Create the Creative:

Create the Creative: Looking at the practical ways of gaining project footholds and moving forward…


I was at a Creative Minds meeting a few months ago and a lot of graphics youngsters were there networking and hanging out. What became a theme was just how difficult they were finding the chicken and egg situation of winning new contracts.

”I can’t get new work because I haven’t done new work… how do I get started..?”

I cast my mind back 12 months as I faced a desperate struggle gaining even basic freelance work as a furniture designer. I had done the rounds in Linkedin and set about forging as many links with other designers as possible.

What dawned on me was that we were all struggling and they certainly weren’t in the position to hand out any freelance subcontracting. So asking another designer for work was a no brainer… so I went after buyers and commercial managers who would be searching more intensely for a break or new look.  Most of these guys were open but pointed me back into design departments that were near frozen with fear.

Having been ticking over in content design and management for Parma Golosa Italy for a year or so, my thinking had become fairly strategic – looking at pools of users who by associative lifestyles became convergent users of my target product. A divergent approach to casting the net wide on the internet with the specific aim of gaining greater reach and increased the percentage chance of conversion. It was working too with all sorts of new links and opportunities forming for PG.

Could this divergent approach help me get my creative ability back out there to a dedicated audience?

The simple SWOT flagged up the cons – we were in 2010 in a home re-selling and construction decline like no other… who on earth wanted to buy new furniture while struggling to stay in work and keep the mortgage paid?

Perhaps one of the most inspirational people I had met in 2010 was American photographer William Curtis-Rolf who talked about the divergent process he now employs.  It struck me that his success was based around his passion and vision.

There were a few positions popping up with retailers such as Next and Laura Ashley – should I apply having been a successful senior design manager in home furniture and accessories for so long?  Why not??

I duly sent off my CV and cover letter with canny short portfolio winning and interview with both.

The problem I found was convincing the interviewer (head of design usually) that as a senior designer I wasn’t flying up my own ass and I was genuinely, easy to work with: with lots of drive and can do etc., etc.

They just didn’t believe me! … the job invariably went to a more junior, yet fairly well defined retail designer with a competitor – musical chairs (that’s why Next looks exactly like Dwell and John Lewis leads by following – they all know the colour of each others… ).

Gutted, my conclusion was that regardless of my desire and ability to design not just shelf fillers but iconic ‘Best of British’ products, at post 45 years my days designing at the helm of a major UK retailer were over.

Being in the right place isn’t about proving what you can do… but being with the right people who can see who you are in terms of creativity and potential… design only grows when the client trusts the creative to cross over and pioneer new things successfully.  The rest of it (and indeed most of it) is pedestrian replication, or at best revamping with flair. 

I’m with the pioneer belief…

Playing what felt like my final ace card I emailed an associate in the sign business and to my delight he immediately came back with a project for me to assist in London.

Really I hadn’t thought about ever returning to signwriting and as I set off from Parma airport I wasn’t entirely sure I would be able to cut it after a decade away… after all everyone in the trade says how difficult it is after a two week holiday getting the hand in let alone 10 years. What was going to happen when I got the brush to panel?

It went very well – like a bloody dream in fact! .. and I returned home to Italy with some decent cash and a fantastic experience. Soon another job came up for me to cover and I went for it.

With the promise of more work in the pipeline I was quite confident that I was on a roll. Yet within a few weeks the work ebbed and I became nervous.

Armed with 2 sets of photos I decided to blog like crazy and start alongside my Desight wordpress blog a new one dedicated to signwriting.

My strategy was simple but like the guys at Creative Minds I had scant work done to show and nothing to back up my much needed portfolio – it made me nervous looking at the competition as they had sites running great material and stacks of examples – how could I better that in a matter of weeks?

I dashed down to my local wood yard and made some novelty retro sign panels along with some glass gilded samples.


I filled the articles with a detailed description of process and my sample making experience. I decided the blog had to be interesting and show the depth I go to in achieving a great product.

So the blog got off to a tentative start.

I needed some really glam shots or examples – but I had none!

What I did have was a wife, three kids to feed and rent to pay – so I got creative.

       … I had to create my own creative practice.

Deciding to make photo montage that would trick the eye as real signs in real situations didn’t sit well, but defaulting on rent and ending up on the street sat a lot worse.

When design companies fail to see what you can do and go to the proven artworkers what do you do? I had the answer … imply strongly and go for it…. don’t let the truth get in the way of a great design story.

I added some images of signs that I liked and started to compile a mix of these in my gallery.

Suddenly I had a bite! Damien Hirst came to me with a major project then POD good food loved my work and asked me to quote for 3 new sites and 2 upgrades. It had worked.

I had built a bridge out of my own love of creativity, to get myself started – based on what I knew I could do and what I had done on the sample benches. I filled the articles with information I hoped would be of interest to prospective clients.

Completing the first POD sign I had it on my facebook within seconds. It filled my blog… this was a crucial moment as I waited for some kind of positive response to me branded work… another cafe came in, then Sylvanian Families.

After 6 months I found myself in the Creative Minds meeting telling these guys to take a risk and to try the way I did.

Today 18 months later most of my clients say just how much they enjoy my websites and blogs and how cool the narrative is. I think what made the difference for me was having signwriting as my first earlier career and the experience of my latter interiors and furniture design career knowing the creativity will always find a solution – absolutely no matter the challenge.

I hadn’t a clue how far to go yet I decided in re-invention: to create the creative.

And as far as getting along with co-workers just check my testimonials page!!

The next job interview you fail could just be the breaking you’ve been looking for.

Nick Garrett.


The Master numbers man – Nick Garrett London signwriter


Numerals and door insignia are an incredibly important statement for any home or business… the very first message that we have arrived.  So they have to be made just right.. and doing that is a particular art.

not simply numbers but beautifully important objects.

Writing numerals needs a fair bit of consideration – it’s a tight mix of typeface design, craft and architectural art.

For this set above, which adorn a 9 million pound hotel, my brush and little pot of black paint had to reflect that value.

I first needed to establish the perfect match in sizing and position and immediately set off down Cranley Gdns with tape in hand.  Fairly straight forward I hear you say… nah… every number and every height setting was different.

Measuring the heights, from deck of immediate neighbours nos 2o and 26 I found whopping 20mm difference in height positioning –  I decided on placing 22 in the balanced mean between the two of c51” H and 24 a shade higher.

Font sizes and styles also varied considerably up and down the street as they were all written by different hands over the past 30 years or so. This final numeral set I made was traced from 2 neighbouring lettered pillars and tweaked making them my own: distinctive, classic, yet beautifully modern.

In the end I measured every pillar numeral on Cranley Gardens in order to know with full certainty, my final measure.

Not only do we have to craft up a fine letter (often on a rough surface) but we need to marry them to the era, feeling and style of their neighbours.

It was quite nostalgic: as if decades of West London’s finest writers surrounded me as I wrote.

Restoring original fonts numerals

Here below is a lovely re-modelled Times Roman with refined rising glyph, weight and returns

NGS ‘s Mat made the sketch and final artwork,  for this nice gilded restoration numeral in Muswell Hill, London.

Gothic Sans serif – Dishoom Shoreditch

Mock up for Dishoom

Classic cafe – TAPPED & PACKED. LTD. 

193 Wardour Street Soho London W1

Contemporary fonts – Ampersand hotel 10 Layout

Photo: Numbered...

Heritage NGS Cornhill Collection

I am starting to collate some of the finest carved lettering and numerals from the Cornhill in City of London. These will be converted into paintable fonts thus continuing the fine tradition of my 3 generations of family letter carving.

If you need a fine numeral, you’ve got my number…

Best,  Nick Garrett  07951509238


A Conversation about popular colours and pro design

    • About popular colours and pro design

    • Mentoring a painted accessories producer about the importance of delivering client centred design/products.
      Blue Strokes - Pennellate di Blu
    • Today’s chat
    • Nick Garrett

      Background colours for Painted Accessories

      Hi… just some feedback regarding painted decorative product.. when I was working in similar product manufacture we would set out the exhibition with really ultra bright coloured items that caught the eye and attracted the customer… but then the buyers would actually buy the white pieces: whites creams ivory and pale greys… the buying trend stayed the same for 15 years. The most saleable colour was antique white/cream. Much to our creative disappointment! N

      Attraction colours are Yellows, Turquoise, Red
      Selling colours: Soft antique whites

    • I know Nick, I love dark background but I find it difficult to put these items in a modern house. I can’t decide if I want to paint what I like or if I shall shift to something more saleable. Hard choice

    • Nick Garrett

      By making the product fit client choice we are making a good business plan and decision.

      I helped a company recently set up a frozen yoghurt shop in London.

      During the summer the went well… now in winter they face closure… Why? They didn’t create product range that the client will want all year round! Because they had this romantic notion of starting a business based on their personal vison and not sound market research.

      Choice between successful prod and personal favourites. Not a hard choice if you see yourself as a creative professional..

      I say to clients … get yr graphic design done and I’ll signwrite it simply because I have to deliver profit quickly and the graphic design phase takes too long and slows down my production time…


      I love creative graphic design BUT the choice is very clear… go for the commercial choice and start to gain empowerment from SALE SUCCESS along with empowerment from yr own creative positive development.

      We as creatives must always remember to aim at WHAT THE CLIENT WANTS… That is what brings designers and clients together.

      Often a client will buy a cream painted tray and basket and call you two weeks later to decorate a whole bedroom set with cabinets and bed frame…

      Selling takes you into peoples lives and creates more opportunity.

      Then we can enjoy the fruits.

      Go for it.



    Related articles

Dishoom Shoreditch NGS Case

The new Dishoom is really a spectacular blend of rich, quirky on retro trend design and slick gastronomy.


And if you think that’s a mouthful wait till you see the menu… and our signwriting!!

In the heart of London this hand painted window set is a stunner with the original vintage 1920’s Bombay font extracted by Nick Garrett from an vintage cafe sign (below) and embellished into it’s new typographic context. Some of the new characters I created taking reference from the original but launching into the quirky eccentric.

Above:  artwork prepared by NGS for the production of full sized layouts (Output – Original Copy Center Lond UK )

Double trouble

But it’s been really tough… arriving on site to hand paint the glass the dimensions supplied were all slightly out affecting one lay out and the windows were 25mm double glazed!

That meant the drawing we would use to trace our lettering was 32mm away from the surface needed to be written on the inner pane of plate glass… in effect we were writing on an invisible floating plain inside the shop unable to line up to the drawing!


The normal brush controls went out the window! Literally … and after serious eye-strain, double vision and a panic attack Mat and I found things gradually improving as our technique accommodated this incredibly odd and challenging work environment.

A half day into the writing  and gradually the mind had made adjustments – we started to even enjoy the fruits…

Traditional Sign Writer Nick Garrett – what I do

Nick specialises in today’s retail decorative painted signs. Producing classical Copperplate scripts, Roman lettering, Fine Classical block fonts, Retro Vintage sign replication, murals, traditional pub signwriting, traditional van writing, glass gilding, architectural gilding and gold leaf lettering.

In the modern world NGS utilise full digital design technology and logo vectorisation.  I can replicate your logo perfectly… yet always completing it in paint, by hand.  In fact recently a lot of projects involved hand rendered layouts and traditional painting.  Hand painting always adds life the your signwork… and life adds to it’s communicability.

Hand Painted signwriting for Queen’s dressmaker Stewart Parvin of London

SEE THE VIDEO MAKING THE POD Mural, at Mansion House, London

Revival of the hand painted sign

Today I am still proudly producing some of the nicest hand painted creative signs in the capital.  Have a wander around the site and I hope you are inspired by the varied projects I have displayed here – feel free to ask questions and contact me for a chat about your design project anytime.

More info…

About Traditional Sign-writer Nick Garrett

Traditional Sign Writer Nick Garrett – About

As part of my service, start-up or up-and-running, I can assist you with logo re-creation, sign designcolour schemes and layout options.  

My 30 years signage experience will really help you spot best visual solutions and keep you on time and inside budget.

If you need any input, samples or advice feel free to contact me.

Nick Garrett

NGS 20 Ivymount Road, London, SE27ONB, United Kingdom

+44 (0)7831173396  +393281518426

Case Histories    Testimonials    Blog   Gallery   Quality Charter


Shop Fascia – Traditional Signwriting, Nick Garrett

Traditional Sign Writer Nick Garrett – About

If you are looking for visually stunning traditional signwriting, you may have just found the solution…

As part of my service, start-up or up-and-running, I can assist you with logo re-creation, sign designcolour schemes and layout options.  

I have been a sign writer since 1981, and while I am constantly developing modern  computer based designs, traditional skills are my greatest asset –  The unique quality of traditional sign writing is the richness found in the personal touch, and in this digital age signwriting is enjoying a renaissance.  

It’s ironic too, because as the most cost effective sign solution it often looks the best  of all, especially in gold leaf.  Equally good on listed buildings, glitzy retail sites and quintessential English public houses, it remains a signature of hand made perfection and quality.

With a traditional painted sign from my pallet it is possible to enjoy the best of both worlds; a beautifully bespoke product… with a truly modern and affordable service.

If you need any input, samples or advice feel free to contact me.

Nick Garrett

NGS 20 Ivymount Road, London, SE27ONB, United Kingdom

+44 (0)7831173396  +393281518426

Case Histories    Testimonials    Blog   Gallery   Quality Charter

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Traditional Sign Writer – Nick Garrett

Traditional Sign Writer Nick Garrett – About

My 30 years signage experience will really help you spot best visual solutions and keep your project on time and inside budget.

Clients include leading retailers, architects and design agencies who often require faithful brand reproduction and innovative creative typeface design.  My testimonials.

On the creative design side I am happy assisting new ideas and design concepts assisting:

  • your original design

  • minimalist layouts

  • vintage retro & classic designs

  With Jam and Bread cafe sign Nick Garrett, traditional signwriter NGS London

If you need any input, samples or helpful advice feel free to contact me.

+44 (0)7831173396  +393281518426

Nick Garrett

Case Histories    Testimonials    Blog   Gallery   Quality Charter

Meze Bar NGS Traditional Signwriters, London

NGS 20 Ivymount Road, London, SE27ONB, United Kingdom

I Make Therefore I am – NGS

I Make, Therefore I Am Post by Gillian Montegrande

There are many things we can say about the failings and ills of our society, but the most worrying are
the apathy and abstinence from positive and proactive input from certain sectors. Many have
become spectators of life rather than participants; television for example, in the form of reality
shows creates confusion between fame and achievement and because of its accessible nature and
selective (edited) exposure of facts, gives the false impression that such things are easily gained
without the investment of learning, effort or struggle. As a result viewers, particularly but not exclusively the young, find themselves disconnected and struggling to find a purpose in a world that does not match their expectations.

….this article continues


Kurt Truman • Great article Gillian. 

I think since the mechanisation of farming and the industrial revolution there has been a growing creative void within peoples lives, and this has caused many problems for people in terms of their mental and physical well being.

Nature always adjusts the balance, and so the environment has given humankind a challenge to once again create more with our own hands in our local environment using what ever suitable materials are close to hand.

The ideals of William Morris etal seem as poignant today as ever, he feared mechanisation and was right to, its lead us to the biggest challenge we have ever faced as a species.

Working hard with your hands to create products as we all know is good for the mind, body and soul. I think it’s up to businesses to source products locally and create jobs in local workshops to provide jobs and encourage handmade production and the jobs and training that come with it.

Nick G NGS

Going with Kurt’s post – a bit of a meander.

A lot of commercial designers are going freelance or back to the studio because they crave to escape the PC screen. Today the challenges we face as creative makers are geared to many different issues most notably sustainability and education. Making objects today incorporates new strategies such as eco friendly solutions and overcoming service industry and a solutions based mindset.

In all my interviews for design roles over the past 20 years, none in UK asked about for example problem solving in the context of production ingenuity.

Looking around my studio I continually strive for the absolute and simple: not merely due to minimalist ideas but I think down to being geared or plugged into that eco and production ethos.

A healthy creative ethos can migrate. Shout or whisper the seeds of creativity are carried on the swirl.

We are a product of our ingenuity and history. Making is a hugely satisfying activity.
It is something we in UK doing really well.

About the role of education. Talking to Mark Westland the other day in his Old Street retail ‘Cathedral’ and he remarked how Sheraton took great, but roughly hewn Italian furniture and rebuilt it with near engineering precision. That must have been a lot of challenging fun.

That precise process when placed alongside Xbox needs people like us and educators to actively prove to our young talented people and from what makers know and enjoy comes the much beckoned craft regeneration.

It’s what we do with it – an important but often drowned out message, that will shape the future for many.

Making is also a risk process – the downside the patience testing mundane or outright failure, which from an educational point of view heads up today as a major obstacle for engaging Y gen who have grown up with a sense of push button results.

Sharpening chisels is a major obstacle.

Here’s a poser:
How do you overcome the mundane and how could that skill be passed on?

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