The wide-brushed red text at the top stands out, and the sub-text is done in a really unique oblique sans with extra-wide characters for the ‘c’ and the ‘o’. The bottom word ‘EXPENSE’ is even kerned out so it looks less like it’s been widowed at the edge of the sign. These letter forms remind me of the Signpainter series of fonts by House Industries, one of my favourite typeface families ever. backalleyType4Continuing in the hand-lettered tradition, this nice banner serif is technically not strictly a back-alley type since it is on the side of a delivery truck, but it still qualifies because the truck is parked in a back alley and there is little evidence that the truck has moved much in the last 10 years or so… flat tires, grass growing up underneath, etc. I’m going to assume that the truck is more or less a permanent fixture in this alley. The hand-painted letters again hearken to the Signpainter family. I always wonder why people put the quotes on their slogans (“Guaranteed lowest prices”). Is it a quote from the store owner? Did someone say that to the owner and in order to avoid a lawsuit they had to make it a quote? Who knows? backalleyType6The last example for this post takes the art of hand-lettering another step to what i’ll call home-lettering. This is a pretty common type of lettering and I would imagine it is done more out of necessity than desire to communicate messages in refined typographic forms. This one is still interesting to me because the message is illustrated by the heavy underlining and the exclamation mark that spans both lines of text. Is that a new kind of typographic element? Maybe we should call it a drop-mark. Pretty soon typographers the world over will be employing the drop-mark in their show-pieces for galleries. I am collecting more samples, and will post more soon. I am also working on a sister genre of back alley typography: train graffiti. Since trains go back and forth in front of my office all day, I am trying to snap some pics of the really interesting ones and I’ll post some of them later. If you have good examples of back alley or train graffiti email them to me and I’ll post them and link the photo credit back to your site and give my favourite submission a limited edition wood-cut print from my letterpress. Email me at mike (at) bluebeetlecreative.com

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