NLA is celebrating London’s role in enabling a vibrant and diverse ecology of makers to produce high quality work as part of our WRK / LDN insight study. We spoke to Lana Alana, our second resident maker, for the latest in our series looking at the resurgence of artisanal products and what London has to offer.
What do you make? What inspires your work?
I'm a sign writer and lettering artist who specialises in hand-drawn custom lettering and hand-painted signage. The work I create ranges from shop signage to logo design, large-scale murals, branding and displays – my clients have included Liberty, Tesco, British Airways magazine, 02 and International Alert. I’m also a part-time sign painter at London organic stores: As Nature Intended.
I’m largely inspired by traditional hand-painted signs and monograms, street art and murals, typography and old neon signs of London and beyond – I especially enjoy researching signage and ghost signs abroad as I just love the colours used in Mexican, Indian and African signage & murals.
How, where and when did you start?
I've always been interested in art and design as my dad is also a signwriter so from a young age he encouraged me to draw, which later led to me progressing onto studying a degree in Graphic Communication at the University for the Creative Arts in Surrey. I always knew I loved painting and drawing, but once I had studied the graphic design degree, I found I had a greater appreciation for typography and the letterform. Merging the two subjects together felt like a natural progression for me – I immediately fell in love with the process of sign painting and the way letterforms are constructed. Now I am very happy to say that I get to do this full-time!
Where do you work day to day?
The work I do takes me to all sorts of places in London and beyond. I spend most of my days travelling all corners of the city painting signs in various locations: one day I may be painting a restaurant, the next I could be painting a large-scale mural. My work schedule differs quite a lot from one week to the next, so it's hard to say where I'll be! When I'm not working on a location, I have a home studio where I paint signs and do a bit of drawing, although I'm rarely around long enough to get settled in these days! Two days a week I paint signs for six London organic stores and so on these days I travel around updating their weekly promotions and occasionally window signage.
What does a typical day involve?
A typical day for me involves starting work around 9/9.30am (as I am often travelling somewhere and like to take my bike on the train after peak hours!). I arrive on location with my paints and equipment then try to make a good start right away with what I'm painting that day, to be sure I have enough time to complete the job. Once I've finished a piece, I stick around to chat to my clients and be sure everyone is happy with the finished work. Once I'm satisfied everything is good, I clean up my brushes and either head home to prepare for the next day (if I have another sign painting job) or head out for a drink or dinner with friends somewhere in the city (usually in my painting clothes looking very smart!)
What tools do you use?
As I work on such a range of projects day to day, I work with a variation of materials and tools. For signs I work with One Shot Signwriting Enamel paints, and my favourite signwriters brushes from Handover, London (which is my favourite place to visit for signwriting supplies) I also work with paint pens, pen and ink on paper, and sometimes I work on my mac to edit work using Adobe Illustrator for logos and works created for print. I sometimes paint murals and large-scale lettering with spray paints, as they're a great way to cover a large surface quite quickly.
Have your requirements and the space you use changed over time?
Over time my requirements for the perfect space that ticks all the boxes have definitely changed since I started out. I began working in a studio in Walthamstow which I soon outgrew, then moved onto a larger space in Stoke Newington that I shared with three other designers – the space we had was an old camera factory so it suited us to be able to make a bit of a mess! I found over time I needed quite a bit more space as quite a few jobs I do require me to paint large pieces of wood for signs or large chalkboards. I now work from a home studio set up at the end of my garden which is perfect for me currently as I can extend into the garden as a working studio space if need be.
What challenges have you faced producing work in London?
I generally find there are very little challenges I face working in London (aside from finding space for some larger projects). One other thing is the great British weather – a lot of my work takes place outside but there's usually a solution or way around the wind and rain... such as a quick tarpaulin cover and some ladders! But at times I have had to reschedule work due to the weather – that's just how it goes sometimes in the colder, rainier months.
What benefits have you experienced through working in London?
I've found that working in London has benefitted me greatly, as I've been lucky enough to meet such a lot of people both working in the creative industry, and those who don't. Generally, a lot of people are great at spreading the word about what you do and recommend you to their friends, which has been a huge help for me and my business so far. I love the fact that working in the city has taken me to all sorts places I may never get to visit if I wasn't working at the location, for example painting London Waterloo train station overnight whilst it was closed was a great one!
Do you see your business expanding or moving?
I hope that in a few years from now I will have a bigger workspace than I have at the moment, and will be able to continue cycling and travelling around London painting signs. At the moment I'm pretty happy with how things are and can't imagine I will move out of London, at least not for now anyway! I would like to travel and paint a little more around the world, as I did last year in Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia. Next I'd love to visit and paint Mexico, but London will always be my base.
How do you promote your work?
I promote my work in a number of ways, firstly I do the obvious things: social media posts on Instagram and Facebook for example. I also use various platforms and creative networks such as LinkedIn, Behance, Just Got Made, the Loop and more. I try to join and get involved with networking and taking part in hosting workshops as much as I can, as they're a really great way to meet lots of people and demonstrate what you do. I also try to write and contact as many people as I can with promotional materials such as postcards and mailers. I recently joined a website named Chalkboards UK – a directory of chalkboard artists – which has been great as I’ve been contacted by lots of people looking for some nice lettering for their businesses. Another great one for me is painting murals and signs in the street – people love to stop and see what you're doing for a chat!
Lana will be working every Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday up to Saturday 26 November.