the premierethe moviethe paneliststhe sponsors


Sign Painters: The Movie

Directors: Faythe Levine & Sam Macon
Produced by: Radar Studios
Producers: Timm Gable & Jonah Mueller
Cinematographer: Travis Auclair
Edited by: Bill Marmor
Released May 2013, 80 minutes, color

Sign Painters: The Book

Authors: Faythe Levine & Sam Macon
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
Published November 2012, paperback, 184 pages
Availabe at Barnes & Noble

There was a time, as recently as the 1980s, when storefronts, murals, banners, barn signs, billboards, and even street signs were all hand-lettered with brush and paint. But, like many skilled trades, the sign industry has been overrun by the techno-fueled promise of quicker and cheaper. The resulting proliferation of computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering and inkjet printers has ushered a creeping sameness into our landscape. Fortunately, there is a growing trend to seek out traditional sign painters and a renaissance in the trade.

In 2010 filmmakers Faythe Levine, co-author of Handmade Nation, and Sam Macon began documenting these dedicated practitioners, their time-honored methods, and their appreciation for quality and craftsmanship. Sign Painters, the first anecdotal history of the craft, features stories and photographs of more than two dozen sign painters working in cities throughout the United States. With a foreword by legendary artist (and former sign painter) Ed Ruscha, this vibrant book profiles sign painters young and old, from the new vanguard working solo to collaborative shops such as San Francisco's New Bohemia Signs and New York's Colossal Media's Sky High Murals.


About the co-directors/authors:

Faythe Levine is an artist, photographer, filmmaker, and curator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is the founder of Art vs. Craft and curates Sky High Gallery. Levine's first film and book, Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design was published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Sam Macon is a Milwaukee-born, Chicago-based filmmaker, photographer, and writer. He received his BFA in film from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and directs music videos, commercials, short films, and documentaries.



"The documentary accomplishes what many films that consist of mostly talking heads do not. Through the individual stories, a larger narrative surfaces about this art form and its fate over time. In many ways, it is more than that. It is a cautionary tale about the head-long rush into a technology-driven time and a meditation on what's lost along the way. It is a reminder to look around and recognize the physical history in our presence every day." (read more
— Mary Louise Schumacher (Milwaukee Journal Sentinal)

"Sign Painters, which has been put together with equal parts affection and skill by directors Faythe Levine and Sam Macon, is fresh and passionate and unexpected. The format couldn't be simpler. Thirty or so sign painters — from Seattle to Coralville, Iowa, San Francisco to Mazeppa, Minn. (in other words, all over) — talk about what they do and demonstrate how it's done. Sign Painters is talky in the best — and rarest — sense of the word: the way that screwball comedy and Quentin Tarantino movies are. The words come fast and cut on the bias." (read more
Mark Feeney (Boston Globe)

"With hand-painted signs rapidly going the way of the film camera, documentarians Levine and Macon offer a welcome look at some of the remaining artists and their work, which adorns storefronts, walls and billboards. New Yorker Stephen Powers began as a graffiti artist; Las Vegas painters Mark and Rosie Oatis met in sign school; Ernie Gosnell, in Seattle, learned the trade as a teen from a sign-painting lady wrestler who 'tattooed a little bit on the side.' It's a toss-up as to what's better — these characters or their art." 
— New York Post