Log in

Carters Steam Fair

Signwriting by hand for an attraction at Carters Steam Fair Rides at Carters Steam Fair.
“I think the most important thing is to remember that you won’t become a signwriter overnight. You have to put a lot of time and patience into it, but when you paint your first good sign, it’s the best feeling!”

Joby Carter isn’t your average traditional signwriter – he is also a showman, and his work can be seen on his spectacular vintage travelling funfair, Carters Steam Fair. The fair travels almost every week for seven months of the year and with rides dating back as far as 1895 – and up to the 1960s – there is always more paintwork to do in the winter.

For the last few years, Joby has been running very popular five-day intensive signwriting courses in his paintshop near Maidenhead, from November to January. The courses cover everything from basic layout to shading and lining and give you a great basis to start from.

How did you learn your craft?

I was taught the old fashioned way, as an apprentice to the fair’s signwriter, Stan Wilkinson; who in turn was taught by a jobbing signwriter; who was taught by a man who worked for Hovis in the 19th century. This unbroken line of technique and skill is unusual these days, and I am keen to continue it.

I taught Aaron Stephens, who first came on one of my courses; he is now painting full time for the fair. Fairground painting generally gives the artist much more creative freedom than standard signwriting, and there are many techniques and materials that are particular to the craft.

I believe we are now amongst the foremost fairground artists in the country with an unsurpassed background of knowledge and experience.

What equipment do you work with?

I prefer chisel-tipped brushes which I buy from Wrights of Lymm, David Jackson and Habberley Meadows. I’m not particularly fussy and will try anything once. I had a vegan on one of my courses who didn’t want to use a sable brush, and he gave me his synthetic brush to try. It was surprisingly lovely! I keep all my old favourites. I find I have a collection of about 50 brushes at any one time, and I probably only actively use about three of them. As they begin to lose hairs, they get relegated into the drawer full of tired brushes, which I can’t bring myself to throw away. On occasions, I’ve had special brushes made for particular jobs, like extra-long lining brushes for working on large scale panelling, such as box trucks or wagons.

I use Craftmaster and my now dwindling supply of Keeps’ signwriting enamels. I use One Shot occasionally for gold size, for example. Craftmaster’s great to deal with; they have the closest colour palette to the original Keeps’ colours, which the fair was painted in when I was a child. They are very amenable, working with me to mix special colours for restoration work.

I love signwriting, and I’m always happiest when painting. I don’t use tape, or vinyl masking, because I was taught the original skills of painting with just a brush and a mahl. These skills are fast dying out, and I think it would be a crying shame if every signwriter relied on computers to work and were unable to do basic layouts freehand. A good signwriter is noticeable from the layout and crisp finish, and I really enjoy seeing the work of people who add a bit of artistic flair so their character stands out.

I’m now taking bookings for my five day course which runs from January 15th to the 19th, 2018, and I’m holding a two-day Letterheads event at the fairground yard from November 18th to the 19th, 2017. More information can be found at: www.carterssteamfair.co.uk

Slideshow CK