Based out of his home Studio in Torquay, Dave Smith blurs the lines between art and Trade. His distinctive designs can be seen all over the world from album covers for the Kings of Leon to bottle art for Jameson Whiskey and his more traditional sign work which can be seen all over the UK especially adorning lots of London pubs and bars.
He welcomed us in to the studio built next to his house and walking in you can’t help but smile. There’s a mass of stunning mirrored sign pieces, hand etched framed artwork and glass engravings all lining the walls. The light bounces around the room off the gold leaf, mirrors and glass signs illuminating different visual delights everywhere you look. A quick glance around and you see hand drawn signs for Burberry, for Booths, mirrored signs from pubs, hand drawn pieces attached to the exposed wooden beams, it truly is a creatives dream.
The detail of Dave’s work is stunning and we were keen to find out how long it takes to get this good. Dave recalls the first sign he made, “I was 14 at the time and I painted a sign for my dad’s friend, a hotel owner in Torquay. I used all the wrong tools, the wrong paints but the sign still looked pretty good, I was hooked from there on in”. That sign led to other signs and by the time he was 16 his dad had managed to get him on an apprenticeship scheme in a traditional sign makers. He said “It was run by an ex-sergeant major, who ran a tight ship and I questioned whether I would stick it out, but I was so passionate and surrounded by professionals I just wanted to learn more”. Whilst at the company Dave produced hand drawn signs for shops, pubs, even one year…. Wimbledon Tennis Club! The apprenticeship lasted 5-6 years, it just before the digital age when vinyl sign writing started to take over from the traditional hand lettering. “I used to sign write and paint logos straight onto the side of vans. They were great days and everything was hand brushed with writing quills and sometimes screen printed”.
As well as the 4 day apprenticeship Dave had to spend a day in college but at that time the local college didn’t have a sign writing course,the closest thing was a dress making course, so as well as designing beautiful hand drawn signs, Dave can also probably mend your corset or fix that special dress. He chuckled as he recalled the course and then told us about the next few years. “I wanted to learn all of the techniques, traveling extensively to learn different processes’. I spent some time in America on courses and events learning everything I could. I wanted to learn the process for guilding, cutting, silvering, sign writing acid etching and bring it all together as one”. Dave told us one person made a real difference to his world back then, a man called Rick Glawson, “he opened doors to some amazing opportunities in glass and design for me and which allowed me to meet some wonderfully talented people that would cross my path and later become friends”.
Rather surprisingly for a hand drawn signwriter Dave said “the rise of the digital age definitely helped the business, I’d still always start with the pencil, making sure 60-70% of the work is done by hand but then the rest by the computer.” He set up his own business that he ran for 15 years until he decided to sell up and work from the space he occupies now at the side of his house. He said, “I love what I do, I just wouldn’t do anything else, it’s nice now to just get out of bed, wander down and start creating”
Dave’s wide skill set means his work is so varied. He goes to a bookshelf and pulls out a vinyl cover he produced for John Mayer, it’s a blend of beautiful typography and flowing design, creating a stunning hand rendered piece of art. Then he grabs a whiskey bottle that he had created for a limited run of Jameson and unrolls a design he was just finishing for Disney. The list of work produced for notable names is a very long one but this acclaim hasn’t affected his warm, welcoming personality. Dave is an incredibly talented and humble person. It was an absolute pleasure to share an afternoon with him, listen to stories and get a small glimpse into his world.