Enamored of Enamel

Jess Grimsdale is a signwriter and illustrator based in Bristol, U.K. Trained as an illustrator at Falmouth University, she found herself drawn to the vibrant folk art of sign painting found on the canals and roadways around Britain, and has since made it her life’s work to help keep this artistic tradition alive.

For her Zócalo Sketchbook, Grimsdale painted five pieces of enamelware with roses and scrollwork traditional to British “canal art.” The roses Grimsdale depicts were commonly seen on 19th-century working boats. This was “a time when the canals were busy with industry and families took great pride in their brightly decorated vessels,” she tells Zócalo. The painting was “quick and efficient,” Grimsdale adds, “as there would have been many boats to work on, hence the stylized nature of the artwork.”

The scroll shape has its own deep roots in signwriting and folk art. “The classic shape of the scroll, with all its flicks and flourishes, is inspired by the leaf of the Acanthus plant, a design that dates back to Greek and Roman architecture,” says Grimsdale. While the shape has become “quite far removed from its original model, particularly in signwriting,” she shares that she often turns to those early carvings for inspiration.


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