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Five Minutes With… Signwriter, Julian Kirk

Posted: 13th March 2019

In 2016, Shepherd Neame unveiled a new corporate identity, as part of which an ongoing programme of unique, newly-designed bespoke pub signs has been undertaken. Each hand painted sign reflects the character and history of the individual site.

Artist Julian Kirk works for Gerald Wilton Designs and has had a hand in many of the new Shepherd Neame pub signs. 

How did you become a pub sign writer?

I studied at art college and later university. Subsequently I have been a professional artist and sign writer for over thirty years. My commercial work for Gerald Wilton Designs ranges widely in subject matter and materials used, from illustration through figurative painting to carvings and one-off fabrications of all kind. Over the decades we have been asked to produce a wide variety of work, both for interior and exterior settings. We relish the challenge of more unusual requests and we enjoy the collaborative nature of the larger design briefs.

How much freedom do you have when it comes to painting a new pub sign?

Shepherd Neame will invite us at Gerald Wilton Designs to submit one or two working designs from which the finished design can evolve after initial approval. These early stages are often a shared design process with much discussion and research into individual location and circumstances. We’ve recently worked on the Divers Arms in Herne Bay. It incorporates a brass diving helmet, carved rope border with a coloured header to carry the lettering. Martin Godden at Shepherd Neame can claim credit for this one.

What is the average lifespan of a pub sign? 

Pub signs are designed to last indefinitely. For exterior works we employ steel and aluminium in preference to wood, which rots easily. Modern composite materials are guaranteed to last for many years, as do modern gloss paints. Nothing last forever, of course, but signs can often be repainted after many years with little difficulty or expense. Coastal pubs get worse weather than inland locations, inevitably.

Of all the Shepherd Neame signs you have painted, do you have a favourite and why?

Of the Shepherd Neame signs I’ve recently worked on, the ‘portrait’ for the Millers Arms in Canterbury stands out. It was quite a challenge to produce a dramatic but balanced image, taken from a period reference but altered to suit. We gave it a series of darkening glazes until the desired level was reached, not easy given the nature of exterior grade gloss paints. This sign was supported by a second swing sign on another elevation depicting the great wooden Denne’s Mill, which once stood opposite the pub, prior to its destruction by fire in 1933.