Bristol Art Collective | Behind the signs at Boomtown fair 2015.
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Behind the signs at Boomtown fair 2015.

My brushes have taken me to many weird and wonderful places; this time to Boomtown Fair near Winchester. I got asked by fellow brother of the brush and good friend James Cooper of Dapper signs to work at the festival. Gutted as the bloke was, he was unable to attend this year so recommended yours truly. After hearing big things about the place I had to accept the challenge of ten days on the brush!

He told me I’d be working for some lovely old festival salts who’d been doing the job for years, however I was to be the only sign painter working on site for the internal work.
This seemed quite overwhelming to me as I understood the mass of signage that’s needed for these sorts of events.
So, I ordered a crazy amount of paint and some big 1 inch, one stroke lettering brushes, packed my bags and set off in the van to Winchester.

Winchester, if you haven’t been, is pretty stunning but you can also smell the money. I suppose it was quite apt to be surrounded by masses of green and woodland areas, perfect to house Boomtown fair. I was told by Dan (the festival salt) that I was to park in the hilltop camp site with the staff; I quickly pitched my tent and off I went to check out the worksite.

Holy moly! The amount of old signage from the previous festivals was incredible to see. At this point in time, I knew I had my work cut out.
Looking at Cooper’s work and also that of Moe signs (Glastonbury festival sign painter) I felt inspired to pull out some of my best lettering. Considering I was there for ten days I had enough time to practise at it.

I set up an easel and got to work. Dan passed me blank signs (plural) every 5 minutes and I penciled on what he wanted. The boards had been pre-cut and base glossed by his nephew Zac who also worked in our small, yet extremely efficient team.

I piled through tons of signs throughout the day. Before I knew it, I counted 28 signs that had all been hand painted in a 9 hour shift. Pleased with my efforts, I questioned Dan on how I got on. He told me he was impressed, his expression mirroring his words.

Considering this was a massive festival I thought our facilities may be a little ropey but after work that day, I went to the shower block and was pleasantly surprised; pretty clean and constant hot water! We also had excellent caterers feeding us 3 square meals a day.
The coffee they provided, however, was unfortunately grey. Lots of grumbling was heard in the camp the following morning of the putrid water they called coffee, so I asked the guy in catering if he wanted a hand painted sign for their little marquee. He was delighted!
I quickly got to work making him a little something. I also slipped in a little “could you make the coffee stronger tomorrow please?”. He gave me a nod of approval.

That evening over dinner, the complaints in camp were of a different nature.
I heard one bloke say “this coffee is like bloody tar!”. It was so strong. Whoops! That’ll teach me. On the up side, everyone looked pretty bloody awake the next morning.

So by the middle of the week I was getting pretty used to my new little dust pit of a workshop.

I was sharing my marquee with a group of bin painters who also had an enormous job to do, hand painting thousands of bins with lots of different styles for each area of the festival. This bunch of girls were crazy! Most came from a hippie commune situated near my home town so I understood most of their humour – apart from one day when one of the girls decided to come and whisper in my ear “You smell different when you’re awake”. It has to be said that there are not many things that shock me verbally but that one had me crawling for ages. Still, at least we had a laugh.

During my time there I spent a lot of my evenings drinking whiskey and getting stoned with the Wild West set designers. They truly lived up to their name to say the least.

In terms of contacts, I met some great sign painters from London named Andy and Bruce. Both were totally shocked to know that sign painting was making a serious come back; when I spoke about the revival of the craft they seemed quite excited and we quickly cleared the table when we started geeking out on signs.
After an hour or so of talking, we decided that Andy and Bruce were to come to my workshop in Bristol and teach students about the craft. More importantly, how to create and make signage using a computer whilst still applying traditional hand painted methods. Keep your eyes peeled for details later in the year if you’d like to attend.

After many long days painting signs I was coming near to the end. At this point, I’d planned to go home once I was finished but after meeting some good people and seeing all the hard work gone into it, I had to stay for the festival! I spoke to my boss about getting my girlfriend, Nada, a ticket as I only had one pass, he gave me a nod and agreed to ask one of the festival owners. Ten minutes later she was on the owners personal guest list!

Needless to say she accepted the fantastic offer, so we went to collect her from the station before my last day of work.

On the final day of work, Nada followed me down to see what I’d been up to over the past ten days. She was pretty amazed at the speed of my sign painting now- especially when it came to painting an alphabet named Casual. Casual is known as the sign painter’s money maker; it’s designed to be a one stroke alphabet, meaning you should only need to do roughly 3-4 strokes per letter.
This enables the sign painter to knock out signs pretty fast. Also the quicker you go, the cleaner your edges will be. To be painting the volume I had been for so many days, I had to be fast.

Towards the end of the morning, I had a little visit from a very excited set designer. She came flying through the marquee asking who the person was who does all the lettering? I nodded, unenthusiastically, with the remaining energy I had left.

She said she was desperate for one of my signs and would love to have her car painted; I asked which car was hers and she pointed to a beat-up old London taxi! I told her that I’d love to as it’s always great fun painting vehicles, especially unusual ones.
So on my lunch break on my very last day, I painted the back of the taxi with the words “My way or the highway”.

I cracked on with the rest of my afternoon, boshing them out as quickly as I could, knowing it was the final push.
Dan comes in to the marquee at around 5pm and says
“Right, we’re just about finished, however there’s one sign we’ve needed for years but never had enough time to paint”.

I knocked out the final sign of my long stint at Boomtown Fair and I totally agree – after attending the festival – that this sign was most necessary. Here it is, ladies and gentleman, here it is.

All in all, a fantastic experience. While attending the festival it really hit me how much work I’d done whilst being here. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend most of my time pointing all the signs out. As for the festival itself…maybe ask me in person. Well, what’s left of me.

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Words by Bruce Crowes photos by Bruce & Nada

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