Portland Designer Resurrects Painted "Ghost Signs" of Advertising's Past
Ghost signs are a part of our city.
They advertise products and services, like Overland Cars or Eoff Electric, that haven't existed for half a century or more, slowly fading away as weather, sunlight, and age chip away at them. Designer Craig Winslow's mission: bring these old ads back to life, in brilliant color, if only for a single night.
"Ghost signs are old billboards, signage, or murals on the sides of buildings, before vinyl printing was available," Winslow explains. "A lot of them are drawn or painted directly onto the brick. Some of them you can barely see anymore. There's a ton of character to them, and they really caught my eye."
Originally from Portland, Maine, Winslow moved to the Rose City in 2015 to work as a designer and 3-D artist. This spring, Winslow landed a yearlong creative residency with Adobe to revive, albeit temporarily, the ghost signs on urban walls using a technique called projection mapping. Winslow recreates the original ads on his computer to scale, and then projects them back onto the wall using light. The result is a vibrant resurrection of the original ad. His favorite signs, Winslow says, are those that are layered, with newer ads painted on top of older ads.
"There's an element of archaeology to them," he says. "I'm trying to find historical references of what these signs looked like. You can only see little bits and parts of them [now]. I use light to fill in the bits and blanks."
Over the next year, Winslow will travel from Astoria and Eastern Oregon to as far away as London, hunting down ghost signs, projection mapping them, and documenting his ephemeral restorations in photographs.
Says Winslow, "A lot of these, nowawdays, have become a part of the city. They're almost like an art form themselves. There's a lot, even just in downtown Portland, that have been incorporated into the architecture. There's such a timeless feeling to them. The wording, the type. There's this cleaner feel that we're going back to now."
See Winslow's projection mapping in action Feb 1–5 at the Portland Winter Light Festival. Follow Winslow on Twitter and Instagram for updates.