• How to design and paint a garden sign

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    Paint a garden sign and express yourself!

    I LOVE garden quotes and cute sayings,..do you?  The best way to express yourself this way is to make a fun garden sign.    Hand painting garden signs is not the easiest craft to do, but nowadays computers can help you make a pattern, or you can always try free style!  These cute DIY Garden Signs below can be made from new or reclaimed wood.


    As a youngster, I had a job making signs for a Government contractor. The company needed a lot of signs and a willing student like me to make them, so I took on the work and found out that sign making can be tricky, but fun!  The first rule of thumb taught to me by my art director—make sure the lettering will fit before you start painting (or stenciling, or sticking, in the case of vinyl letters).

    It’s a perfect fit! These words are placed evenly on this sign photographed by Debbie Perry McMurry. No doubt, this artist had lots of practice with a brush and could do this without a pattern.

    Choose a shape

    In my early days of sign making, I worked out my designs on tracing paper first. Sometimes I transferred the art to a sign with the help of an overhead projector, then painted by hand and even airbrushed. As you’ve probably gathered, this was long before computers, software, and the many digital tools that make sign making so much easier!

    Fast forward to today, here’s an example of how I made a garden sign. This piece of gingerbread wood shown above, was small enough that I could scan it and place the JPG file into a drawing program. You won’t need to do anything this complicated to design a sign. Using a drawing program with the rulers displayed will give you a good idea if your letters will fit.

    Choose your wording and font

    Using a font called “Perpetua” with lots of spacing between the letters, I planned out this “Flowers” design. Printed out on white paper, it was easy to transfer to the wood with carbon paper and a pencil. Next, I filled in the letters with brown acrylic paint and sanded them a little when dry …

    The finished gingerbread flower sign, photographed by Patty Hicks.

    Making a pattern

    I use lots of software programs now, but if I were just starting out, I’d make my sign pattern in PowerPoint because it has a lot of powerful drawing tools, but is also easy to teach yourself. But really, you can use any drawing program you like to design sign lettering.

    You can do free-style lettering as shown on the above a sign (without a pattern), but it’s a good idea to practice on paper first to see how much space your design will need. Photograph by Barbara Vengalli.

    Here’s what to do once you have your lettering designed: print out your pattern on plain white paper—you may have to tape a few of the words together to form a long phrase.


    Transfer your design

    Attach your pattern with a piece of tape forming a hinge onto your sign wood. Slip carbon or transfer paper between, with transfer medium facing the wood. Transfer the pattern to the wood using a good pencil point. Sometimes you can skip the carbon paper step and use a pencil alone to trace the letters, because indentations might be pressed into the wood for a pattern you can follow.

    Paint and brushes

    Use exterior house paint, craft paint or paint pens with a poly coat over top. A small round brush works best.

    Once you have your outlines transferred, use a small paint brush and fill in the letters. If you goof, “erase” the paint with a wet paper towel or baby wipe, and try again!

    Once dry, sanding the paint off a bit is great way to make it look distressed and aged. I also paint my signs with crackle paint, varnish, and brown glaze, because I love signs that look old!

    This Farm Fresh 5¢ sign is what my art professor would call “hand made lettering”, photographed by Alaine Yon. It shows you don’t need a pattern at all sometimes. Just a general plan and a little whimsy!

     Try freehand signs for fun!

    Hand painting garden signs is not the easiest craft to do, but nowadays computers can help you make a pattern, or you can always try free style! For lots more inspiration, check out our Facebook album of Shabby Garden Signs



    Garden sign quotes and Sayings

    My Garden peaked last week, sorry you missed it.

    When heaven falls to earth it becomes a garden…

    Happily Ever After

    Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.
    Thomas Jefferson

    Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy junk
    and that’s kinda the same thing.

    “Who plants a seed
    beneath the sod,
    and waits to see,
    believes in God”
    — Author unknown

    God blesses my garden, but he doesn’t weed it.

    “In the garden we forget to count the hours”

    “A beautiful garden is a work of heart”

    “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade”

    “Grow where you’re planted”

    “The seed is hope; the flower is joy”

    “You can bury a lot of troubles, digging in the dirt ”

    “Weed it and Reap ”

    “Weeds for sale – pick your own ”

    “Grow where you’re planted”


    Share and Enjoy


    Stephie McCarthy is an illustrator, designer, and writer who is a passionate gardener and restoring a 150 year old house in historic Harpers Ferry, WV.



    1. Jeanne Sammons says:

      Thanks, Stephie …looks like a challenge for the cold, Wintery months ahead! I like both methods you’ve shared here…esp love the Gingerbread pc!

    2. Myra Glandon says:

      Hi Stephie. I have never made a garden sign. That project intimidates me, and usually makes me feel unartistic and uncoordinated. :) But if I follow your advice MAYBE I would be able to do it. I’ll let you know if I do.