Hand painted Indian typography

December 24, 2012

On my recent trip to India I ended up taking more photos of hand painted type than anything else. Street signs, vehicle livery, adverts, shop signage – it was everywhere. I have nothing but respect for sign-writers – my memories of having to hand-render text at my typography classes in art school were that it was frustratingly difficult. As an art-form it is apparently on the decline, being superseded by the printed text I’m so used to seeing around me in the UK. The website www.handpaintedtype.com is “dedicated to preserving the typographic practice of street painters around India”.

Rickshaws

The auto-rickshaws around India are great. The drivers take so much pride in their vehicles and customize them in all kinds of ways.

I noticed there was also the trend of having an elaborate name painted on the rickshaws. I was told they are the drivers “favorite names” – that could be a god, a saint or the name of their child or loved-one.

As I headed down into Kerala there was a distinct shift in the typography trends. I don’t know if this has regional significance, or is just the work of specific painters in the area who feed off each others style.

To me the work totally reminded me of old-school graffiti text. You have huge drop-shadows, reflections, shines, fat outlines and colorful gradient fills. One of the pieces below even had a kings crown over the capital letter – like a New York piece for the 1980’s! I love the extra details as well – the “Stop” and “For hire” lettering all have unique details.

Trucks

The tradition of painting trucks goes back a long time in India and is well documented. The elaborate “Horn OK please” text is seen on the back of most large vehicles you see on the highways.

The fronts of the trucks also bear name boards that come in many different font styles. Lots of them seem to be the name of the haulage company or business, others I was unsure about.

Again, Kerala seemed to have a style that I didn’t see elsewhere. The name boards had a combination of incredibly elaborate text styles and carved wooden panels painted in a riot of colors. The ultra-bold, slab-serif fonts took up every square inch of available space on the boards and what remained was filled with an almost psychedelic set of patterns – something that again reminds me of graffiti text.
I’d love to know the history of this – the trucks seemed to be older models but were kept in beautifully restored condition.

I really hope this tradition is kept alive – there’s something amazing about hand painted text that can never be conveyed with text designed on a computer.

2 Responses to "Hand painted Indian typography"

jinesh bhaskar says: August 9, 2015 at 7:38 pm

Great documentation sir,
i live in the same land and often amazed by seeing their creativity and most of them are underpaid. With the boom of factory bodied trucks like Bharat Benz, man etc. These art forms will soon come to a full stop, sadly.

I agree with Jinesh here. You don’t see much hand paint artworks these days, as everything is digitalized. But we can hope that creativity never ends – even if the forms do.

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