The signed loop approach is a beautiful way to rigorously study the two-dimensional Ising model with no external field. In this paper, we explore the foundations of the method, including details that have so far been neglected or overlooked in the literature. We demonstrate how the method can be applied to the Ising model on the square lattice to derive explicit formal expressions for the free energy density and two-point functions in terms of sums over loops, valid all the way up to the self-dual point. As a corollary, it follows that the self-dual point is critical both for the behaviour of the free energy density, and for the decay of the two-point functions. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.