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Old-style French graphics

I'm back from my annual summer trip to France and trawling through my photos I see I've snapped quite a good collection of graphics this year.  I'm always on the look out for signs, words and logos in various 2D and 3D forms.

It's interesting how one can almost instantly identify the design period of a piece of graphics and that's one thing which makes graphics interesting and  intriguing to spot.  And it's equally interesting to notice the cycles through which designs become dated then fashionable again.  Judging by the age of the building where I saw this toilettes publics sign I reckon it must have been put up in the late 40s or early 50s yet it looks pretty cool again style-wise.

Definitely not aiming for modernity, I saw this exquisite example of hand-painted lettering - (Defence d'Afficher - No Bill Stickers!) in Castres, a small ex-industrial town in southern France. I couldn't believe how beautifully and skilfully it had been painted and presumably that was just all in a days work for the guy how did it.  I think one would have a long search these days to find someone who could paint letters as effortlessly and elegantly as this. Fantastic it's still there.

Just down the road was this 1960s relic - not a dress shop any more but it must have been the place to shop back then for all those mesdemoiselles who wanted to be toute a la mode!

I like to find words which have a sculptural 3 dimensional element. In this case the exact thickness they chose perfectly emphasises the style.

I suppose sign writers have always automatically written their signs in the most up-to-date style - not thinking they are making any kind of design statement.  A lot of us think quite carefully  which fonts to use in our various written material and probably, like me, don't want to use dated looking graphics (save me from anything 90s !). I think it's interesting to reflect that the local sign writer in a backwater like Castres in the 1930s would be careful to choose a font de le moment even for the chemist's shop.

This one's interesting because of the mixture of styles - totally verboten of course according to graphic design rules! We stayed at this hotel in the Jura mountains and although the hotel had been renovated they forgot about this original sign - which I loved - at the other side of the square. I like the melange of on-the-button 1940s(?) font with trad French writing and the gothic historique style. Specially love the E in Hotel. 

I don't know why I liked it - just a says-it-like-it-is-kind-of-sign I suppose - and simple solid letters.

The pharmacie got a bit of an update at some point........

Never mind which design decade - this just looks like pure 'French' to me !  Actually, thinking about it now, one sees this style of font on all kinds of objets from the 30s - 50s -  - like ashtrays and Ricard carafes - of which I've got more than a few. So maybe it's those kind of associations which make the style so Francais.
I like how the letters come right to the edge of the background - except for the dots on the i - love those perfect circles!

Check it out!  So low-key yet so divine.  Over the doorway of a miniature village Mairie

I particularly like signs which have been stencilled - as I reckon this was. They always have a a home-made kind of look. Just one of the traditional sign-making techniques before the digital age.

Not 'graphics' in the sense we usually understand the term but I liked the number forms with the crossed 7s, curly 2s and 1s with left hand serifs. I also like the two different hand-writings on the right - though I think the author of the number beginning 1842... had a more elegant touch.

This is one of my all-time-top finds!  Art shop?? Say it like it is why don't you.
 I love how a palette - essentially an abstractly shaped physical object - can sum up the concept and activity of painting

Beautiful proportions and very cool S

Honestly, whoever stuck that nail in - did they even stop for one second to see what they were in the process of ruining??

Traditional French hand-writing is beautiful I think - this is the style everyone learns at school and when I had to go to school in France for a year at the age of 10 my previously good hand-writing went completely haywire when I had to learn this style. The headmistress used to make me stay in at lunchtimes to practice - everyone wrote in green ink!!  
I love the forms and the sense of movement given by the joining of letters - helped by never taking your hand from the page until the last letter of the word.
So clever to give us the word twice via its shadow

Those Ss again!

You might also like my post on American Signage

1 comment:

  1. Love em' but your missing a classic Chevalin, neon horse head in a horseshoe, I've some colour slides of them from Porte Vanves in the 80's.
    I saw some 3D wirework Jardin signs in a posh shop yesterday, you could do a bundle with those Dames et Messieur's and they would work so well in a Kathy Dalwood style plaitre de Paris!!


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