Brushing History: The Travelling Sign Painters Revive Hand-Painted Art in the Exchange

Discover the craftsmanship behind hand-painted signage with Joseph Pilapi.

The Travelling Sign Painters are preserving the art of hand-painted advertisements and murals while breathing new life into the neighbourhood. You may have seen their work adorning the sides of heritage buildings, advertising your favourite storefronts, or bringing colour to shop windows. Helmed by Joseph Pilapi, the Travelling Sign Painters pay tribute to the legacy of painted signs while infusing their contemporary touch.

Joseph, a multi-faceted creative, has been into drawing and design since childhood. This affinity for art led him to the Visual Multimedia Technology program at Red River College, where he honed his skills in graphic design and began experimenting with lettering artwork.

In his experimentation, he found a type of paint that traditional sign painters used and began to practice painting letters by hand.  “I started experimenting with the medium and realized I had a lot to learn with it,” says Joseph.

He reached out to Signmeister, a family-owned business specializing in signs, and asked if they would help teach him the art of sign painting.  They obliged, and for a year, Joseph and a few friends spent Wednesdays learning the craft.

After their education, the Travelling Sign Painters posted a hand-lettered sign online, and it was met with rave reviews. The business snowballed and has since become an iconic part of the Winnipeg creative community.

Joseph hard at work painting a window for Shop the Exchange

The Travelling Sign Painters have found a niche in hand-painting lettered signs, advertisements, murals, and store windows. They’re upholding artistry in advertisements, a movement gaining momentum in recent years as people crave unique pieces to represent their business or brand.

In an age where digital advertisements, billboards, and vinyl signs reign supreme, a hand-painted advertisement feels unique and nostalgic.  These signs are reminiscent of past ads, like the fading ghost signs seen on historic buildings in the Exchange.

“I like keeping the craft alive by continuing to do it and learn as much as I can about it,” says Joseph. He likes to document painted signage that he finds and collects old photos of ghost signs. He believes even simple signs have character when hand-painted, and when they are lost, so is a piece of that character and history.  Hand-painting signs is a way to honour that history by creating new artworks.  

“All the projects I get are exciting to me,” says Joseph when asked about his favourite pieces.  He is grateful to use a paintbrush daily and thankful for the commissions and requests that inspire and challenge him.

Joseph’s most recent undertaking is infusing vibrancy and festive joy into the windows for Shop the Exchange. Keep an eye out for nineteen unique pieces of artwork gracing windows throughout the Exchange District this holiday season!

The Birt Saddlery Mural

This campaign taps into the nostalgia of greeting cards and holiday mail. “The concept is vintage postcards and stamps, like something you’d send a loved one.”  You’ll be able to catch these little love letters to the Exchange from now until the end of December.

As for the rest of the year, it’s hard to walk through the Exchange without seeing some of Joseph’s work. You may recognize his signage from the Parlour or Clementine sandwich board, hand-painted windows at Toad Hall Toys, or the mural on the Birt Saddlery building, among many others!

“I’m happy to be part of the landscape in that way,” says Joseph of his prolific work in the neighbourhood. His home studio is in the Exchange, and it’s where he attended college, so it feels fitting to add his own little touches to the community.

His work brings character and vibrancy to the Exchange, where you can see the juxtaposition of historic ghost signs and his newer, hand-painted pieces. In an era when many opt to get signage printed on vinyl, hand-painted signs will stand out and bring joy for years to come.

To stay up-to-date with Joseph and the Travelling Sign Painters, find them online:

Instagram: @thetravellingsignpainters