Signing off… the external shoestring makeover?

Library sign - horizontal
And so, with a Kevin Rudd BER new school library to be built on the site of my school’s existing, antiquated, portable library, further plans for renovating the current building went on permanent hiatus. I am very glad I only lightly nailed my internal signage to the walls, rather than gluing them, because almost everything I created in the last twelve months will be able to find a home in the new building. At the time of the announcement, I had already had a visit from Phyl Williamson, of Syba Signs, to give me quotations on perspex outdoor signage, an internal sign, a selection of poster hangers and mobiles, and vinyl lettering for the windows, etc. These ideas (and funding) have now had to await the new building, of course.

I’ve been asked to do a presentation on my shoestring makeovers for an upcoming ASLA professional development day, at my school (Saturday 31st October) and, during the last school holidays, I suddenly found myself really regretting not being able to finish off my plan to get a large outdoor sign made. Something that identifies the building as a “Library”!

My temporary external sign has turned out to be so successful, I wanted to share it.

Kevin Hennah‘s course on library renovations reminded us about how commercial stores have huge signs featuring their identity, and yet so many public buildings – and especially libraries – seem to keep their identity a secret to passersby. The day I started snapping photographs of the library, pre-renovation (this time last year), the very first shot was of our extremely dull, uninformative, external library wall – yes, that all-important wall, seen by every visitor through our main gate. The wall that gives people their first impression of our school:

“No smoking, no smoking”, it says!

Original external wall

How would anyone even realise this was the school library?

So, after several fruitless, forlorn visits to both Bunnings’ Hardware, and Spotlight, I went off to a local computerised signage supplier for a quote on a speedy-but-weatherproof sign that might impress people coming to my seminar session. The results were a little disappointing: only slightly less than a perspex sign and – no matter what – I’d be spending between $206 and $250 and still only ending up with one external sign.

I did take one source of inspiration from my Bunnings trip: they had some long, pre-primed, stretched canvases for artists @ $35.00. Maybe I could pull off a miracle with a similar stretched canvas, if I could locate one the right size at a local bargain store? Bingo! “Cheaper Than Chips” at Penrith only had one, but it was a 31 x 102 cm “Paintwell” brand stretched canvas @ $15.95, plus $2.00 for a tube of “Ultra Blue” acrylic paint.

Last night, I enlarged some lettering (upper and lower case, for legibility) from Word on the photocopier, transferred the design to the canvas, taped up the straight lines with packaging tape, and started painting – and suddenly there was a completed sign.

This morning, my clerical assistant helped me cover the canvas with book-covering polythene, which we affixed with a staple gun. I went outside and peeled off the better-quality version of our two “No Smoking” signs, and transferred it to the other end of the wall with fresh double-sided tape. I then used more of the tape to attach my $18 masterpiece to the wall! I’ve been admiring it every chance I could get today. Please allow me to share:

New outdoor signage

The complete wall, with the “No Smoking” sign at the other end:

Signage plus "No smoking"

Outside sign in place

16 thoughts on “Signing off… the external shoestring makeover?

  1. What a great sign!

    I feel inspired to update one of my signs. I have a sign that I fasten up each day at the bottom of the Library steps, to tell students what is happening in the Library for the week. I think I might update it, using your ideas!

    Anne McLellan

  2. I love the sign Ian. My question would be, why do you have the writing going up the wall, not down (most book spines seem to go down). I think the down is a symbol of our “right” dominated world and maybe all the lefties out there will appreciate it?


  3. Thanks Anne and Kathryn!

    Kathryn – good question! I did try both ways but, as people come in through our main gate, the writing is completely legible. Coming from the other direction, it takes the brain a while to work out that it actually says “Library”. And coming down the stairs from our main building, the sign is perfectly framed by the structures of our covered walkway.

    When Kevin Hennah did his presentation for us last year, there were a number of notable “Library” signs in his PowerPoint examples that went vertically like this (I hope I’m remembering correctly). To my eye, it needs the strength of that capital “L” at the base.

    Funnily enough, yes, I am left-handed. Maybe that’s why some of Kevin’s examples appealed so much.

    Thanks so much for your input!

    Regards, Ian

  4. This looks wonderful, Ian. I am very impressed with all your efforts – a great job all round – and very inspiring.

  5. Ian, I like the idea of signposting the library too. I had our G.A. make one from letters and graphic I had from Bunnings, out of wood also. The letters and animal shape were painted and glued on. It was simple but cute for the primary library it was made for.

  6. Excellent, Ian! I’ve used those pre-stretched canvases (quite possibly from the same $2 shop) for internal library signage – inexpensive and effective!

    What fun you will have with your new library. Although if it’s on the site of the old, what happens in the interim?…..

  7. Hi Ruth!

    We’ll be boxing up the Premier’s Reading Challenge books into class sets, new stuff, selected topic non fiction and some must-have Teacher Reference resources… and I become Roaming TL at Large for about six months.

    I’m always up for a challenge if the end result is worthwhile!

  8. Hi Ian,

    What a coincidence. I was showing pictures of your library and talking about what you achieved at a presentation only 1 hour ago! Congratulations again on reinforcing that you don’t need a lot of money to make a big difference!

    I think the text angle is right and you’d probably find most graphic designers would agree that it’s more readable that way.

    Kevin Hennah

  9. Hi Kevin,

    Thank you so much for the feedback!

    There has been so much serendipity with this makeover the last twelve months: from wandering into stores and finding the lone item I needed, sitting forlornly on a shelf, to the exact colours of wheeled baskets matching our colour scheme, to people telling me about a great idea they’d seen on the ‘Net, and realising it was mine (or indeed, yours!) they were telling me about. 😉

    It’s times like these we know we’re onto a good thing!

    BTW, I cheekily sent the photo of my $18 sign to the local fast printing company yesterday and the manager replied by email this morning, cheerily, “I think you missed your calling.”

    Regards, Ian.

  10. Ian,

    Your sign looks great – I regret that I cannot come to the PD day at your school to see your reno “in the flesh” unfortunately there is a school reunion here at Katoomba HS and I’d promised to be here and have the buildings open and show off the archives for them. Anyway I have enjoyed being inspired by your creativity, ingenuity & resourcefulness as your reno has taken shape. Just think of your new library as a blank canvas waiting for your designer touch.

  11. Ian,
    What a fantastic idea. I’ve almost finished my studies for the year and then I’m off to the $2 dollar shop.
    This is a great solution for my boring brick wall. My sign would be lower to the ground. I suppose that will make it more accessable to vandals. I’ll give ita go.
    Thanks Ian,
    Megan Hall

  12. Hi Megan,

    The other effective “Library” sign that Kevin shows in his presentation is made to resemble cut-out “HOLLYWOOD” style lettering, which you can have poised above the front door. All you need is a friend with an electric jigsaw and some offcuts.

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