Meet the Hand Lettering Legend Teaching a New Generation of Sign Painters
Mike Meyer sits on paint-splattered scaffolding, smoothes his moustache, and takes a puff of his ceremonial pre-workshop cigar. In the back of Colossal’s shop, 15 plywood easels wait for 15 aspiring letterheads.
Meyer’s in from Mazeppa, Minnesota — “real America, where you go back in time,” he grins, “with the old cars and the crackheads” — to teach a Hand Lettering and Lettering Effects workshop at Colossal. The four-day master class, like all of his sessions, is sold out.
“I want people to learn everything I know, and more,” says the sign painter. He first learned the trade from his father, a barber in Mazeppa, who painted signs between haircuts. Meyer later went to sign school before heading back to Mazeppa to start his own shop. But today, there’s just one school left in the U.S. and only a handful abroad.
Meyer started teaching at “letterhead meets,” where sign painters from around the world swap stories and skills. At a meeting in London, someone told him he needed to teach, and that he needed to do it for the future of sign painting, so he started running his Better Letters workshops. “I didn’t know how to teach,” he says, “I just started doing what I knew how to do and talking while I did it.”
Four years and 80 workshops later, graffiti writers, tattoo artists, and graphic designers fly across the world to attend Meyer’s workshops. Some are held at his own shop, where he personally chauffeurs students between the airport and the bunks he built for his visitors. More are held on the road, at shops like Colossal’s and in places as far as Poland.
Meyer offers his students stories (his father once gave him a look that eviscerated a “W”) and advice (“draw like a turtle, paint like a rabbit”) along with his lessons, punctuating each with a hearty laugh. He steps in every now and then to quickly and masterfully sketch out a “B” or a “G”. At the end of four days, his class of 20- and 30-somethings is fluent in Gothic, Casual, and script, and each has a grip of lettering effects at their fingertips.
“He’s a legend,” agree two first-timers, a studio painter and a graphic designer, as they stand back to admire their work (beveled renditions of “START” and “TURD,” respectively). “I haven’t pulled a letter in 18 months, and it shows,” laments a chalkboard artist turned UX designer painting a perfect alphabet.
If this is the future of sign painting, we’re in good, paint-splattered hands.