Some time ago, Melvin Tan shared a post on painted typography with us—we were so fascinated (and also impressed by Melvin and his friends’ documentation efforts) that we knew it would be a travesty not to share. We have all seen painted typography at one point or another, be it at weddings or other celebratory occasions, but this is a trade that is fast disappearing. With Melvin’s permission we are reproducing his post:

“Today is the last day of the Seventh Lunar Month. I take this day to draw your attention to one of the earliest ‘design studios’ in Singapore, also the last of its kind here.

Mr & Mdm Ong designs and paints large format typography on die-cut wood for a living. In the past, most corporate events, grassroots banners and weddings require their unique expertise. However because of the availability of digital printing becoming faster, cheaper and easier to do in comparison, the hand artistry of their painted type is fast fading out.

Today, some of their only clients are (they are also fading out) Getai practitioners that call for their painted type work during the seventh month. Sometimes, even the Getai shows prefer to digitally print their banners rather than go by this traditional way as they change with the times.

Nonetheless, Mdm Ong said that their designs are special because these hand-drawn typefaces are original and not available as a computer typeface. Also, the technique of painting undergoes a very intricate methodology that produces an almost perfect precision in its production. On closer look, it was hard to deny their elegant typographic sensitivity: leading, kerning, readability, legibility and colour sensitivity. Thus, it was also not hard to believe when they said they had been doing such typography for thirty odd years.

In photo albums taken from old metal cabinets from their storeroom, Mr Ong showed us many of their old works with delight. Photographs of those large heart-shaped backdrops with the bride and grooms name on them and festive banners along the road– these were a visual culture that was vaguely familiar once upon a time… It seemed that our curiosity seemed to have evoked a sense of pride in them about their work. Yet we did feel that it also brought forth an ominous foreboding this craft is indeed on the verge of becoming forgotten…

Before we left their workshop, we wanted the two master typographers to be photographed together to remember, but Mr Ong, a stern stoic hermit figure, didn’t want to be photographed. We managed to get Mdm Ong to pose with one of their type works we found in a corner, the one that read ‘Xin’ meaning ‘New’.

‘Xin’ because of the sad irony it held in that one word dressed in a colorful pompous font. We asked, “Mdm Ong, then how would you feel that eventually, there will be a time when no one will see this kind of font design anymore?”

“Aiyah. I am old already. If all this is gone then- let it be so…” she said, more accepting towards the changing times than us.”

For more on this vanishing trade, check out this video by Tan Jia Hui here

Post and images courtesy of: Su Jing Xiang, Tan Jiahui, Melvin Tan, Vedant Gupta
Article first posted on Melvin Tan’s FaceBook page, 15 September 2012

Thanks, Melvin and friends, for sharing this with us! What do you think about painted typography? Do you remember seeing works like these in your youth? If you would like to share your memories with us, go here. You can also check us out on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!



dazed and confused

Stephanie Pee
Associate, irememberSG
Singapore Memory Project


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  4. Nice note… Can you please give me the address of Mr and Mdm Ong please. I would like to reproduce a typography and do live in Singapore.

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