Sign spotting Sri Lanka style – blog post by Karen

“Let’s take the children somewhere different” he said, “like a little backpacking trip.”  Having backpacked a couple of times in my twenties I didn’t need much encouragement and with our eldest leaving primary school summer 2017 seemed like a good time.  We quickly arrived at the decision that Sri Lanka would be a good option; hot, culturally very different and cheap to travel around. “Let’s go for 3 weeks” he said.  Gulp.  That was almost beyond my realms of imagination to leave the good ship Parc Signs for that amount of time.  Leave it for 3 weeks we did and in very capable hands too.

The war in Sri Lanka only ended 8 years ago, the longest civil war in Asia where atrocities were rife on both sides.  The north and east coast of the island were off limits to tourists and just at the tail end of the civil war, when the island was slowly reopening to tourists, it was hit by the catastrophic tsunami of Boxing Day 2004.  Another set back for the people who had already lost so many and so much.

Today, Sri Lanka is rebuilding its economy after a rocky road of war, devastation and corruption. Cashing in on the tourist trade hotels are popping up on even some of the remotest beaches on the east coast.  Signs of how much development is going on are reflected in the adverts seen everywhere, Asia Paints, Nippon Cement, Nippon Paints and Dulux, adorning billboards and in many cases, painted on to the sides of their respective retailers.

Looking at the different types of signage was inevitable, we spotted how much they love a chrome letter, a billboard mounted to a rickety gantry or bamboo framework and some questionable lamination but it was the signwriting we loved more than anything and it was everywhere.  From road signs to rail stations, trucks and cafes, ice cream bikes and shops.  Its proliferation in Sri Lanka is no doubt due to the previous decades where more modern production techniques wouldn’t have been affordable or even available outside of Columbo.  The signwriting on old timber clad haulage company trucks was some of the most impressive and the signwritten train timetables at the stations harked back to the times when the railways were built by the British.  On our final day in Galle our youngest spotted someone signwriting in a cafe we were eating at.  I asked the owner if I could take a photo of them and explained that my dad and brother both signwrite and showed them a photo of dad signwriting the Tribute, St Austell Brewery training gig and the signs at The Longstore.   Staff gathered around to look at the photos then the owner came back and wanted to look again. “That’s amazing” he said.

It’s not the flashing lights of branding in Japan or the colourful street art of South America but it gives Sri Lanka that old world charm.  It’s something we still get asked to do on a weekly basis so it was good to see this art form used in another country too.  David could come and run signwriting masterclasses, Margaret would struggle with the heat though!

Yes, I did check my emails  and yes, I did take a call from a client in a panic needing some help due to a decorator painting over their sign (thanks Andy for getting there the following day, out of hours to help them out) but I did manage 3 weeks away, Simon was right (sshhh).  Thanks most of all to those who held the fort back at base, it was all in safe hands and it was good to come home to a tender application too!