Skin Story: Tozer Signs

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Signwriter, mural artist and gold leaf gilder Tozer Signs is based in Bristol. Decorating storefronts and walls across the city and the rest of the UK, Tozer takes traditional techniques and modernises them with bright colours and bold hand-drawn fonts. 
We chatted all things signwriting and tattoos, and discussed where the two art forms crossover...

Photo by Will @willfillstheframe 

Where did you first gain an interest in traditional signwriting? It’s a pretty niche trade!

Bit of a weird route but in 2013 I found a signwriter through his burlesque-dancer wife, a guy in Australia. Some people are second, third, even fourth generation signwriters, but unfortunately I didn't have that kind of introduction! I just found myself quite intrigued by it, but back then there was very little conversation about how to get involved.

How did you develop a career as a signwriter?

So there actually aren't any courses in the UK, or rather, the world for signwriting, except for one in LA at Trade Tech. There are a few workshops taking place around the world, even more so nowadays, but when I started I just dove in by myself. I spent literally every day practising the same strokes over and over and over, reading and re-reading about techniques from 200 years ago, buying materials and practicing with them until I figured them out. I did do one workshop in 2017 but by that point I'd luckily garnered enough clients to go full time!

What is your favourite part about your work as a signwriter, mural artist, and designer?

The variation - I've had weeks where I've painted in 4 different cities, painted a giant mural one day and a ton of tiny hotel doors the next. I think I'd go a bit loopy if I did the same thing everyday - I paint letters and I paint them well, but that can lead me to so many places and situations.

How would you describe the artistic community where you are based in Bristol?

It's booming! Definitely one of if not the most booming in the UK, for better or worse - the whole city is a sketchbook basically. I moved here to study Illustration at UWE, and a ton of us stayed afterwards. Strangely it seems like in the last one or two years everyone and their nan has picked up a signwriting brush in my city which is a bit strange, but for now I still see it being home.

There’s clearly a connection between signwriting and tattooing; almost every shop I’ve been to has a beautiful handpainted sign out front. Do you feel the two art forms and artistic communities are linked?

Absolutely! Whenever I see a really clinical, minimalistic studio it doesn't feel right and I want to thrust a business card their way. I've had the pleasure of designing and painting a few tattoo shops now, including one I've just finished over in Llanelli. There are a few businesses that I think should always be traditionally signwritten - tattoo shops, barber shops, and - actually I'm biased, they all should be!

Have you always had an interest in getting tattoos?

For sure. Everybody in my family has a tattoo (except I think one of my many sisters). Me and one of my sisters are pretty covered. Even my mum has a little dolphin and my dad's name tattooed on her!

If you had to pick a favourite tattoo, which one would it be and why?

Ooh I really don't know! If you counted them up I'd probably have at least 50 - I don't have much room for big pieces left aside from my back and my arm which is reserved already.

I really like the recent hannya mask blastover I got from J Collis at Spiderland in Cheltenham - it covers up one that I got a decade ago and fell quickly out of love with. I'm a big fan of bright, bold and traditional. I also love my little kittie's name on the back of my knee/leg. I also love the panther I have on my right knee, but I came off my bike a year ago and it got a bit scratched up (wore full gear except for knee pads, oops) - I'm hoping to get it touched up soon. You can also see some very faint lines from when I was a bit drunk and tried tattooing the alphabet on myself a few years back.

Any future tattoo plans up and coming?

Yep! I was hoping to get something done just before Camp VC but I'm wary of being in the sun a lot while healing so am getting a tribute to signwriting done by Alice SB from Long Fox in August. I've also got my shoulders and neck coming up in November and December, a floral piece by Paula Castle at Black Sheep!

Photo: Andrew Thompson @athompsonsphoto


To follow Tozer's work and see what she creates next, follow her on Instagram @tozersigns.