San Francisco Signs (’s Hometown)
FontCast #12 — Damon Styer of New Bohemia Signs

Living and working in San Francisco,’s hometown, one is immediately aware of hand-painted signs — whether it’s the colorful Spanish-language brushwork of the Mission District or the mid-century marquees, liquor stores, and florists of the East and South Bay. There was a time when every sign was made by hand, and most of them were painted. Now, in an era of computers and vinyl, the craft is sadly rare. Fortunately there are still a few bright spots, like New Bohemia Signs, where the tradition is carried on to create new markers for the next generation of city dwellers.

We visited proprietor Damon Styer at his shop on 11th in SOMA and followed him to a job up the street. Later we sat down at Adobe Bookshop in the Mission where New Bohemia was hanging their first show. Damon describes the “muscle memory” that drives such quick and legible, yet beautifully imperfect work.

While digital type is often considered antithetical to signs made by hand, New Bohemia’s designs show how fonts can be a model for hand-painted letters, just as hand-painted letters inspired many fonts. Here are just a few examples.

FontCast is FontShop’s video podcast featuring the most interesting figures in typography and design. Subscribe in iTunes or watch individual episodes on Vimeo and YouTube.
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