Photocast Products is a Liverpool based company that specialises in Zinc etching, and part of the CHC foundry group of companies. With their blend of modern and traditional techniques, a natural partnership formed with gifted Signwriter, Vanessa – Morris Cast Signs, an independent enthusiast who studied art from a young age and whose passion eventually led to developing her own business of hand painted signs.
Modern methods, with a twist.
With any traditional signage, time is the key. In a fast-paced economy with quick turnover, the traditional signage industry has to offer something special in its place. Upon speaking with Chris Hogan, Sales Director of Photocast Products, he commented. “Our opinion is that traditional sign making has a much greater impact than more modern ink printed sign. Traditional signs use only a small amount of paint which is generally oil based and lasts far longer than more modern techniques, which show signs of fading in a relatively short period. A key factor for a lot of our customers to choose our products over a cheaper option.”
Photocast Products breach the gap between utilising modern technology and traditional methods to create an item that is crafted with care that means something to a community. As such, the blend of signwriting onto cast signs came into being. Chris describes the marriage between casting and sign writing as, “something we believe complements one another perfectly to produce fine end products. The skills needed to produce these types of work have been developed over many years on many projects. The aim is to give the customer exactly what it is they require in the most efficient way.”
With any traditional methods, there is the element of time. Yet, with time, there is an understanding and relationship between the product and customer. Vanessa felt strongly about this topic, telling us, “The product is a work of art that the customer/community can be closely involved in, if they choose, they can even help to paint areas of the sign giving a more prominent meaning. This is something that would not be possible with most alternatives.” This statement highlights the integrity of the work and impact of not just being another sign, but a deeper part of a community.
In terms of timescale, Chris and Vanessa were kind enough to elaborate on the intricate nature of the products they have worked on together. “There are 4 stages in the process to produce a bespoke cast handprinted sign.
Artwork design – We receive a brief from the customer along with photos of what they would like to see on the sign and produce a digital artwork proposal.
Pattern Build - Once the artwork has been agreed, a full-size relief pattern of the artwork is built. The pattern back board is made from Plywood or MDF. The artwork is constructed using Sheet wax and modelling materials. Text is then also applied using pre-cut Perspex letters. Before casting, the whole pattern is sealed to protect the artwork during the process.
Casting - This process is completed at the Charles H Coward Foundry in Sheffield using traditional sand-casting techniques and detailed hand finishing.
Painting - The whole plaque, once cast, is wet sprayed in black and cream. The final stage is the application of the full colour to the relief artwork. Enamel paint is used for this part and finished with a top coat lacquer to protect the paint work.
In total, an average order for two signs with a full scene artwork can take anything from 16 to 26 weeks, from conception to finish. For digital artwork products, such as Zinc chemical etched and cast bronze signs, the product is estimated from artwork approval to hand finished and delivered within 4-6 weeks.”
An Enduring passion for design.
Intrigued by Vanessa’s background into her background, we discovered that her love of Design found a natural niche within hand painted designs. “I have always had a passion for art and being creative. From school to university, I followed the creative route from graphic design through to Illustration and animation. The art world however is a tough nut to crack and I found myself working in the travel industry as airline crew for over 20 years. I was always pulled back to art and this continued with it as a hobby rather than a career. My passion for creativity led me to finding the unique and fascinating world of bespoke sign making. I felt like I had finally found what I was always supposed to do and over a period of two years, learning the sign trade and flying part-time I transitioned from pointing out emergency exits to pointing out the way to beautiful towns and villages with gateway signs.”
Vanessa’s passion for the industry is apparent as she explains her methods of painting; “the preferred brush is a Sable hair Filbert ranging from size 1 - 4. For finer detail painting we will use either a sable hair round brush size 0 - 00 or we have found masking brushes work well with the enamels and they hold their shape for longer. We start with flooding the scene with as much colour as possible. The enamel paints are slow drying and each layer must dry before applying the next coat, applying two coats of the base colour. However, if when we have an artwork for example with sky and clouds, we will often apply the paint layers while wet this enables me to blend the paint on the plaque, we will use a harder brush to help blending. Once the artwork is completely covered with its base colour, we start on the detail work. There is a wide range of enamel colours, but we hand mix to get the right colours for the scene. The final stage is two applications of a clear top coat lacquer, which helps to preserve the colour of the enamels.”
Sustainability and USP of the products
As the modern signage industry is a waste heavy industry, traditional cast signs does offer a sustainable future. Chris and Vanessa offered their opinion on the credentials of their products:
- Long lasting high-quality products in both manufacturing and finishing.
- Low maintenance and able to remedy, which is ideal to reduces costs for customers over a period of time.
- Weight and size means they are less likely to be damaged or stolen, we also find that people do show more respect and care for a hand crafted piece of art.
- The look and feel of a hand painted sign speaks loudly about the quality and the craftsmanship involved in creating such pieces.
With the current niche market of both products, we asked where both companies saw their future within the industry. Chris and Vaneesa commented with, “The partnership between Photocast Products and Morris Cast Signs will continue to push the boundaries of what is achievable with hand crafted plaque work and signage with developing new interlinking techniques and continuing to produce bespoke fine quality, highly durable products at a price point that is open to all budgets. Drawing on all our joint knowledge and manufacturing expertise, combining it with creative thoughts, designs and unique skills to move both businesses forward into new projects both independently and as well as side by side. There will always be a huge demand for the traditionally made heritage craft of hand painted signs and with this aim to keep relevant and in the moment along.”