Dobell Designs’ Hand-Painted Signs

As second-generation sign painters from Wollongong, Australia, the Dobell brothers learned their trade the old-fashioned way. Now they’re attracting new interest in the art of hand-painted signs.

Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet.

The signs are all around town, visually connecting past and future. “If it stays put long enough, we paint it,” jokes Chris Dobell, who, along with his brother Stu, owns Dobell Designs, a sign-painting business that does it the old-fashioned way — by hand, no digital wizardry.

“We call ourselves traditionally untraditional,” says Chris.

They work out of a 10’ by 40’ cargo container, where every square inch is covered with inspirational old signs, tins and bottles. To create their signs, the brothers use ornate lettering, decorative gilding and a style that pulls largely from the 20s to the 50s.

“We go to vintage shops and check out Used Victoria for stuff from those eras, for inspiration about how they did it back then,” says Stu.

“Our art is also influenced by all sorts of genres mashed together — comics, graffiti and West Coast scenery,” adds Chris.

After 13 years in business, the Dobell signs are part of Victoria’s commercial landscape. See their art at pubs like the Bard & Banker and The Drake, at tattoo studios like Government Street Tattoo and Painted Lotus Studio, on sandwich boards at Red Barn Market and on windows at Anián and Victory Barber & Brand.

Their work is also a huge part of the visual identity of Phillips Brewing and Malting Co., whom the brothers credit with helping them get their start. Today, 85 per cent of their work is done for Phillips.

“As Phillips has grown, we’ve grown with them,” says Chris. “They put us on the map.”

“We can go into just about any pub in Victoria and see one of our [Phillips] signs,” he adds.

How does it feel to see their work everywhere in the region? “It’s an awesome experience seeing someone looking at our art,” says Stu.

“That’s my sign!”

This article is from April/May 2019 issue of Douglas.