Signwriter Brett Piva is based in Newcastle, just a couple of hours north of Sydney. He regularly travels up and down the East Coast in his sign van, teaching workshops and sprucing up signs everywhere he goes.
He recently drove all the way to Toowoomba to paint a mural as part of the First Coat Festival and will be road-tripping again for the Typism Conference in September.
Describe yourself in few words.
Branding Designer, Sign Painter & Gilder, Custom Typographer, Artist. Oh, and a keen under-embellisher. Clean and classic all the way.
How did you start out as a letterer or typographer?
At the age of 15, I needed high-school work experience and I was told to apply at a local sign shop. I got the gig, soon after was offered part time work which later turned into a four-year apprenticeship in the trade of Traditional Signwriting. Learning with no computers, no printers, just pencil, brush and paint.
Practice is the obvious answer. I don’t have much spare time so the best way I’m able to practice new processes or styles is within our studio’s projects. Each project is different which makes each week different. This is because I’ve chosen to be very selective in the processes we want to work with and the projects we want to work on. We turn away work that we feel is the same old thing or too fashionable and on trend. Design projects that can be easily produced is not in our interest. This keeps it all new for me and gives new ground to test and develop skills in a whole range techniques and materials.
The term Jack of all Trades makes me think of guys like handymen that can fix anything in your house. The only thing I can fix in my house is a good lasagna and a cold beer. It all comes down to boredom. I think if I was a master of one practice I’d fucking hate myself. I do way too many things but this is what keeps me interested and delivers so many opportunities. Not a Jack of all trades, more so a Bruce overcoming boredom.
Everyone will tell you to practice. The hard thing is knowing what to practice. Finding a path you are strongly interested in can benefit your work. Master this then move onto the next while still practising the previous. This has been key to everything I do. Start small and expand at a stronger pace.
My daily rituals aren’t working with my tools. I’d say planning and basic strategy for my ideal projects would be. I always set new goals each year. One or two big projects. Planning the next steps, researching the materials needed, then practice and production. My lettering habits are definitely testing new casual and script styles. Even if it’s just one word. Researching and testing letter effects and colour harmony within lettering is also a rewarding habit.
Life’s too short to make the same shit. Keeping each week different stops my creative burnout. A good hike in the Australian Bush can do wonders. The air, the smell, the wildlife, the flora can help you think about other things. It’s my favourite place to switch off or plan new works.
I usually stick to set work hours each week. This keeps things on schedule and gives me free time when I need it. I don’t answer my phone outside these set hours unless I know it’s close family or friends. When I have a lot on I really love working at night. Long days on the brushes can be really satisfactory for me. I prefer to dig in and get things done than sit and ponder over a project too much. I guess this is the Tradie in me or growing up on a farm learning that hard work can deliver a rewarding lifestyle. Energy = coffee.
Every brush in the kit. I have a few go to’s but I use every brush in a set of around 60 brushes. Without these, I’d have no business. Apps would be Dropbox for storage and file sharing and Asana for briefing and time tracking.
I’ve been working with and training an apprentice Sign Painter/Junior Designer for over a year now. Before this, it was 100% myself unless we contracted others on larger projects. We also collaborate with photographers on a regular basis. I have so many ideas and it’s great to have others to bounce them off. No matter how crazy or stupid I might think they are. The support is incredible and is much better than working solo.
Good work and dedication always brings in new clients. Being a nice guy in your industry is great for word of mouth. Sharing my practice on social media has helped.
ROAD TRIP! I really love sharing knowledge. I hope to share some key processes and materials within our practice so the audience can walk away with something. I can’t wait to share this at Typism. The speakers. What a line up so far. All really incredible lettering and type enthusiasts. Meeting the audience. Sharing some tips. Sharing a beer. Sharing some laughs.