Written by Steve Porter
Signed99 – what is that?!
My name is Steve Porter. Signed99 is an art venture whereby people can commission me to paint a portrait of their signature. I paint their signature twice, (with one upside-down) to create an aesthetic balance.
The standard size is a bold 3’/4’, but clients can have any size they like. The “99” bit of Signed99 refers to the limited number of commissions available. Each portrait is numbered uniquely, 01-99, and is priced uniquely, too.
Did you just cough?
Until Covid arrived in March 2020 and closed all the schools, I had spent nearly 20 years travelling the UK, making murals and sculptures with primary-aged children. It was an amazing privilege to work with so many thousands of kids, with a legacy of artworks stretching back over two decades.
This business had emerged accidentally from a very short-lived teaching career in the late nineties. I had moved frying-pan-to-fire style from a mainstream primary school into special needs teaching.
I had thought perhaps I was the sort of person who could “make a difference” but turned out to be short of all the necessary skills and commitment-levels required.
Then I got asked to do a mural at a school. Then another school who had seen it wanted one. And then another and another…. Hopefully I made a difference in this way, instead.
But with the schools suddenly closed, or opening in a way that wasn’t conducive to visitors, I had to think of something else to do.
Oh, he’s so creative. Yawn…
My story is the same as anyone elses…
It began with drawing and making as a kid, almost obsessively. No paper was safe from my scratching. No cardboard box made it to the bin unscathed.
I started song-writing in my teens. The melodies and words just kept popping in so what was else was I supposed to do? I have written 502 songs so far. I will confess right here and right now that I do actually sing them. How embarrassing. But still, family life continues uninhibited by the trauma of these expulsions…
I have written 3 novels. No agents were wowed or wooed in the way I had painstakingly hoped for. The spectacular rescue “yes” of my dreams remained the less spectacular “no”. Perhaps it was the purple pen that cost me?
I know, I know, someone pass the tissues.
I have made artworks. Some figurative, some conceptual. Had a few exhibitions, illutrated a few books, made some commissions. None of any of this has been successful commercially. The only thing that “worked” was travelling to the schools. So this is what I did.
At first I had thought creativity was just a way of attempting to pick the lock of what life actually is. A means to search for meaning. Like being an explorer. Then I thought it was all a load of self-indulgent habitual nonsense. A rut of dizzy twidling.
Now (while still cringing a little bit) I am cautiously back to believing in creativity again.
During 2018 I trawled past sketchbooks for any historical art ideas that still amused or interested me. One of these was to make a giant version of my own signature. Which I did. Signatures are usually handwriting-sized. It was fun to see my name on such a massive scale. Like having my name up in lights. Or my name up in whites, in this case.
The painting I made remained at the top of our stairs, reminding me. Then one day during the autumn of 2020, it occurred to me that other people might enjoy the feeling of having their signature made in the same way…
The actual centre-of-the-earth core of the idea goes all the way back to the summer of 1991, where my cousin and I made a mischief-inspired road trip from Wiltshire to sunny Brighton.
On the giant peer we discovered the amusement arcade filled with all the fits of lights and whizz pop bangs you might imagine. In the corner of the arcade there was a machine which claimed to be able to “read” someone’s character by looking at their signature. My pen was out. I filled in the slip and fed it in. The results were horribly accurate.
It made me think of the signature as a kind of portrait, where we are shown as a carousel of reveals and conceals, just like in everyday life.
Hold on to your clocks.
Having thought that people might want their signatures painted, I decided to try and create a new business around this idea. The question was: pricing. How could I make something that was theoretically available to everyone (since literally everyone has a name) while still being lucrative enough to make us a living?
The answer came. I could price them all differently! I could start at a simple £1 for Signed99/01 and gradually go up from there… All the way to 99.
In keeping with these wonderfully egalitarian principles, every single Signed99 signature portrait comes with a free bottle of Champagne. There is also free delivery, making the price the price with no extra “oh, and there’s just this…” to contend with at the checkout.
And so to the glory of now.
Signed99 is open. My brushes are poised to recreate signatures on any scale. There have been six commissions made, so far. Perhaps you would enjoy one? Or know someone who might? I am looking forward to making the remaining 93. Bringing long-lasting joy, hopefully.
Thank you for reading. I have tried to be entertaining.
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