Fairground Art & Sign Painting Courses
Freezing cold on a January morning in White Waltham
Recently, I went on two 5-day intensive courses in sign painting with professional sign painter Joby Carter at the home of his family’s traditional steam fair in White Waltham, Berkshire. So twice in January, I rose at 4am on a Monday morning to drive a camper van 3 hours down the M4 to attend these courses and during the whole of the courses, being skint, spent 10 nights sleeping in pub car parks in the coldest weather known to man.
Frozen inside & out
So after waking up most mornings to both myself and the van windows being frozen inside & out, I attended first a week long intensive fairground art course, then a fortnight later a sign writing course in Joby’s paint shop. The fairground art course was centred around the recreation of a piece of classic fairground art by the seminal ‘Futuristic’ Fred Fowle (1914-1983). The reason for this was the way that Fred Fowle worked as a sign painter was inspired more by (as far as I could see) Esher & Kandinsky, and not really giving way to the whimsical nature of the trendiness and popular culture that generally drives fairground art. He was a traditional sign painter, a fairground artist & most importantly, a futurist, who used a number of important techniques in every one of his pieces, from his use of aluminium paints & flamboyant enamels, to his amazing blending techniques, structure, colour co-ordination, and form.
The Carter family estate handily own a number of fairground rides that were the subject of Futuristic Fred’s touch that enabled us to view & trace/pounce an original panel that had recently been retired before the weather ruined it, and from there, we would create our own version of it.
Original fairground panel as painted by Fred Fowle
We began by tracing & pouncing the original design
Joby Carter, one step ahead
And, under the expert tutelage of Joby Carter, who showed us the running order of the project, step by step, as well as teaching the appropriate techniques that were needed at each stage, we worked our way through the piece, just as Fred would’ve done 60+ years ago (with a great deal more trepidation).
Pounced design on plywood board, undercoated and topcoat in Craftmaster ‘Carter’s Cream’
First is the application of undercoat, aluminium paint & red flamboyant enamel
Yellow flamboyant enamels are applied
& a blended thunderbolt painted from top to bottom in Keeps ‘Light Saxe Blue’ enamel.
Then a blended thunderbolt arrow is applied
And a black outline
and red & green flourishes
My final finished & framed effort.
After having done this piece, and with the sheer amount I learned from doing it, I certainly have a new artist obsession, Fred Fowle came out of nowhere, and landed on my radar with a thud and is now right up there in my top 5 artists. He’s just one of those artists that when you google his work, you look at a.) the sheer volume of it that he managed to produce in his 69 years (he died 2 weeks before his retirement in the stands of Craven Cottage watching his beloved Fulham play footy) and b.) just how incredible it is and how criminal it is that he is not better known. Seeing his immense work in a gallery setting would be such a visual feast, maybe one day hey! Doing this piece really threw me out of my comfort zone and enabled me to learn a number of new skills that will inevitably change the course of my own practice for the better as my own artwork is nothing like this. I predict now though that Futuristic Fred’s magic fingers will flamboyantly influence the future of my artistic path. Thanks for the experience Fred.