Boat Lettering in Mazunte

I spent decades of my work life hand-lettering for a living. I’m pretty much retired from the trade. Today, in the USA, computers, scanners, printers, and computer-driven tools and cutters now produce almost all signs and lettering.  The hand letterer is an increasingly obscure and vanishing person, now a relic artisan whose work is seen less and less. Time and rot steadily erode and erase what remains of existing old-fashioned handwork.

But. In Southern Mexico, it was different. There, the hand-letterer is still around, and the work is still in demand. The lettering was not sophisticated. It would be considered folk art by some. It was wonderful to look at. I started looking at the boats on the beach at Mazunte. I took some photos.

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An originally-serifed circus-style letter, with a quick red shadow. The thick and thin diagonal strokes of the M are reversed. The letterer started out a little wide with their M, and had to increasingly compress the letters as they neared the end of their allotted space. The lengthening of the top arm of the Z may be an effort to minimize the white space that a letter A creates. 

Had I been in Mazunte longer, I might have been able to seek out and talk to the people who did the lettering on these boats. That would be interesting.

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Here are letters that the old-fashioned sign person calls “prismatic”. They’re intended to look three-dimensional. Once the internal lines are placed, the left, right, top and bottoms sections are supposed to get different degrees of shade and tint. But here, after placing the prismatic lines,  the artist applied a red cast shade over the entire layout. With black, asterisky stars to indicate sparkly points of light. Never in my life would I think to letter this way. I’ve had too much training!

One of the boats was nicely turtled and orca-ed. Withoubt doubt it was the fanciest job there.

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This boat lettering looks as if the painter either has some old lettering reference books to draw from or has a scrapbook of examples cut out from printed sources. The “wood” construction letters on boat #20 are a style that was popular a century or more ago. 

In the next boat we see a variation on the wood letter theme, a variation that’s likely a few iterations and repetitions past an original. You could call that the “folk process” at work.

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Brown “broken plank” letters with outline and added black outline cast shade. Another improbable mix of techniques.

These works aren’t at all “professional”, but they’re a big step up from what your average Joe or Jill would come up with. They have a character, exuberance, and a spirit that bursts right off the bows they’re lettered on.

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Upper and lower case semi-script letters in oxide red, with a triple shadow in white, ochre, and black. Just do it!

In another post to come, we’ll look at some of the street lettering here.




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