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06/17/14 Sign Maker Jeremie Laguette

Where consumer culture has shaped our identities, commercial signage could be just as evocative as the art that hangs in a museum. As the most direct representation of an establishment, it reinforces our relationship with it. Lit up and lofty, a sign offers a notion of security—that we are where we need to be in order to have our needs met.

A sign becomes more emotionally resonant when its content is open-ended. For his debut exhibition at Vancouver’s Make Gallery in April, woodworker Jeremie Laguette handcrafted signs using singular words such as “Love,” “Fuck,” and the more benign “Cheese.” By manipulating the medium’s visual volume through font, color, size, and staining, the words may take on different meaning, depending on what a viewer associates with it.

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Laguette believes commercial signage can have similarly artful impact—the aim behind the custom handcrafted signs he makes. Amid building his client list, the artist spoke to NOUS about making a statement with his word-based signage, Vancouver’s glowing history, and which word best represents him as a sign.

To start, maybe you can talk a little about what you’re working on these days? 

I am currently working on custom orders and also on making a video clip of my work as a promo piece for my website. I am also working on developing my practice and contacting restaurants, bars, and shops to put my signs in. Artistically, I’m continuing to build my collection of word-based signage. I’m working on making unexpected words.

Can you tell us about your background in carpentry?

Really early, I started making my own furniture because I was always handy and always liked working with wood. When I arrived in Canada four years ago from France, where I’m originally from, I didn’t have a lot of money; I made all the furniture for my apartment with wood I found on the street, which I eventually sold when I left the East Coast for Vancouver.

What instance influenced your specialization in sign craft?

I made a lit sign spelling ‘CHEESE’ for a wine and cheese party that I hosted. People loved it and started to ask me if I was selling it or if I could make one for them! That’s when I realized that everybody has a word that is meaningful to them, so I engineered a finger joint-style frame with low voltage bulbs and started to create signs for people. They could display them at their homes on walls, or as art pieces with light to create a warm and cozy atmosphere. If you pay attention, during your daily routine, you pass a lot of signs—‘Open’, ‘Closed’, ‘Welcome’; my idea is to turn these daily occurrences into beautiful pieces of art that say something meaningful to the people who use them.

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What do you consider some memorable pieces?

I think the most interesting so far is the ‘FUCK’ sign. The word is pretty controversial but the design and type choice is very elegant and clean. I like the contrast between the offensive word and the clean design. The cheese sign, however, gets the most attention. It always makes people smile! I guess it’s the double meaning – cheese like the food, and ‘Say Cheese,’ like when a photo is taken.

The process always begins with a word. Then, I look for the perfect combination of stain, color, font, and frame shape to create what will become the final piece. Then, I light it to put it under the spotlight. The most challenging projects are stain-on-stain projects, as well as signs that use a script typeface because all my signs are hand-drawn. Stain is hard to control on wood and will drip or expand, making it difficult to make a clean line. But with a tiny brush and a lot of patience, it always works out.

How do you usually go about gleaning inspiration for your signs?

I take my inspiration from my surroundings. Street and shop signs, words people say in conversation, colors that catch my attention for some reason. It’s all very organic and not over-thought. Usually, the words inspire me first. Then, I select the most appropriate typeface. Then, I select colors. That’s usually the process.

Where you’re based in Vancouver, have you observed an evolution in the way establishments represent themselves through signage? Are there more artists such as yourself who create handcrafted signs, putting a little more thought in especially for retail or commercial projects?

In Vancouver, craftsmanship, art and culture are highly valued and respected. I haven’t found anyone who makes signs like mine. What’s interesting about Vancouver is that it has a history of neon signs. The city used to be full of them, but now, most of them are in a museum. I really love the way these signs show Vancouver’s urban history.

Any ideas for signs that you’re tossing around in your head right now? 

I guess it would depend on what it says or on my mood, but I have some ideas that I want to experiment with—for example, doing a food collection or some French words. I’m also interested in exploring word combinations that can be modular and change the meaning of the phrase.

The signs in your recent exhibition are used to emphasize an individual’s personal message. What would be your personal message, word, or idea if you were to create a sign just for yourself?

I think the typeface makes a big difference. I have a client who requested the word ‘Yeah.’ If you write yeah in a block font, it reads more aggressively than if you write it in a script font, which reads more agreeably. I made one sign for myself and it simply says ‘SIGN.’





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