I have glitter in the floorboards of my house, paint on every item of clothing I own, no matter how “new,” and am secretly happy every time my son has an art assignment and asks for my help. But what if art is not your thing, and you want to raise your voice in protest? How do you make a sign that speaks your mind and grabs attention? Here’s a short primer on the protest sign.
You’re going to be walking, standing, putting your sign down, waving it. It’s going to get bumped, beaten by the wind, maybe dropped a few times and stepped on. Maybe you’d like to re-use it for another action? Make sure it lasts.
I recommend foam board—heavier than ordinary poster board, which tends to fold over, especially if you use a large sheet, or if it’s going to be windy. You can also use cardboard, either a project display board you can buy at an office store, or a panel recycled from a box. You can paint the background before starting to letter.
Your letters need to be large and clear. Readability is important. Can someone see your message from a passing car? Would it show up in a photograph of the event?
Use a ruler and pencil to make lines on your poster if you’re worried about keeping letters straight; you can erase the lines later. Start lettering in pencil first if you like. I draw the “skeletons” of letters, flesh out their outlines, then shade them in. Paint pens, various-tipped markers with acrylic paint inside, are my favorite for projects because of their vivid colors.
When it comes to picking colors, again, visibility should guide you. What color do you love, and what shades can be seen? Making every single letter a different color is overwhelming. But perfect is boring, and the quirks make it interesting. If you really don’t like your handwriting, you can buy paper letters at craft stores and glue them on, like this sign from Olivia Locher:
Your message should matter to you. In these code red days, organizers recommend choosing just two or so issues that are extremely important to you and directing your energy like a laser.
The same is true of your sign. Pick a single issue that you’re passionate about and focus on it. What if someone asks you about your sign? Can you speak to it?
Play to your strengths. If drawing is a strong point, illustrate. If you’re witty, some of my favorite protest signs have been funny.
The brain ignores the negative. Avoid words like “don’t”—we tend to skip over them. Instead, try to keep your message positive and active: Ban Fracking Now. Let Refugees In.
Steal a trick from advertising: Rhyme can sometimes help your message stick. Here’s the messaging I came up with for an anti-fracking protest: Our Water, Our Lives; Their Poison, Their Lies.
In January, I participated in a small but vocal women’s march in Indiana. After an hour or so of standing around in the cold, my arms got tired. My sign was painful before we even stared marching. I forgot to make a handle.
Consider using something like a cardboard tube for a handle. Tape it on. Paint stir sticks seem perfect for a sign handle, but some towns ban wood in demonstrations, due to safety concerns, so familiarize yourself with local regulations before you finalize your sign.
Give yourself enough time to make mistakes and be creative. The important thing is that you show up—and keep showing up.
This article originally appeared on Paint is Power.