A Note on the Art of Making Signs

I have made hundreds of signs. Signs for plants, called benchcards, that tell you how to care for the plants and the myriad special characteristics they have. Attributes signs, directional signs, open and closed signs, A-frame signs, hand-painted and computer generated. Together they make up a jumble of information, but individually they are meaningful, making each species or cultivar stand out from its neighbors. Each benchcard is like a glimpse into the world of that variety...you walk up, peer in, and for a moment your imagination builds a picture of how that plant will look or smell or taste in your own world. The signs turn a greenhouse full of plants into a sort of museum, where each variety is given its own little spotlight in which to shine. Whenever I make signs I think of my Grandfather. He was a skilled painter, mainly watercolors; an interpreter of landscapes and streetscapes from vibrant African villages to the curve of a beach in the Bahamas. He could convey the essence of a place with such minimalism, a tiny brush mark here, a bit of white left showing somewhere else. When he died we held an art show in lieu of a memorial, which entailed going through all of his work and deciding what to display. To our amazement, we found that many pieces had a painting on both sides of the paper! So little was his regard for his own work that he could not be bothered with finding a fresh sheet. And, not surprisingly, he never sold many of his paintings. On the other hand, he was commissioned for many pieces - illustrations for children's books, advertisements, and - you guessed it - signs. It is easy to take commercial artwork for granted, but I don't think his ever was, such was the level of cleverness, creativity, and precision apparent in each of his pieces. While his signs had the clear mark of a trained and talented artist, mine have only a shadow of that mark. But they are made with love, with his memory cherished in my mind, and I hope they bring you closer to the plants in the same way they keep me close to him.

~ Sophia