In an era of effortless reproduction, sign painting has become a lost art. In the Philippines, tarpaulins on small sari-sari stores with telecom brands printed in plain black letters are ubiquitous. It’s rare to find a shop with hand-painted letterwork. But there are still some holdouts that believe in a do-it-yourself approach, such as Jeepney signage or hand-drawn tubero posters advertising plumbing services plastered all over Manila. When Filipina artist Krizel Hidalgo decided she wanted to pursue sign painting, she didn’t realize she’d be one the few left doing it.
Tita Keks is Hidalgo’s sign-painting and tattoo studio. Located in Laguna, a province just outside of Manila, it’s where she produces hand-drawn signs and posters, all of which are imbued with a playful sense of sarcasm. Her letters are vibrant and colorful, drawn with confident strokes and often involve several typefaces. These signs range from the cynical (“Rats get fat while brave men die”) to the motivational (“Be Who You Want To Be”) to the promotion of female pride and self-love (“Morena bombshell”).
手工招牌工作室 Tita Keks 由 Krizel 一手创立，其坐标拉古纳（Laguna），位于菲律宾首都马尼拉城外。在这里，Krizel 创作了大量手工招牌，其中大部分充满了玩讽的意味。她的作品大都鲜艳活泼，一笔一画显得自信满满，拥有各式各样的字体风格。其中不乏一些愤慨：“勇敢的人把老鼠们喂大（Rats get fat while brave men die）”、还有一些鼓舞人心的标语：“你可以成为任何人（Be Who You Want To Be）”、以及宣扬女性和爱的观点：“女中豪杰（Morena bombshell）”。
In addition to these personal pieces, she frequently works with local businesses, including other tattoo parlors, a record store, a barber shop, and more. Even when she’s doing client work, Hidalgo finds deep meaning in the needs of her customers. “When I’m painting, all I can think about the whole time is the person who’ll use it,” she says. “I really think that’s something important.”
除了个人作品，Krizel 还频繁参与商业机构合作，客户囊括了当地大大小小的纹身店、唱片店、理发店等等。而即便是商业项目，Krizel 也能出色拿捏客户内心的深层理念。她说道：“每当我创作的时候，我都会尽可能去揣摩观看者以及使用者的感受，这一点非常重要。”
Hidalgo paints on a range of surfaces and materials, including metal and wood. Of all of them, glass has become her favorite, because of the challenges it poses. Relishing hurdles has been a constant theme in her creative trajectory. “Those frustrations made me fall in love with sign painting. It was so damn hard!”
When she first started drawing hand-painted letters, Hidalgo admits that she could barely paint in a straight line, let alone control the brush or mix the paint correctly. It was all even more difficult on glass. “It took me seven hours to paint my first glass sign!” she recalls. “The consistency of the paint has to be just right. You won’t find instructions or exact measurements on the internet; you just need to feel it. And you can only know that feeling if you’ve done it a thousand times. But once I got the hang of painting glass, it’s the easiest and the most fun surface to paint on.”
The overall learning curve was made that much harder by the fact that very few sign painters remain to learn from these days. “When I was starting, I tried searching online how to paint signs, but none of the videos made sense,” she says. “So I started messaging sign painters on Instagram from different countries to ask questions.” Hidalgo says a local named Kuya Vinz, who now builds bikes but used to be a sign painter, also offered help and advice.
手工招牌的学习比看起来要难得多，以至于很少有人能坚持下来。Krizel 说道：“我刚开始学的时候也会在网上查找一些视频教学，但没有一个靠谱的。于是我开始在 Instagram 私信大神，”她提到当地一位名叫 Kuya Vinz 的艺术家，此人目前正从事自行车组装，但曾也是一名招牌手画师，经常为她提供很多有用的建议和帮助。
It’s difficult to buy sign-painting materials in the Philippines as well. Only one type of brush fit for sign painting is available in art stores, but even that isn’t fully ideal since it’s made of nylon. Lettering enamel is not available at all. Instead, Hildalgo asks friends in the Kustom Kulture community to make her brushes. (Kustom Kulture originally revolved around cars and motorcycles in California but has spread to every part of the world.) “I was into that scene way before I started sign painting,” Hidalgo says. “It’s a mashup of everything custom or hand made; there’s traditional tattooing, sign painting, pinstriping, choppers, hot rods, clothes, music… I love everything about it.” She also dabbles in traditional tattoos, which influence back to her sign-painting endeavors.
招牌的创作原材料在菲律宾很难买到。市面上仅有一种笔刷适合招牌创作，而当地业内人士却认为这种笔刷还不够理想，因为该笔刷的尼龙材质对瓷漆的吸附力不够。为此，Krizel 专门找到 Kustom Kulture 社区的人定做专用笔刷（加利福尼亚 Kustom Kulture 社群最初以汽车、摩托涂装闻名，并享誉全球）。她说道：“在从事招牌手绘之前我就很喜欢 Kustom Kulture，他们的纹身、装饰绘、手绘招牌、机车、热棒复古车、服装、音乐等等，简直棒呆了好吧。” 值得一提的事，Krizel 在平时除了进行手写招牌的工作，还是一名 old-school 纹身师。
Being able to keep a dying tradition afloat is one of the most rewarding aspects of sign painting for Hidalgo. In addition to persevering and mastering the technical skills, she also incorporates a wealth of local influences, including old-school movie posters, Filipino komiks, and even design inspiration from Pinoy ice cream carts. But she credits jeepney artists with building the foundation for Filipino sign-painting and doing the most to keep it alive. (Unfortunately though, jeepneys have started being replaced by impersonal, government-backed mini-buses.)
Embracing all of these local cultures, combined with international influences such as circus-inspired types and storybook fonts, results in a distinctly personal aesthetic with an explicitly Filipino flair. During a time when cheap, digital printing processes threaten to stamp out a lot of individuality and community heritage, this insistence on the human touch is all the more important. She says, “I think hand-painted signs have souls in them: They were made just for you.”