The Man with The Silver Fingers

“Do you ever get sick of painting jeepney signs?”I asked, expecting a cynical answer. “Why would I get sick of it? Why would you get sick of what you love doing? You get tired, sure. But you don’t get sick of it. If you get sick of painting, don’t be a painter!”

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Manong Silverio sits on the side of the road on a cushion balanced on an old paint can, painting signs for jeeps, shops, and basically anyone who’s willing to pay.
I asked him how he got to painting. He’s 54 now, but when he was a kid used to watch painters do their lettering and that’s how he learned. He had no formal education on the craft. He used to work for a company and the biggest thing he’s done was a 16 ft high, 14 ft wide painting outside the top floor of a City Land building 10 years ago.

How long does it take to finish a Jeepney signboard?

From cutting to painting, around 15-20 minutes for a regular sign.

How long has he been doing it?

Since he was 10 years old. He’s 54 at the time of this writing.

Materials

  • Enamel and Acrylic (by request) paints;
  • plastic boards from old window blinds, or “venetian blinds” as he refers to them and plywood as painting surfaces;

Manong cuts corners out of plastic panel he is about to paint on Silverio and his make-shift ruler and cutter blade giving the panel a straight edge.

Tools

  • Recycled paint cans for mixing, propping up surfaces, and sitting on;
    two long-bristled sign brushes, one large and one smaller one for details;
  • two pencils;
  • a cutting blade without a handle;
  • old plastic sign as a ruler; and
  • a slab of plywood used as a cutting-mat.

Manong Silverio's daily tools Manong Silverio’s daily tools.

Process

He paints on old “venetian blinds” that a junk cart vendor sells to him and his partner when he comes by. That and plywood is normally what they use for jeepney route cards but Mang Silverio has painted on cement, metal, and several other surfaces as well. He picked out a good size based on what I asked for and cut it neater and rounding its corners.

Manong cuts corners out of plastic panel he is about to paint on Manong cuts corners out of plastic panel he is about to paint on.

After cutting, Manong Silverio cleans the surface with water and laundry detergent soap. For tougher stains, he uses paint thinner.

thinner Thinner is poured into an old paint can.
02 Manong Silverio soaping and rinsing a panel for painting.

Then I told him what I wanted written on it. Very lightly, he sketched out the letters, perhaps more in his mind than on the panel itself.

03 Manong Silverio’s pencil strokes are hardly visible.

He started at the end, painting letters with slurred serifs for the word QUIT. He repeated strokes for thickness, and sometimes to modify the outer form.

04 Starting with “quit”

He finished the sign in no time, most of it being how I had imagined, the rest were welcome additions from the artist.

05 The artist continues with “to,” apparently working backwards.
06 After completing “Too,” Silverio establishes the spine of the cursive L.
07 Silverio gives the centerpiece its deserved attention and flare.
08 Added yellow “shadows” give the lettering depth.
09 the sign, almost finished. Note the t’s crossbar and the exploding dot on the i

Mang Silverio probably painted close to 20 or more signs that day. While we were still on the subject of getting “tired” of painting Manong Silverio said,

While I still have strength, while it’s still a livelihood—while I still can, I’ll be painting. It’s what I love doing.”

Click here to see a short Video interview with Manong Silverio.

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