Tuesday, February 13, 2007

a successful query

In May of 1998 I was walking along a downtown street in London, Ontario, and I passed a man painting a hand-lettered sign on the window of a local delicatessen. I was fascinated by his skill, so I stopped to talk to him, and eventually asked if he would agree to be interviewed for a magazine profile.

I had never written for London Magazine (now London City Life Magazine), but thought the story would be perfect for their readership. The magazine often featured short articles on local personalities. This was my query to the editor:

"Do you do that by hand?"

That's the question London sign painter Tom Denomme is most often asked while working on a new creation.

You're probably familiar with his work; Denomme is responsible for such notable exteriors as the Rockwater Brewing Company mural and the graphics outside the Website Cafe.

I caught up with Denomme while he was working on the window lettering for the Piazza Deli at the Market Tower downtown. And yes, he does it by hand.

According to Denomme, sign painting is a dying art. Most sign companies use vinyl cutouts instead of labour-intensive hand-lettering.

And it's an art that Denomme is dying to pass along to the next generation of artisans...


My query was successful. The editor bought my story, and it was published in October 1998. Here's the final copy:

Watching London graphic designer Tom Denomme at work on a new hand-lettered window sign is pure magic. A few swipes of grease pencil provide a rough outline; then, with the ease of a master, Denomme paints like a great jazz musician plays: in brilliant colour, improvising as he goes, and with one eye constantly on the larger whole.

Denomme resists being known as a sign painter; the bulk of his work consists of creating print logos and menu designs for local restaurants. But he prides himself on being able to offer a complete design package to his clients, and as a result, his hand-painted signs and murals, splashed across the walls and windows of restaurants and bars across southwestern Ontario, are often the most visible testament to his phenomenal talent.

He's responsible for the huge mural outside the Rockwater Brewing Co. in downtown London; he's also done exterior or interior graphic work for a number of local establishments, including Website The VR Cafe, Famous Jake's and Joey's Crabshack, Joe Kool's, Jim Bob Ray's, Piazza, and Caribou Creek.

Denomme started hand-lettering signs while still in high school. After completing the two-year art program at Beal, he did stints as a window dresser for Eaton's and an illustrator for GM before turning to freelance graphic work full-time.

At 44, he practises what is probably a dying art. Computer-designed lettering and graphics have become standard in signs and displays. But he's found a niche market for the kind of quality work that he can produce. In the restaurant business, where image and atmosphere are part of what attracts customers, a hand-lettered sign or a hand-painted mural provides the hint of nostalgia or old-world charm that appeals to Denomme's clientele.

And Denomme loves his job. "When you can sit down with someone, and then take an idea out of their head and make it real, that's the greatest thing."

copyright 1998, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

1 comment:

Alischa said...

What a shame that the great talent of this man has been snuffed out too soon by his passing in April of 2005. I had the privilege and honour of being his student in my first year of the Graphic Design program at Fanshawe College. I will never forget the many lessons that he taught me in that short year, and I hope that a small part of him can live on in the work that I do in my future. RIP, Tom Denomme.