Ray Pedersen: breathing new life into old-school signwriting

With a career spanning more than 50 years, steady-handed Ray Pedersen can lay claim to many of the bespoke signs you see emblazoned across Melbourne’s shopfronts. His ancient gold leaf gilding techniques, finely tuned painting style, old-fashioned fonts and rare level of craftsmanship combine to create works of art that busy passersby often take a moment marvel at.

A day in the life

Tell us about your business Paint n Sign …

Paint n Sign had been lingering in my mind for some time. I wanted to compliment my other web page. So, wow, that was it, a bespoke hand-created front page depicting old-school, traditional signwriting. I like that.

It seems there’s a growing market for hand-painted signs and a growing appreciation for proper craftsmanship … is this something you’ve observed in Melbourne in recent years?

Yes, although discerning individuals will always appreciate the personal touch, something created with artisan skills and love.

Have you always been a signwriter?

I was fortunate to be trained by a master craftsman and began my career in 1964 at the ripe age of 15, just a baby.

Are there lots of young talented signwriters coming up through the ranks, or is it a dying art?

No! It’s definitely not a dying art. As with all disciplines it takes considerable time to master, and hopefully I can soon teach a limited number of willing students.

Tell us a little bit about gold leaf gilding … how does it work? And why use gold leaf over gold paint?

Gold and silver leaf gilding is an ancient craft requiring a high degree of skill to master. Gold paint will never compare to the brilliance of 24-karat leaf.

Glass gilding requires a mixture of sizes used to adhere the metal to the surface and then any effects are applied. The gold is lifted using a ‘squirrel hair’ gilding tip with static from your hair.

 What’s the most memorable sign you’ve ever worked on?

W & J Kell Funeral Directors St. Arnaud, Victoria. I found out how long a body can be preserved, not my first choice of information from a client.

What do you love most about your job?

Every client I meet is an individual, no two jobs are the same, and my work enables me to travel and meet some amazingly creative people.

Ray Pederson

What’s the biggest challenge?

Probably working in reverse a lot, it messes with your brain although I love it.

What are your tips for people wanting to create a simple hand-written sign at home? 

Prepare the surface correctly. Purchase good paints. Use the best squirrel long-hair brushes. Mark out the lettering. Practise, practise, practise. Never give up.

Best Kept Secrets

I khoollect …

A shearer’s hand piece metal screw driver, perfect for opening cans of paint, a handmade gilding tool, illustrated artwork, family photos, a crystal set presented to my grandparents in 1912, a Maton arch-top BB 1200 electric guitar.

What’s your favourite item in your khoollection?

A note from my daughter from when she was 15 years old.

Urban Favourites

Where do you live and what do you love most about it?

Melbourne. The variety of cultures and food, great entertainment, beautiful parks and gardens, variety of artisans and craftspeople.

Best places in Melbourne to get inspiration for your signs?

Melbourne’s CBD, St Kilda, Fitzroy, Mornington Peninsular, and Flinders.

Most picturesque spot in Melbourne?

Dandenong Ranges.

Ideal lazy Sunday?

I can’t sleep in so dreaming and playing blues.

If you didn’t live in Melbourne, then where?

The west coast of Tasmania. For its wild and creative atmosphere.

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You can visit Ray’s website, and Instagram to see more of his beautiful work.

Photos by Cory White.