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Fete signs find new life

Debbie Estwick’s recycled notebooks connect with others, are new, useful products, and help solve problems through design
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
From left, designer Debbie Estwick and sign-painter Bruce Cayonne.

You see them as you drive by: exuberant pop-up roadside party signs, advertising all manner of fetes in colourful, hand-painted script or all-caps fonts. Though many signs are all about the parties, some signs also tell you about other matters: the local church service, the upcoming barbecue, an arts event, the parlour down the road selling ice cream, or the latest best place to buy your corn soup or jerk chicken treats.

The man behind many of these signs is Bruce Cayonne, based at his home studio in Quesnel Street, Arima. He’s been so prolific and disciplined about his self-taught sign painting work that some designers have been taking notice, seeing in his carefully crafted letters and signs a lively and unique expression of T&T’s fete sign culture.

Indeed, one graphic designer, Kriston Chen, earlier this year designed a playful all-caps Fete Font inspired by Bruce and his signs. And Chen’s colleague Agyei Archer has designed a full font called Cayonne Sans which includes the lower case characters.

“In Bruce’s signs I see a succinct compression of TT expressions into an instantly recognisable graphic communication. I asked myself: how can you push the signs and letters in another way? The Fete Font takes the signs and brings them into the digital realm,” said Chen in a recent Guardian visit to Cayonne’s studio.

Chen isn’t the only person who has taken an interest. Designer Debbie Estwick, originally from Barbados but now based in Maracas Valley, St Joseph, is currently an adjunct instructor with the UWI’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts. She is doing her own project inspired by the signs—recycling them into sturdy, unique notebooks.

“I’m using the whole design process to try to create solutions, and to create new products that are very Caribbean-centred. This is my first collaboration with Bruce. I appreciate his attention to detail and typography, which is quite central to design,” she said.

Estwick studied for her BFA in Graphic Design at the Barbados Community College and did her Masters in Design and Branding Strategy at Brunel University in England. She runs her own business in design consulting called Collaborative Laboratory or CoLab, which aims to connect design practice with everyday people and communities through small projects and experiments. The notebook project is the first CoLab project. Her first book was made as a present for Chen, who collects and blogs about local hand-lettered signs.

“I am trying to show how design strategy can help drive innovation and provide sustainable social, cultural and environmental benefits in Trinidad,” she said.

At first she went around Trinidad hunting with friends for old fete signs by Cayonne, which they’d pull down for re-use. It was fun, but not very efficient. Now she’s worked out a better system where others in the promotions business collect and return outdated signs when they put up new ones. 

“This way, we can get the signs down before they can fall off and block drains or clutter the sidewalks or be confiscated by authorities. So the signs can be valued and enjoyed when they’re up, and find new life, up-cycled as something else, when they’re past their date,” said Estwick.

Back at Cayonne’s workshop, she has the outdated hardboard signs cut up into smaller sizes to make the notebook covers. They show details of Cayonne’s punchy, graphic hand-painted typography, with pieces selected for a pleasing abstract composition. She washes and sterilises all the sign bits first, before assembling the books. 

Her first book was all hand-sewn in black linen thread through eyelets for the binding; a very time-consuming process—one early book took six hours to make. Now, she hole-punches the covers and uses ring-binders to hold the paper. Some have closures made of string and crushed bottlecaps.

Estwick has also been experimenting with printing Caribbean proverbs and sayings in some of the prototype notebooks, using the Fete Font. Her first batch of recycled notebooks will be available for sale at Paper Based Bookshop later this month.

“This experiment was about trying to help people understand what design strategy can do, and what design can mean — how it can fuel innovation and help find solutions to problems,” said Estwick.

“People have this idea that graphic design is just there to make things pretty, to have things sell faster, and that’s all it does. But that isn’t the case at all. The notebook project is an example of how you can solve a problem—the visual and physical clutter of old fete signs, which can fall down and can clog up drains—while at the same time, recycle the material into a new product.”

Debbie Estwick:

Bruce Cayonne:
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 772-2661

Kriston Chen:


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