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A Sign Of The Times

About 100 years ago, one of the best ways to promote your business was to have a sign painted onto the side of a building. In big bright letters, the sign would display the name of the business, the products made, a telephone number and maybe a catchy slogan.

The signs however were difficult to maintain. They needed constant repainting because of weather and environment damage. And if you wanted to change any of the sign’s information, it often meant a full redesign and repainting job – a slow and costly process. By the 1950’s, this method of advertising was passé, replaced with paper billboards which were much easier and cheaper to manage.

In many North American cities, you can still see the faded remnants of these signs on older buildings. They are now termed “ghost signs”. In Toronto, there are lots of them around and I love discovering new ones, like this one for “John’s Color TV” on Dundas Street West. John has long since left the neighbourhood, but the sign is still quite vibrant. I found this scene a bit ironic in that the ghost sign was below its nemesis, a billboard! And the billboard was advertising a tablet device that will likely soon make billboard advertising obsolete! Ah, the Circle of Life!

I was so intrigued with this scene that I had to paint it. I kept thinking about John and his business as I painted, and I wondered if the sign was effective for him. And I wondered why he chose to use the American spelling of colour (“color”) even though he was in Canada – was there not enough room on the wall for the extra letter? And I wondered when John had the sign re-painted for the last time. I concocted all kinds of possible stories (as I frequently do) while I painted each tiny brick!

This piece has turned out to be one of my favourites so far this year and I hope I can find more ghosts to paint!

#152 – Ghost Sign on Dundas West

2.5″ x 3.5″ ink and watercolour miniature

Available at my Etsy Shop, ArtWeWonderful, and at local art events

2 replies »

  1. This is absolutely gorgeous. I love how cities keep those old painted advertisements on their buildings, a cool reminder of how the advertising world used to be.

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