Narrowboat Signwriting

I was invited by a traditional signwriter Colin Dundas to spend the day in a workshop that has a canal running through it! On this part of the canal narrowboats requiring painting and decorating, are housed. The creative bespoke illustrations include beautiful artwork such as those you see below e.g. flowers, scenes etc. Each painting is different and every boat’s artwork theme is specific to the owner.

Let’s get started!
Sneak preview of my art coming up.

This was a completely different style of artwork for me as my preferred medium is ink (ink painting and printmaking). At the workshop I was told what to paint and where, and what colours to use – usually this is my decision, but I did my best to follow the rules and produce some artwork that would be acceptable. The method is copying the design onto tracing paper using a thick pencil e.g. H6 and then applying the tracing paper onto the boat drawing the outline again using a biro pen to make an imprint on the boat.

Making an imprint on the boat.

Hardwearing narrowboat marine enamels are used to paint onto the metal surface. Blues and greens are used a lot because they are stable in sunlight and last longer. I was warned not to get this paint onto my hands, as the strong chemicals can be very harsh as it dries out the skin.

One skill I am not so good at, which is Colin’s expertise, is typography. With typography you have to be precise and very neat, (unlike me who paints with runny ink making it bleed and letting the ink surprise me). This was a good exercise as it gave me confidence and practice at being in control and keeping tidy.

Some lovely typography Colin had illustrated on a canal I walked by.
Practicing my typography with Colin’s help of course!

Roses and castles are the most common things to paint onto narrow boats as well as the boat’s name. Today, you can buy printed vinyl transfers to apply onto narrow boats, but there are still skilled artists like Colin Dundas around to do an authentic job.

Traditional canal flowers painted by Colin.
One painting on a canal window that caught my eye (unknown artist). Each painting is done by hand and without reference with superb brush techniques and vibrant colours.
Me starting to paint canal flowers with a twist…

My finished piece

My painting of ‘canal flowers’ surreal with a bit of evil eye! A little creepy for some…

Many thanks for an enjoyable day Colin!