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Dave Smith – Ludlow and Blunt

Introduction to David Smith MBE

David A Smith MBE is a world-renowned signwriter whose career started in 1984, straight after leaving school. Undertaking an apprenticeship for 5 years under Gordon Farr, a well-recognised and respected traditional signwriter, Dave began to develop the skills and techniques required to produce high-quality work.

After completing his apprenticeship Dave went on to start his own sign writing business in his hometown of Torquay. Completing various commissions from vehicle graphics to 3D installations, all with superb execution which quickly became highly regarded within the industry. This recognition gained Dave an invite to California to meet with Rick Glawson & his crew of the famous “Fine Gold Sign Company”. Considered ‘the godfather’ of signwriting, Dave and Rick with their mutual passion for signwriting became great friends until Rick’s passing in 2003.

At the height of his business’s success, Dave sold the company to focus on his pursuit of replicating the traditional methods required to create Victorian-era glasswork. From his home in Devon, UK, he continues to save these traditional methods from fading out. Being ever grateful to the people who taught and shared their knowledge with him, Dave now shares this knowledge with other signwriters across the globe through courses, seminars and one-to-one calls.

Most recently, Dave was honoured with an MBE in 2019 and was to attend a ceremony in March of 2020 which, due to Covid lockdown restrictions, was cancelled. He is hoping to attend this year to receive his well-deserved accolade.

Background to Ludlow & Blunt Commission

Ludlow & Blunt is a highly distinguished barbershop located in Brooklyn, New York that was established in 1994. With world-famous clients, they are considered one of the best in the industry. 

David Smith and Ludlow & Blunt’s communications started as early as 2004 when the barbershop required a new advertising sign. However, this commission was not meant to be as David could not take on the job at the time. Fast-forward 10 years where Ludlow & Blunt were once again looking for a piece to add to their shop. Being a highly traditional barbershop, the piece needed to reflect this. Contacting Dave again regarding a commission, they began talks that lasted nearly two whole years before work began. 

In 2016, Laura and Russell of Ludlow & Blunt commissioned the piece and Dave began its creation using only traditional methods which are known to be time-consuming and require a unique set of skills. The mirror features drawings of Mr Ludlow & Mr Blunt created from scratch, by Dave, to prevent a cross-over of modern practices (Photograph) from tarnishing the traditional aspect of the piece. Using many processes during its creation, Dave ensured the style was authentic by learning turn-of-the-century techniques.


Processes used & timescale

Dave used multiple techniques while creating the commissioned piece, each requiring great skill and patience. Here is a list of the unique processes he used, some of which resulted in Dave adding to his skill set by learning and mastering new techniques:

  • Kiln firing
  • Glue chipping
  • Acid etching
  • Abalone inlay
  • Water gilding
  • Oil gilding
  • Signwriting
  • Brilliant cutting
  • Water slide transfers
  • Pictoral painting
  • Lithography
  • Airbrushing
  • Wheel cutting

Dave painstakingly created the piece and kept researching and learning turn of the century techniques to make the piece as authentic as possible. When carrying out the project David used materials like Abalone, oil gilding gold leaf from ourselves at Gold Leaf supplies, and additional products from Handover Brushes and W & B Gold in Chicago.

What started as a much smaller commission quickly grew as the traditional methods that were being upheld took far longer than initially anticipated. Supported by his family and friends along the way as 10 hours turned into 100 and 100 into 1,000 until completion which took 4,000 hours!

For the intricate wooden frame creation and plaque engraving, Dave called upon good friends Arron Dart (arron_dart) and Rick Simmons (bespoke_engraver) who specialise in these areas, respectively.

Once complete it was time to get it across the Atlantic which posed some problems in itself…

Final delivery

Due to the size and fragility of the piece, Dave created a custom-made box to avoid any damage during transit. As if this was not enough of a problem, shipping costs were far greater than initially quoted due to Covid and Brexit. To counteract this David decided to ship the piece from France to reduce costs for his clients.

Eventually, reaching New York in November 2021, Dave followed the piece out to assemble it in its final placement within Ludlow & Blunt. On this trip, David caught Covid and was rather unwell but he wasn’t going to let anything stop the final piece of the puzzle and the project was finally completed. The journey has been documented in the most extraordinary way by Danny Cooke (@dannycooke).

The film was screened on the 7th of July 2022 at Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon to a limited audience and is now available online for all to see.


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