Alex May Hughes: Sign Painter & Glass Gilder
GMD Alumni Alex May Hughes is a sign painter and glass gilder based in West London. She developed her interest in traditional Victorian signage and mirrors whilst on the GMD course and has just held her second successful pop-up exhibition at 71a Gallery. http://71alondon.com/exhibition-alex-may-hughes-glass-gold/
Here she reflects on the college project that got her started, being self-employed and how her work has evolved since graduating;
“One of my final projects was about interpreting and translating a piece of text into a relevant typographical medium. I chose the book The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells and used parts of the story to create traditional Victorian style mirrors. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I knew I needed to work on glass and this combined with the fact I was doing a lot of screen printing at the time seemed to make sense. With the help of Barbara [Salvadori, print technician] I did some experiments to work out the best way to print directly onto the reverse of glass sheets in layers to get the text on to the glass. There is a lot to be said for using your hands to create (and breaking away from a computer) it was so refreshing to pair this with an unusual material like glass, I completely fell in love with it and have been working on glass for the past 5 years!
Working on that final project right at the end of my degree was bitter-sweet because I’d tapped into this thing I was really excited to explore but then it was time to graduate! For ages I really missed all the amazing resources that LCC has, but over time I eventually sourced my own screen printing table and exposure unit and continued to print. Gradually the urge to learn sign painting properly took over and I went in search of courses and classes. I found Sam Roberts who runs Better Letters (betterletters.co) which puts on amazing events/classes/workshops all over the world. I went to some classes and became part of a larger sign painting community within London – working with others was really important. Eventually I was taken on as an apprentice under Pete Hardwicke who paints a lot around north east/east London and has done for years – it was vital for me to do some hands-on learning.
I think having to work a lot of things out for yourself can be pretty hard – especially the transition from being a student to trying to live off your work, or turning your passion into a business. I was lucky to have some great people around me that I could turn to for help. I think it’s tricky for everyone at the start; learning to deal with clients, how to price work etc., but over time you get a feel for it and become more comfortable.
The Everything Lasts Forever piece was one I made recently for my exhibition. If I’m making a piece of work for a client, the content usually comes from them but for my show it was a rare chance to make work from works or ideas that I’ve had stuck in my head or jotted down in my sketchbook. This was actually a quote from Homer Simpson that always makes me laugh. Once I have the text I play around with layout and type styles until I feel happy with the design, I then work out what colours I want to use and in what combination they would work with the gold leaf. This piece was around 80cm long and took around 7-10 days to make. I usually have 5/6 pieces on the go at any given time. As the paint I work with can take a long time to dry, it’s good to have other bits to work on simultaneously. Working with gold leaf is one of the best parts of my job – it’s an incredible material. For this piece I also used elements of pearl shell and recently I’ve been incorporating real butterfly wings into the mix. It’s really important to me to keep pushing forward through work style and materials.”