See You Over There!

This blog has been in operation – off and on – since June 2007, and much has been written in that time. The vast majority of the one-hundred-and-sixteen posts were written by the staff of Clover Signs, a no-longer-in-operation sign shop in London. Later, the blog sat untouched from 2008 until this year, when we at Danthonia Designs decided to continue writing interesting articles relating to the craft of dimensional sign-making, and other related topics.

However, it wasn’t long before we realised that the name discrepancy was a little confusing (Why is “Clover Signs Blog” about Danthonia Designs?). So, we’ve decided to make life simple, say goodbye to this this blog, and continue publishing articles on our own website:

Of course, we’ll leave this one here as an archive, so people can still read about the halcyon days when Clover Signs sold their five-hundredth sign, or exchanged a sign for a piece of cake, or figured out a hack to fix the back button in Lightbox.

So, my friends, see you over there!

From Russia, with Love

From time to time I check Google Analytics, to see where our website visitors are coming from. Recently, I was surprised to see a certain number coming off of the Russian-language Wikipedia site. Sure enough, in the references at the bottom of an article entitled Numeratsiya domov was a link to The History of House Names on How flattering!

Russian Wikipedia Page

Russian Wikipedia Page with a Reference to our Article on House Names. It’s been there since February.

I’d just like to say a big “spasibo” (Thank you) to whoever added that link. But, as David Airey pointed out when Wikipedia linked to his site,

It would’ve been an even better surprise if Wikipedia were to remove rel=”nofollow” from their links. Then I might get a little boost in web ranking. It’s for that reason, that whenever I link through to a Wikipedia page I’m sure to add rel=”nofollow” in the link code, so I don’t give out needless external links.

I believe I’ll follow David’s example.

And now, you’re probably itching to know what the Russian article was about. The English version (without a link to us) is entitled House Numbering. It’s actually a very interesting piece and it even includes the iconic “9” from West 57th Street, Manhattan, designed by Ivan Chermayeff:

A distinctive red number "9," a two-ton sculpture designed by Ivan Chermayeff

A distinctive red number “9,” a two-ton sculpture designed by Ivan Chermayeff

A Few Minutes with David Airey

Graphic Designer David Airey at Work

David Airey needs no introduction in graphic design circles. But, in case you haven’t yet come across David’s work, he describes himself as “a graphic designer and occasional author [of the books Logo Design Love and Work for Money, Design for Love] who specialises in designing brand identities.” He lives in Northern Ireland, but his clients are scattered across the far reaches of the planet. David was kind enough to answer a few questions for today’s blog post.

You’re a well-known graphic designer & blogger [Logo Design Love, David & Identity Designed], how is it that you’re able to take time to answer questions from somebody you’ve never met?

If someone takes the time to contact me, I do all I can to help with whatever he or she asks. It’s not always possible, unfortunately — I receive a ton of email as a result of my websites — but much of my time is spent replying to messages.

How did you get into logo design?

After my GCSEs I went to a local college to study art and design. From there, it was obvious I enjoyed design more than art, and my focus shifted to graphic design. Creating logos was a favourite part of my course, then after further studies and some time in general design employment, I made the switch to self-employment where I could focus solely on brand identity work.

Should every business have a logo?

From a designer’s viewpoint I’d say it depends on your definition of logo. For me (my definitions have changed during my learning, and perhaps will again), a logo is the combination of a wordmark and a symbol. A business doesn’t need both. Often, a wordmark is enough, particularly when the brand name is distinctive, such as Google or Sony or Honda.

Who and what inspires your design work?

Nature, architecture, engineering, my parents, my peers… I think you can find inspiration in almost anything if you’re curious enough.

Many of your logos are very clean and contemporary. What do you think of the trend towards ornate and embellished logos in recent years?

I often see various styles classified as recent trends, but if you look to the past, the styles have been done already. It’s just that people don’t immediately remember, so they think it’s new. The more simplistic the appearance, the easier it is to remember at a quick glance, and the more enduring the design becomes, hence my favoured style.

Do you always start design projects with a pencil sketch?

I start by asking questions. Lots of them. But a pencil is always used when it comes to recording preliminary ideas.

What was your favorite project?

I really don’t know. I’ve had a lot of fun working with most of my clients. I couldn’t pick one over the rest.

You grew up in Bangor, Northern Ireland, do you think there’s anything “Irish” about your designs? For that matter, is there any “regional flavour” in contemporary design at all?

I hope there’s nothing more Irish about my work than the fact that it’s the designer’s nationality. Most of my clients are overseas, and none have an Irish product. But the “regional flavour” you mention could be important depending on the project. If a product or service was (and always would be) distinct to a geographic location, then it lends itself well to a design style that locals are familiar with. The Peru identity comes to mind.

To quote sign-painter Ira Coyne:  “If the guy who’s been working at some job that he hates moves on and opens that coffee shop or store he has always wanted to own, that will change the landscape of America.”  What advice would you have for someone starting a small business (Clearly yours has been a success)?

In the words of Nicholas Bate, “Be brilliant at the basics”. Here’s a short excerpt from his free PDF:

What’s the best logo ever?

Tough one. A few of my favourites are listed on this Creative Review piece, but there are many more I could reel off.

Thanks a lot for your time, David.

Now, for some of David’s work:

Feru Wordmark Logo

Tudor Bourn Logo

Giacom Logo

Henri Ehrhart Logo

Campus IT Logo Canvases

Work for Money Design for Love

David’s newest book, Work for Money, Design for Love, published last year.

Signs of a Real Irish Pub

Johnny Blair

Johnny Blair

Most countries have embassies abroad. Ireland has pubs.

This adage rings especially true here in the land down under. We have no lack of cozy, wood-paneled Irish pubs, from the business districts of our cities to the dusty wide streets of corrugated iron country towns. After all, many of the convict settlers of this land hailed from the Emerald Isle.

Two such establishments – in Sydney’s Drummoyne and Parramatta districts – go by the name P. J. Gallagher’s, with the slogan “A Real Irish Pub”. But what is it, exactly, that makes a pub “Irish”? Is it the wood paneling, the live fiddler in the back corner? friendly and talkative staff? It’s a thousand things, of course, but not least is the signage.

Unlike the early convicts, world-traveling Irishman Johnny Blair arrived in Australia of his own free will. For a time, he filled pints of Guinness at P. J. Gallaghers. Here are a few of his thoughts about watering-holes and their signage:

Don, I’m totally with you on the handcrafted signage. Much better, much more authentic, much more professional and it also takes hard work. Irish people like to work hard as a tradition of our lifestyle. Making a proper sign is much better than getting a marker and writing “Irish Pub” on a piece of metal. Appearance means a lot. Go with the handcrafted signs and I encourage any Irish pub owners or landlords to get a proper sign made. Danthonia is a great company for signs in Australia. I might be tempted to pop in for a Guinness then!

Ireland (mainly the south) had some financial problems in recent times, so any companies providing jobs, work or money was a bonus which can certainly excuse the rise of commercialism in pubs. However, you ask an average Irishman what type of pub he prefers and I’m sure they’ll say an old poky style pub where you can sit with a beer, talk to your mates, listen to music, drink a bit too much whiskey and pretend there’s nothing bad happening in the world. They’ve been around for generations and they will continue to be around for generations.

Ireland is renowned for its hospitality, music, stories, and humour, and I am a walking stereotype. I’ve worked in hospitality, I love talking to people, I tell stories, I listen to music in pubs and I try to be sarcastic. The layout and design of Irish pubs in Australia are pretty similar to those back home (if just a bit more modernised). There are some distinct differences however. We don’t really have widescreen TVs and sit typing on our mobile phones back in Ireland. We go to the pub to get away from computers etc. and I’d rather watch the footy on a small TV in the corner of an old pub with my mates without a phone in sight.

To find a proper Irish pub in Ireland these days, you really need to go rural, out into the countryside where there is less commercial influence. You’ll still find Guinness, Bushmills, Murphy’s and Kilkenny but you won’t find too many adverts from non-Irish companies. I’d cringe if I saw a country pub being bought over by a big chain of pubs. I’m a traditionalist. A down to earth proper Irish pub is my scene, and yes Australia has a lot of them and they’re great craic! But some of the Irish Pubs in Australia just don’t really represent Ireland that well.  Each to their own, it’s a free commercial world we live in!

In Ireland, a few craftsmen like Tomás Tuipear carry on the traditional pub sign craft. In terms of authenticity, our work could never touch that of Tomás, but here’s a few of our signs at Gallagher’s:

P. J. Gallagher's Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Monument Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Menu Boards

P. J. Gallagher's Under-Awning Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Indoor Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Blade Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Wall Sign

P. J. Gallagher's Wayfinding Sign

Johnny also took a few photos of the signs we made for P. J. Gallaghers and posted them on his popular travel blog Don’t Stop Living. While he clearly enjoyed the authentic look of the signs, he may not have known the story behind them. Here it is.

Australians who visit Ireland are often surprised to find that the island has no poisonous snakes at all. Legend holds that they were driven into the sea by Saint Patrick, some time between 387 – 460 A.D. The P. J. Gallagher’s logo symbolises this story with an image of snakes fleeing before a lion (representing Ireland’s patron saint).

P. J. Gallagher's Logo

P. J. Gallagher’s Logo

So, if you enjoy a pint of Guinness or Kilkenny now and then, support the sign-crafting community and drink it in a real Irish pub with a real Irish pub sign!


From Pencil Sketch to Pristine Logo

"Stu" from Pristine Video Productions

Event photography is always difficult – trying to capture every special moment at a wedding or graduation without ruining it – any photographer will attest to that. There is a skill in capturing the image before it passes. But if snapping beautiful pictures is an art, creating nice video footage is pure genius (I know this from the many hours it took me to create a very short and rough YouTube clip). But that’s the daily grind for the crew at Pristine Video Productions, in Narooma.

Unlike their stunning flicks, however, their corporate logo left a little to be desired. In May, Lorraine Boggs contacted us about creating a new brand mark that was a “fresh, light and breezy”. She had seen our logo and signage for the Amooran Hotel and wanted us to try our hand at a new logo for Pristine Video.

Amooran Oceanside Logo

The logo we created for Amooran Oceanside

At first, we juggled a few different concepts around – the Glasshouse Rocks (a landmark of Narooma), a purely typographic wordmark, a “play” button – I filled several pages with quick-and-dirty pencil sketches before developing a few concepts.

Pencil Sketches for Logo Design

Pencil Sketches


A Jon-Contino-Style hand-drawn logo concept



A concept based on the Glasshouse Rocks


After plenty of discussion, we decided to pursue a “tree of life” concept, rather than the Glasshouse Rocks, which – although locally relevant – may not be familiar to clients further afield. Lorraine sent a few images that inspired her and her husband Stuart:

Tree of Life 1

Tree of Life 2

Original Artwork by Artist Chris Chun


Tree of Life 3

Tree of Life 4

Here’s the first tree design we came up with:

Pristine Logo Concept

Pristine Logo Concept

Although nice and clean, this concept looked a little too “dead”. Lorraine wanted something more leafy and alive. This time we started with a painting:

Tree Painting

and developed it into a logo:


Yes, this is a vector (if any graphic designers are wondering)

Lorraine and Stuart were happy with this final version. For the lettering, we used the typeface Carolyna Pro. It has a certain “wedding” look to it, which was just right for Pristine.

Carolyna Pro

Just as I was working on this project, the liquid amber (sweet gum) tree out front began to look a lot like the symbol on the Pristine logo. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the moment, but here’s what it looked like after a rain in the night:

Liquid Amber Leaves, Oswald Street, Inverell

How to “Sharpen” a Cove Edge Inside Corner

Shel Israel

Shel Israel (Image courtesy of Google+)

“It is amazing to me how the most mundane topics can come to life by stories that explain the challenges, details, process and pride that go into almost any work or craft.”

Shel Israel

These words could apply to a wide range of craft work, but Israel happened to be writing about the sign making trade, and – more specifically – referring to this very blog in its younger days. And so, in keeping with an esteemed tradition, here’s a bit of down-to-earth, nitty-gritty shop talk. This little photo series demonstrates how we “sharpen” an inside corner, after routing a cove edge with the hand router.

Then, of course, you have to repeat the process again for each inside corner. No wonder so many signs in this world are rectangular!

Fancy Shaped Sign for bridal shop

On this double-sided specimen, I had to “sharpen” twenty-four corners! I would love to replace this image with a beautiful photo of the sign, hanging from the building. It’s in Seattle. If you happen to pass by, please snap a picture & send it through!


It takes a little extra time to “cut-corners”, but it sure gives the sign a nice, crisp look.

Street Art & Sign Art

John Claridge Photographer

John Claridge

“I’m for Street Art but not the defiling of beautiful things”

Said London photographer John Claridge. I have to say that I agree with this sentiment, as many of us would. A creative wall mural – whether commissioned or not – can brighten a derelict warehouse or a forgotten concrete wall. But when a beautiful building or sign is used as a substrate for a hastily scrawled tag, something is amiss. Since ancient times, sign-makers have had little tolerance for graffiti, especially when it adorned their own work.

Today, however, the line between sign art and street art seems to be quickly blurring. I first noticed it a few years ago, walking down King Street in Sydney’s bohemian Newtown district. A colourful tag caught my eye. When I looked closer, I noticed that this was not a artist’s tag at all, but the name of the cafe “Istanbul on King“. The lettering has all the hallmarks of graffiti, but technically speaking, this is hand-painted signage as much as anything else is. Although I’m a traditionalist when it comes to letterforms, I must admit, there’s skill and artistry in this highly embellished type style.

[John Claridge] does not see any absolute distinction between graffiti and graphics, both are representations of language – whether graven on walls or painted on fascias
Spitalfields Life

Graffiti-style Lettering, Istanbul on King

In a recent chat with graffiti artist Christian Griffiths (he prefers to be referred to as “Sauce”), we discussed signage, murals and graffiti. I asked about the ‘gentrification’ of graffiti:

There is absolutely a growing acceptance of graffiti-style art and typography. That’s the idea with my studio in Murwillumbah. If you walk into Ikea, you can get graffiti-style photo frames. It’s everywhere. Of course, our Australian cities are quite far apart from each other, and there are big differences in attitude. Melbourne is definitely the most open to this style of art. I have friends down there who keep telling me “Come to Melbourne, you’d make a good living here”. The graffiti scene is part of the tourism down there. Murwillumbah is a fairly large town, but I can only think of two shops with hand-painted signage, and one of them is mine. Everybody is switching over to the digitally printed stuff.

Christian Griffiths (also known as "Sauce")

Christian Griffiths (also known as “Sauce”)

A far cry from a spray-can-wielding vandal, Griffiths is one of the new breed of graffiti-artists who use their skills for a wide range of professional work, from signage to murals and even logo design. He’s just as adept with a brush dipped in acrylic artist paint, as with an aerosol can, although the name of his business – Aerograffix – gives a hint which medium he prefers.

I first came across Christian’s work after seeing this rather unusual message on one of our notice boards for a Queensland school:

Strange – I thought – they normally keep a lower profile. And what was a graffiti artist doing at a school?

 I go to a lot of schools and do workshops. At high schools, this often involves painting a mural, but with primary schools I paint the mural and it often tends to become a demonstration exposing young creative minds to an art form they may not have witnessed in the flesh.

But how does he steer this creativity and enthusiasm towards legal activities?

We have to ask the question ‘Why do young people want to do graffiti?’. The authoritarian approach [to reducing vandalism] doesn’t seem to be working. I think it just pushes the scene underground. Creative young people really need an outlet to express themselves. Numerous studies have shown that when they have a legal outlet for their creativity, the illegal activities are greatly reduced.

I often make the comparison that a lot of towns have skate parks now. If you like skateboarding, that’s where you go on the weekend, but what if you like painting? Is there a place for that? For me, painting is my profession. I’m just as happy using an aerosol can as a brush, and I keep pretty busy.

Everyone is familiar with the artist known as Banksy, but who does Christian admire in the mural world?

I enjoy the work of Daim from Germany, John Pugh from the USA and Marc Spijkerbosch from New Zealand

DAIM mural in Germany

One of DAIM’s recent works

And now, for some of Sauce’s work:

A Mural at a Queensland School

Mural at a school in Queensland

A Mural at a Queensland School

Graffiti-Style Sign

Is it Graffiti, mural, or signage? I think it’s a bit of all three.

Sauce also designed the identity for Mooshka Restaurant, in Sunshine Beach:

Graffiti Logo on Fridge

Mooshka Graffiti Mural

Mooshka Restaurant Sunshine Beach Queensland

Mooshka Restaurant Graffiti Menu

To end with, I had to include a final example of “high-end graffiti” (by Artsigns, in Toronto Canada):

Graffiti-style Wall Letters

A response to this post from muralist John Pugh:

With the exception of Academe, I attached a few more recent mural images — might be good to use newer murals (I would like that). Good luck with your blog. – John

Blank Concrete Wall

Blank Concrete Wall


Mural in Process

Mural in Process

The Finished Work

The Finished Work


Thanks, John!

Making Signs out of Old Horseshoes

Mark's Workshop

Mark forms the word “Welcome” out of used horseshoes.

For Mark Rees, it takes an effort to form words. A lot of effort. That’s because he forms them out of old horseshoes. Each letter is heated, beaten and welded together in his snug little workshop in Columbia, Kentucky. His business is simply known as Mark’s Custom Horseshoe Art, and his creations are sold across the United States. I first came across Mark’s work when a prospective customer of ours explained that she wouldn’t be able to place her order for a handcrafted sign for her barn. The reason was sensible enough, in the meantime a good friend of hers had presented her with a sign as a gift. She was considerate enough to send us a picture, and what a unique sign it was!

Lynne's Barn Sign

The sign

I had never before seen lettering made entirely of horseshoes. Undoubtedly, it falls squarely into the category of dimensional signage, although Mark has never thought of it that way:

I never really paid much attention to the variety of signage that I see every day, I looked at your blog and seeing the variety in one place is pretty neat. I think a horseshoe sign would fit right in to the mix.

I couldn’t agree more. Hence, today’s blog post. Though more a man of action than of words, Mark took a few minutes of his time to explain, albeit with humour and wit, what made him choose this unique profession:

What started as “I want to learn to weld and I have steel horseshoes to play with” eventually led to taking my ‘creations’ to craft fairs and farmers markets and Facebook and a website. Most of the designs for my early creations were shown to me by a horseshoe artist in Florida and a retired blacksmith in Virginia and the designs used with their permission. Then I started coming up with my own designs for critters and objects that I thought would be fun or neat to make. Some things I do are fun to make but there is no way anyone would pay for the time invested, so they become gifts. When I am feeling creative, my wife, Anita, gets lots of gifts.

I do not want to be accused of stealing someone-else’s idea, so I don’t spend a lot of time looking at what others are making and selling. Anita runs the business and marketing, I do the cutting, welding, forging, bending, and finishing.


I asked Mark how he goes about cutting and bending an object as tough as a horseshoe:

I started cutting the shoes with a hand hack saw but that was hard work and I would pretty regularly end up punching the vise which is hard on knuckles. I eventually found a well-used metal cutting band saw for a very reasonable price and have been using it ever since. The easiest way to bend shoes is using a forge to heat them. I have a small propane gas forge that does a pretty good job of heating as long as I can get whatever I want to heat into the fire box. Some shoes I will bend cold if it is a small bend, but you are correct horseshoes are tough. A large hammer, big vise and heavy anvil help though.

Where do the shoes come from?

We have 3 shod horses and get additional used shoes from farriers and horse friends. Most everything I make is from used shoes, or has used shoes incorporated into it. Used horseshoes are a great deal! They are usually full of nails, horse poo and rusted pretty good by the time I get them, but they are usually free. I spend more time pulling nails and cleaning the shoes than it usually takes to weld them.

I have to pay for new shoes and they have mill slag on them and that has to be removed before I can work them, so I guess it works out.On some projects I need a bunch of shoes the same size or shape and it is easier to use new shoes than sort through piles of used ones looking for matches.

How’s business?

As far as how the business is going, It was crazy before Christmas, I was in the shop for a few hours pretty much every day starting in late Oct. As Christmas got closer the days got longer. I think it finally slowed down just after Christmas. I think we did almost twice the business for Christmas 2012 as we did in 2011. Right now we get 1 or 2 orders some weeks, some weeks none, but that is fine, horseshoe art is not our primary income. We make enough to pay for the website, gas for the forge, gas and wire for the welder, and all the other misc. supplies we use. As someone pointed out, my horseshoe art is a great self supporting hobby that I actually make a decent profit from.  Right now most of my orders are for signs made from horseshoes.

How did the “Lynne’s Barn” order come about?

The order for the Lynne’s Barn sign came from my best customer, LeAnne, she apparently likes my work and has ordered a bunch of goodies for herself and friends from me and has the patience of a Saint. One of the signs she ordered was too long for my paint drying box and I fixed a tent with halogen lights to keep the sign warm so the paint would dry, but the weather just didn’t want to cooperate, it was cold and/or wet for 2 weeks after I got the sign made. LeAnne was patient and has continued ordering things, so I guess she understands mother nature doesn’t always work with me. Someday maybe a bigger paint drying booth… For the Lynne’s Barn sign the weather cooperated and I got it made, primed, and painted in a week or so. Letting the primer and paint cure are what drag the time out.

I have had a couple of requests for prices on signs from people in Oz, the world wide web is a great thing, but the shipping charge for 4 or 5 kg of horseshoes was a bit ridiculous and they rethought their purchase. For Lynne’s Sign We shipped the sign, I think it cost about $21 from Ky to Ca. I don’t remember the weight though.

I like customer feedback, so I can try to give people the best product I can for a fair price. I also like other people who see my creations opinions and feedback, I get some really good suggestions on doing things better, easier, or faster (Helps my ego too).

Blacksmith grinding a horseshoe

heating a horseshoe red hot

One of Mark's dogs watches attentively as a horseshoe is cooled in water

drying paint on horseshoe art

Lizard made of old horseshoes

The T-Shirt

Rustic Garden Sign made of old horseshoes

Another typographic creation, for a client’s vegetable garden