Upcycling Project Aesthetic – 1950’s Signage

I am choosing the 1950’s Signage aesthetic for my upcycle project, using mostly scrap aluminum and cardboard. This aesthetic was brought to my attention by Brandon Pillips’ post 1 on the aesthetic, and I don’t mean to rip him off but I like it and want to emulate it myself. The dilapidated signs I see on road trips bring a certain feeling of nostalgia, which is interesting considering I was not born early enough to see these signs in their prime. I think that the upcycling project is perfect to capture this aesthetic, as reused materials would exemplify the way the signs have deteriorated over time. I think that I would use mostly aluminum cans since the bright colors pop the same way. I want to create something like the stardust motel sign specifically since it exemplifies much of the 50’s aesthetic and has features that make it 3-Dimensional. I’ll need to source a lot of material for this project since I would like to make it a couple of feet tall, so hopefully I can find lots of soda cans in bins near me or ask a local vendor to hang onto some for me.

Stardust Motel print kitschy mid-century motel sign photo image 2

[1] Stardust Motel Print – Ed Kiley

I specifically enjoy the old motel signs with the starburst on top, I find it kind of funny how motels felt the need to advertise themselves so brightly and vibrantly. I think the geometric shapes will be fun to recreate, and a collage of cut-out soda cans could achieve all of the colors and styles I want here, but there will be a lot of aluminum cutting involved. The Skylit Motel photo below shows another starburst and some more geometric shapes, with an interesting star pattern along the left side. This is another piece that I could draw inspiration from but I want something more 3-dimensional.

Vintage Motel Sign - Sky Lit Photograph by Dusty Maps - Fine Art America

[2] Skylit Motel Sign – Dusty Maps

I also want my emulation to be run-down like it has been standing since this style of sign was popular with little maintenance. Not so far as to look like the Dallas Drive In Cleaners sign below, but somewhere between that and the Stardust Motel sign. I can probably achieve this with a little sandblasting or maybe just some sandpaper, and using recycled aluminum would show some discoloration that we might expect in this design.

Vintage 50s Diner Signs with Retro Charm

[3] Dallas Drive In Cleaners – Shakes The Clown

In summary, I wish to do my Upcycle Project with an emulation of the 1950’s signage aesthetic using old soda cans and cardboard. This aesthetic speaks to some nostalgia and the bright colors make it pop. I hope to make it about 3 feet tall (materials permitting) and work on it to give it a deteriorated look. There’s a perfect spot in my house for this to go when I’m finished, so that’s something to look forward to. I’ll need to decide what exactly the sign will say, but I’m going for something 3-dimensional with the starbursts shown in the Stardust and Sky-lit motel signs above.

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • […] Upcycling Project Aesthetic – 1950’s Signage […]

  • Hi Noah! I really enjoyed reading about your research on signage from the 1950s. I love this aesthetic in general – I think it’s a super interesting design aesthetic and I can’t wait to see what comes out of your project in the coming weeks. I was wondering… are you planning on adding lighting to your project? Also, what is the scale you’re thinking of working in? LMK your thoughts!

    • Hailey, I considered adding lights, but I think it could be difficult to procure lights that match the aesthetic the way I want them to without purchasing them. I am considering using something to emulate the look of burnt-out neon light tubes that sometimes accompany these, maybe using spent glo sticks or something. I haven’t decided yet. I want to make this as large as possible, but I think my material availability will end up dictating the scale. Ideally about 3 feet tall.


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