Portugal’s most dynamic artistic duo, the whizz-kids of Halfstudio, are relentless in their pursuit of the fine art of lettering. Tired of the encroaching feeling of nerd-neck as they spent countless hours pouring over a computer screen working in graphic design, the pair decided to get their hands dirty way back in 2010. That’s where it all changed.
A self-described ‘wow moment’, the artistic epiphany that many hope for, came not with any Biblical gradiosity, rather from a video the pair saw online. Little did they know how significant this video would actually be. Inspired by the free-flowing movements of sign-wrtier Dusty Signs, the pair were intrigued by the melting-pot of art, design and craftsmanship. Coupled with the encroaching boredom of life at a desk, they adopted this new approach to design with zeal.
What happened in the following weeks - something that’s still going on to this day - is a deep-dive into the history of signwriting. It’s not like other forms of art in that the tools are very specific, the methods extremely precise and the approach very much orientated towards a particular outcome. That is to say, signwriting isn’t pure artistic expression, but a combination of form and function. It’s art with a purpose.
Mariana Branco and Emanuel Barreira, the two constituents of Halfstudio, found themselves eager to experiment with the illustrative and design-led language they had been developing over the previous two years since their 2010 inception. Now, their increasingly daring letterforms weren’t restricted to dreams of three-dimensions and reality, etched out on design software, but had the chance to become so, whether that be on walls, glass, wood or metal.
Although their collaborative history informed their entry into signwriting, they began to discover that this new medium responded better to a purer lettering and sign-writing focus - something that eventually consumed their practice. With this, the Halfstudio we know today was born. Just a quick look at their output highlights their devotion to development and experimentation - with form and colour - yet attaining a strong faithfulness to the traditions of the practice is something they won’t turn their backs on.
True to the philosophy of signwriting, the function of lettering is first and foremost to be legible. Achieving this requires choosing the right colours to provide ample contrast and consistency to make the piece a cohesive whole. Then there’s the brushes. For the inherently smooth finish that we see in the works of some of the world’s top signwriters, it’s imperative to make sure the brush size is correct for the task, allowing the artist greater opportunity to produce a crisp and eye-catching finish.
As businesses are constantly competing with global mega-corporations, to whom budget isn’t much in the way of a limiting factor to their branding, advertising, marketing and overall design, signwriters find themselves as a unique force to help smaller businesses express themselves and to stand out in a congested marketplace. Having greater control over how your business looks with the aid of these craftsmen, grants a freedom to provide unique customization as well as the quality evoked by a hand produced sign or window. It's an investment.
Being influenced by the same community that many would consider them to be a part of - amongst some names like Stephen Powers, David A. Smith and Ciarán Glöbel - Halfstudio create lettering as inspired by global figures as their native Portugal. There’s something about the colour schemes and vibrancy of the work that makes it look sun-drenched - as if it had to have been produced where the roaming ocean meets the luscious coastline. When rural, urban, beach and forest co-mingle.
One of their most recent pieces, a basketball court in the renowned neighbourhood of Chelas, personifies what they do. Once a place with the reputation as somewhere to avoid, Chelas has become an unlikely hub for artistic expressions such as this one. Both the process, outcome and community aspect made it one in a long line of memorable and genuinely impressive projects that have manifested because of the years of hard work the duo have dedicated themselves to.
Painting the ground was a first for them. It was a demanding process, as gaining the requisite perspective to see how your work is coming together is a crucial part of signwriting. Naturally, if this requires a birds-eye view (neither Branco nor Barreira can fly) the pair were forced to improvise and test their technical boundaries. Once it was finished, the whole process coalesced in an energetic extravaganza as the court was the scene of an intense game involving members of the local housing estates. It will continue to be home to many, many more.
Doing more of this sort of thing is a dream for the pair, who want to be challenged and want to excel in those technical and creatively demanding environments. A car, a plane, more materials and more floors. These are all a part of what the future might hold. Responding to the cancellation of many of their works due to the current pandemic, the duo were able to have the freedom of time to work towards understanding how such challenges could be overcome - both in terms of materials, but also by way of their ever evolving style.
If you visit their Instagram, it’s clear they’ve been busying themselves with working on new surfaces and on new objects. They recently posted a picture of a saw, whos aged complexity perfectly housed their lettering and encapsulated Halfstudio’s unique aesthetic brand. With an upcoming exhibition and a few secret projects in the works, bigger and more exciting things are yet to come. We're just as excited as them.
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