PORTRAIT.  Julien Raout, painter of letters, illuminates the windows of Paris with gold leaf

PORTRAIT. Julien Raout, painter of letters, illuminates the windows of Paris with gold leaf

Julien Raout has been a painter of letters in Paris since 2014. (©ES/ news Paris)

Since 2014 Julien Raout35, he moves his ladder and brushes to the four corners Paris. letter painter, decorates all kinds of shop windows and displays by hand. This age-old profession, which seemed to disappear with the advent of computers and new printing techniques, has experienced a resurgence of activity in recent years as a sign of a return to the favor of the craft.

Fascination for the letter

This morning, Julien arrives at an elegant jewelry store in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. Must draw login name golden letters on the doors and in the front. He had already placed the plate with the precious carats on the glass entrance to the shop.

“This gilding can only be achieved by hand,” he whispers, gently wiping the highly volatile material on the glass. From childhood, Julien was fascinated by the mysteries of the alphabet. “I watched my classmates write, trying to copy their handwriting,” he recalls as he prepared a thin brush with elongated, flattened bristles. “I can paint for hours without noticing the passing of time, it clears my head,” he explains, vigorously stirring a spoon in a beaker filled with pigmented black.

gold leaf and colors

A cap perched over his ears, a palette wedged on his thumb, the painter grips his long stick with a knob. It allows him to get a foothold without risking paint stains on the window.

Special brushes are needed for painting on letters.
Special brushes are needed for painting on letters. (©ES/ news Paris)

He takes a deep breath, immerses himself in the brush and goes for a long and careful realization. The gold leaf is gradually covered with fine lace writing, revealing the brand name in reverse. “Then I will come and remove all the excess, leaving only the letter, golden from the outside, black from the inside.”

An ancient profession that almost disappeared at the end of the 20th century

Very common in 19th and 20th centuriesthe painter of letters was the guardian of the ubiquitous know-how in the cities: he was the only one who could decorate signs and design advertising displays and wall sign elements.

With developmentcomputer sciencenew printing perspectives and the arrival of plastic, the profession gradually disappeared from the 70s, replaced by self-adhesive labels and Plexiglas or electric signs.

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“In 30 or 40 years, the activity completely collapsed. Letter painters discovered new digital tools, it was a revolution for them. Those who stayed mostly discouraged me from the activity.”

Julien Raoutpainter in letters

Become a letter painter

After training in art of Nancy, Julien had a brief experience as a model maker. Staying at the computer does not suit him. He discovers the profession of a letter painter by chance through a video. Revelation.

“I was doing a lot of graffiti at the time. The letter was my escape door: to be able to leave my mark on the city, but to be called and paid for it, it’s nice! “, he smiles.

Self-taught training

As there was no training, the young man equipped himself and set off on his own, going to craftsmen and learning at home tame the alphabet. Some letters resist more than others: “that u, I never liked that,” admits the craftsman, busy very slowly tracing the curve connecting the two legs of the defiant letter.

Julien makes a display case that is gold on the outside, black on the inside.
Julien makes a display case that is gold on the outside, black on the inside. (©ES/ news Paris)

After the first projects, the order book grows rapidly. While working, the young man hones his technique, develops his own secret recipes. “A helping hand is acquired over time. It is important to be able to adapt to all situations, all environments. There are always unforeseen events. You need to know how to keep calm, be patient and resourceful to find a solution. Once the paint is applied to the raw wood, there is no going back,” he explains.

“Montmartre or Marais, it’s terrible, nothing is right”

The first obsession of the painter in letters: curved facades and oblique translations. “You have to be very careful, a sign that is not centered or not straight is unforgivable,” says Julien as he inspects the facade, armed with a tape measure and spirit level.

“In the old districts of Paris, like Montmartre or the Marais, it’s horrible, nothing is straight,” explains the painter, tracing the slightest roughness. His gaze fixed on the mark, he walks backwards to ensure the perfect symmetry of his marking.

From neighborhood bistros to big luxury brands

Days are busy for Julien. In recent years, this profession has risen from the ashes. In the letters, the young painters rush to the edge of the few old ones who remained in the environment. Today you can find them in all major cities. “I always believed in the future of this profession. I came at the right time, we know and revival of craft, people want handmade. »

In the very competitive Paris, the advantage of a store with a tailor-made brand is striking. For a higher price than a printed sign (made to measure according to demand), customers from all walks of life flock.

The demand is huge, from small bistros to large luxury brands, including hotels, cinemas, perfumeries and art galleries. “Letters, we need them everywhere! I also do a lot of inscriptions or paintings on boats, on old cars…”

Ancient and modern

A new generation of letter painters continues to flourish instagram. The brush stroke and gold leaf are photogenic and give this activity a newer look. “It’s still difficult to find out how many there are. I think there are about thirty literary painters in Paris. »

Very durable, colors and gold leaf, protected by varnish, nodon’t change with time. “It even gives the letters a nice patina,” explains the downstroke and upstroke expert. He never tires of observing the signs that have survived time, the witnesses lost skills today.

“Some of the techniques that are still visible in the old Parisian storefronts are almost gone, such as the gold letters in relief and under glass that we occasionally see. »

“I’m fascinated by it perfection which the ancients had. They managed to have a perfect rendition. Whereas today we accept a little irregularity that adds to the soul of the whole,” he marvels, holding up the brush that has just drawn a flawlessly regular loop.

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