Meet the Maker | Hannah Smith: Signwriting and gilding for the world
Hannah Smith is the young Devon artist behind the mesmerising 24ct gold leaf glass signs from Lauren’s Letters. Following in the footsteps of her prolific father, David Smith, Hannah is growing an international company from right here in Torbay. We spoke to Hannah about her traditional handmade craft, inspirations, and some stand out pieces from her commissions.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Hannah, we'd like to start things with a simple question where did your company name ‘Lauren's Letters’ come from?
“It’s kind of funny because I often get called Lauren, when in fact Lauren is my younger sister! It’s pretty understandable though and Lauren always laughs about it, ha! The name came about simply because Lauren gave me that light bulb moment.
Growing up, we have always made small signs with our dad, mostly for our bedrooms and for fun. Seeing Lauren’s letter ‘L’ gave me an idea for a sign-writing business. I remember thinking; surely other people would like to order their own gold leaf letter? Pretty quickly I needed to come up with a name and Lauren’s Letters was the one that immediately came to me and stuck. It only felt right to name my business after my sister; it’s a thank you for giving me the idea in the first place.
Without a doubt I would not have started my own sign writing business without my dad, Dave Smith, who is also a traditional sign-writer and glass embosser based here in Torquay. I have watched him create mesmerising pieces of glass art, and whilst growing up at home, I was surrounded by paint and gold leaf every day.
I guess taking up sign writing was bound to happen in the end! I’ve also always liked the idea of being my own boss, and I guess that’s because I’ve seen how much my dad enjoys being self-employed. He inspired me to do the same and start my own business. I have learnt everything I know from my dad! I’m pretty lucky because he’s one of the world’s leading sign-writers. I ring him, see him most days for advice and guidance with my signs.
I actually studied English at university; I thought I wanted to be an English teacher. If I could go back now knowing that I would become a sign-writer, I definitely would have studied Typography or Graphic Design. I'm interested in potentially doing a relevant course soon.”
That’s an amazing story. Why do you feel it's so important to use these traditional techniques in your work?
“Traditional water gilding dates back to the Renaissance period and is a skill that has been passed down amongst craftsmen for several hundred years. The process involves applying loose gold leaves, which are thin sheets of hammered gold, onto glass using a gilders tip. The gold is adhered to the glass using a water size. Due to the fragility of the gold leaf, water gilding is a skill that requires care and a steady hand; one quick move and the gold can fly away!
This process is so important to me because I feel it really reflects the handcrafted quality of my work. Water gilding really is a labour of love, and I like to take my time with it. I also love that it’s a skill that’s been passed down to me. Like all the craftsmen before, I’m continuing the skill, and in doing so, keeping it alive.”
You receive commissions and admiration from around the world. Can you give us an idea of the range that your pieces travel?
“It’s really amazing that my pieces have been sent to so many far away places. I’ve had signs go all over America, from LA to New York. One recently has gone to Hong Kong! Most people see my work on Instagram, so my signs can literally go anywhere now, it just depends on who sees them!
Last year I had a sign displayed as part of an exhibition at the University of the Arts London. I made a Roman style letter R, and the exhibition was called Roamin’ Romans. That was a really unexpected place for one of my signs to be; I never thought I’d have a sign displayed in a University!”
One thing we really enjoy from your Instagram is your hugely satisfying time-lapses. What type of work do you find most satisfying?
“That’s pretty tricky because after every gild I’m always satisfied with how a word looks! However, I feel like names are always great to see in gold. So I wouldn’t say I have a favourite word, but that gilded names are super satisfying to me; they’re just so personal!”
Is there one design that stays in your mind as being your favourite, whether it was the word or the shape of the design or the meaning behind it?
“Yes! It would be the Tyler Sinnott sign I made last year. It was the first logo sign I had ever made. Tyler sent me over his logo design, and from that I made it into a gold leaf glass sign. It was pretty big too, I think it might be the biggest one I have ever made, so it was a learning experience. I learnt how to handle/ship a piece of glass that size. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence too once I had finished it.”
And our final question, how does living and working around Torbay inspire you?
“I use a lot of coastal and nautical colours in my pieces. I absolutely love sea blues/greys and I’d say that those colours are inspired by Torquay and living by the sea.”
If you want to see more of Hannah’s work follow Lauren’s Letters on Instagram or visit her website for more information about commissions: https://www.laurensletters.co.uk/. You can all see her father, David Smith’s work and book onto one of his renowned workshops here: https://davidadriansmith.com/