Living and working in San Francisco,’s hometown, one is immediately aware of hand-painted signs — whether it’s the colorful Spanish-language brushwork of the Mission District or the mid-century marquees, liquor stores, and florists of the East and South Bay. There was a time when every sign was made by hand, and most of them were painted. Now, in an era of computers and vinyl, the craft is sadly rare. Fortunately there are still a few bright spots, like New Bohemia Signs, where the tradition is carried on to create new markers for the next generation of city dwellers.

We visited proprietor Damon Styer at his shop on 11th in SOMA and followed him to a job up the street. He describes the “muscle memory” that drives such quick and legible, yet beautifully imperfect work.

Styer’s designs show how even digital fonts can be a model for hand-painted letters, just as hand-painted letters inspired many digital fonts. Here are just a few examples:

Photos from our shoot:
More San Francisco Signs:
More FontCasts:

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