Jakob Engberg, aka Copenhagen Signs, has added a book to his impressive portfolio, and it doesn’t disappoint in terms of content and production values. Danske Skilte (Danish Signs) is a trip through the history and variety of signage in Jakob’s home country, and serves as an inspiring visual reference (even for those that can’t read the Danish text!).

I first met Jakob at a workshop we ran at TEC in Copenhagen and we have kept in touch ever since, including time hanging out at Letterheads events. The publication of this book provided an opportunity to connect again and ask him about the project, what inspired him and what he wanted to achieve.

Tell me about yourself, and how you got into the sign game.

I’d been working with graphic design, painting, photography, graffiti and printing, before starting my apprenticeship as a sign maker. It was here that I found my passion for the traditional hand-painted sign!

Later, I was able to quit my job and go full time as a traditional sign painter. It was the best decision I ever made! I really love working with lettering and sign painting.

Jakob Engberg, Copenhagen Signs

What’s the back story to the book?

I share my workspace with a Graphic design studio, Spine Studio, who specialise in art and photo books. One day we were talking about making a book about Danish Signs. One thing led to another and we gathered a team, including: photographer; journalist; fundraiser; relevant contributors; and a publisher.

After more than a year of hard work, curating, interviewing and organising everything we made this beautiful book with 300 pages showcasing signs from all over Denmark.

Tell me a bit more about the book’s contents.

The book is first of all photo book filled with sign art.

The chapters are presented by me and categorised by lettering style e.g. Roman, Sans-Serif, Script, Decorative etc. Further text includes short stories, interviews and tales from Danish sign painters, architects, type and graphic designers, each sharing personal stories about signs. While all the words are in Danish, the book is predominantly visual, and so is relevant for anyone interested in typography, design and of course sign painting.

What’s the deal with the custom covers?

We made a limited edition series, each with a unique hand painted letter on the cover, by yours truly! The lettering is inspired by the alphabets (Modern Roman, Script and Sans-Serif) taught in Danish sign schools in the 20th century. It is an homage to sign painters in Denmark.

It was quite a big task to hand paint 100 book covers, but fun to do!

What did you learn in the process of creating the book?

The project slowly developed into this huge book with a lot of content. I learned how to manage and organise everyone involved, as I was in charge of the project. It was a good experience, to develop as a person and as craftsman, learning more about traditional Danish signs and getting to know a lot of highly renowned people of the trade.

It’s my first book and I must admit that it was a time consuming project, all done in addition to my daily work as sign painter. There were a couple of times where I thought ‘what is the massive project I have started!?’ but the end result is incredible and I am very proud of the book!

What do you think the future holds for signage in Copenhagen and Denmark?

The future is looking very bright! There’s a new generation, working with traditional sign painting. It’s beautiful to see the interest grow and more and more are making a living from the brush!

When I started painting signs around four years ago, I was one of the only ones working with hand lettering and sign painting. Now there are more than ten sign painters in the new generation, all eager to learn and keep the craft alive.

We are also connecting with the previous generation of sign painters, to learn more and become better at what we do. Actually the book has created a lot of new connections with sign painters from the past. Recently a 93-year-old sign painter got in touch with me. I’m visiting him next month to have a coffee and talk about signs! It’s amazing.

Finally, where can people get the book?

The book, both the normal version and the special edition, is available from the Booklab website.

Thanks Jakob, see you in Tokyo!