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Kendall student sees poetry in painting signs

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This article contains mildly strong language.

Sofía Ramírez Hernández, a senior drawing major, is passionate about words and images and uses both in her artwork.
The artist by a couple of her signs.

The artist by a couple of her signs. /Emilie Pichot

Looking for a sign painter? Get in touch with Hernandez!

Dinderbeck Profile


More of her signs including some from SiTE:LAB.

More of her signs including some from SiTE:LAB. /Emilie Pichot

The printmaking space at Dinderbeck.

The printmaking space at Dinderbeck. /Emilie Pichot

If you happened to pass the UICA this summer and notice the hand-painted sign, you are looking at the work of  Sofía Ramírez Hernández.

Painting the UICA sign for the film "Sign Painters" shown earlier this summer was Hernández's first big sign painting gig. It was also the first time she had to paint backwards on glass.

"It's really fun to be able to scrape it off completely and being able start over," says Hernández. "I think there's something about the non-archival-ness of it. I did use outdoor paint so that it would be protected but I still decided that I needed to work inside so that it wouldn't fade. I can't tell you how many times I had to go out the revolving door and go around the corner to look at it and be like 'ok, raise the 't.' Tilt the 't' this and this way' and going inside and seeing it backwards and having to compute all that. It was so helpful when I could have someone out there being like 'lower this! shift this over!'"

Despite the amount of hard work, Hernández has only good things to say about her first time sign painting for a known venue.

"The exposure was incredible," she says. “I took note of all the people that were walking by. You start to notice who notices and who doesn't. I felt like a lot of the older people were the ones that did notice. They were probably thinking 'Oh, I haven't seen that in a while.' And little kids. Little kids were fascinated."

Hernández finds imperfection to be a good thing.

"I'm not too interested in perfecting certain things. I wouldn't be the kind of person to pinstripe a car,” says Hernández. “At the UICA I had so much freedom to make it just a little bit warped or a little bit wobbly. I like that. That's my aesthetic. I do have a really strong attachment to making it imperfect or starting off just calling it an "art" before it’s a sign. If it's already being revived as something that's not what was originally there or expected then why can't it be this much more wobbly?"

She also loves anything that is done by hand. In fact, she adamantly turns in work at school that is handwritten when required to turn in something printed. She often gets marked down for that.

"I have this little grudge that I need to get over about everything needing to be hand-drawn and hand-painted," she says. "It's human. It has a human touch. There's more heart. The heart of the wobbliness of a line. Paint will last longer than vinyl. Vinyl is too easy. When you print something out on vinyl, when you look at each letter you don't remember them. You remember that you typed it up. But I feel like when you write things out you remember. 'Yeah, that 't' was a pain in the ass or that 'n' was so easy and it was really fun.' It kind of gives every letter, every character, and every number its own life. They all kind of sit differently. They all breath a little bit differently. Usually I do them pretty quickly and then just find those romantic aspects in them. it's not like i'm carefully working on an 'e' for a whole week. There's this little warmth that I get from recognizing how I made that letter. When I look at someone else's sign or their handwriting I think of how they moved to do that. It's so sexy. So human. So carnal."

A quick sense of humor, sarcasm and an awareness of social issues can be found in her signs. She often quotes her friends on her signs, using ambiguous quotes that could apply to many different situations. Her signs question ideas about gender and playfully mislead readers. She even plays with the form itself, writing "aw, shit..." on the sign when she made a mistake.

"I'm trying to get myself to not call them mistakes or flaws," she says. "I think it’s just variation, I think that's a better word for it."

Hernández appreciates how sign painting has less control when done by hand than with a machine or in graphic design.

"I like to work with the different window sizes, the different shapes and the different textures which I think is part of art. Working with a texture that already exists I really do find something beautiful about letting the paint do what it wants, the brush get as thick as it wants, or as thin as it wants to go. I think it has a life of its own. And that, I think, is the biggest difference between working with paint and being a painter rather than a designer. You have so much more control over it as a designer."

In the future, Hernández hopes to illustrate and write children's books that teach them "how to respect each other, appreciate variety, and blindly love," she says. She also likes making signs for kids. She was inspired to help little girls with signs and children's books after being harassed on the street several times while on her way home. After that experience, she wants to give little girls "guerilla advice," like "It's not your job to be pretty" or "You don't have to smile."

"I have so much power," she says. "If I write something, it's true. Or it can be almost, to some people at least. There's something so dark about it, too, like fooling people."

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