It is hard to believe that it was only seven years ago I witnessed a CNC router in action for the very first time. I was fascinated and simply had to have one! Although I had been in the creative end of the three dimensional sign business for most of my life I didn't really know what I would do with one - but I just knew it could do fantastic stuff.

Through extensive research I quickly found out that with the relative simplicity of EnRoute, CNC routers were capable of just about anything imaginable. This journal will chronicle that journey to date and continue each week with two or three entries as we continue to explore just what is possible with this wonderful software... -dan

Monday, October 12, 2015

Working out ideas - part two

The second vehicle I was working on was the punchline for the project - one that would inject a little humour into the piece. It is a fellow on a motorcycle with his girl in tow - literally. In h3e beginning of the sketch she was riding on the back of the bike, but as I scribbled I got a better idea. I imagined that as this dude took off his girl would start to fall off the back but grab on to the seat bar and hang on for dear life. In the sketchbook it is drawn as two separate drawings which I would combine in the final drawing after I scanned it into my computer. There's been a few more ideas come to mind on this concept since my drawing but they will have to wait until the build to be revealed.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Working out ideas - part one

The reveal of the idea for my entry in the 2016 Sign Invitational will be drawn out a little more than usual. Firstly I don't want to tip my hand too much, too early. Secondly it's just fun to tease. :)

When I'm working on an idea the ideas generally come thick and fast. I scribble them down into my sketchbook as quick as possible, not worried about scale, drawing quality nor how they might fit together. I just want to get the ideas down as fast as I can. Some of these quick scribbles are used, some not. All will be modified as they go through the design process and again as I physically build them.

The theme for this project was inspired by the movie 'PLANET 51' although I chose an earlier time frame by about two decades - the 1930's instead of the 1950's. It's been a few years since I saw the movie but I remembered enough to know just the look I was going for. The vehicles are actually flying saucers, and round in shape. My designs would also feature green people but from a different planet.

After the quick sketch of the last post which was little more than a quick scribble I set down to work designing the individual pieces. The first was a 1930's pickup (flying saucer style). When I build it there will be a fully detailed undercarriage, complete with a glowing levitation device of course.

The quick sketch from my book was scanned into PhotoShop and I used it as the basis for a new detailed drawing of the truck, complete with the alien at the wheel.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Scribbling ideas

When I received my invitation to the 2016 Sign Invitational it didn't take very long for me to think up a great idea. Not long at all. I quickly grabbed my sketchbook and over the next hour filled ten or twelve pages with scribbles (to most) of ideas. Before long I had my idea nailed.

I realize that some of my 'competition' reads these entries and I sure wouldn't want to tip my hand so early in the game - especially with such a competitive and talented bunch as are entered. But, that being said I'm not afraid either, so I've decided I'll show a couple of those initial sketches. If nothing else it will show how a project like this comes together.

The first scribble is the top half of my entry...  It will be called SIGN ODYSSEY. The drawing. although very rough positions each element in relation to all the others. I was working in approximate scale  to make sure it would all work out. I did spell odyssey wrong but I'll make sure that gets fixed as we proceed.

The top sculptural portion of the display has to fit into and be shipped in a box which will act as the display piece for the piece at the show. Because of the caliber of the competition I decided to pull out all the stops. The box for my piece will be over the top as well. The new plasma cutter will come in handy! I did up a rough sketch depicting the (space) SIGN ODYSSEY. I did it as one sketch and then broke it into four pieces - one for each side. This makes the pattern continuous, no matter which angle you view it from.

Over the next weeks I'll be posting progress shots as the design and pieces come together. Stay tuned...

2016 Sign Invitational

I absolutely love a challenge and when this arrived in my inbox I jumped at the chance!  Of the twenty invited sign makers there have been twelve of the world's best respond already. The competition is going to be incredibly intense and fun! Best of all of the entrants will be gathered in Orlando at the International Sign Show for everyone to talk to and perhaps garner some great tips. I look forward to seeing the entries all lined up in a row. 

MultiCam has stepped up as a sponsor of the display space for the entries. Precision Board (Coastal Enterprises)  has also signed on as a sponsor. And everyone's favourite sign magazine SignCraft has agreed to publish a series of articles on the contest. There will soon be a website with a blog to follow the many entries. I'll also be posting progress on my entry here as well. Stay tuned...

2016 Sign Invitational

The purpose of this contest is to showcase the talents of the participating sign makers. We all can benefit from a little friendly competition. Each participant is to create a showpiece to the best of their ability and in the process raise their own personal bar. In doing so they become better and benefit from the effort.

Contest Details:  

Contest date: April 20-23, 2016 ISA Expo Orlando, Florida

Registration: Invitation Only. Invitations will be sent out in Early October. The contest will be limited to 20 sign makers. Sign makers who wish to participate must RSVP by OCTOBER 30th 2015 to be included.  The contest lineup will be completed and announced  by October, 31, 2015


1) Each sign maker is responsible for shipping their creation to and from the ISA show. Deadline for shipping and arrival to ISA Expo is TBD. Creations may be hand delivered to the show as long as they arrive by the deadline.

2) Each sign maker who enters the contest is required to attend the show. The great part in this contest is getting to know and learn from each other. Competition is a great motivator. 

3) Each creation when assembled has to fit inside a specific envelope. The piece on it’s display stand (the crate) must measure no more than six feet tall by two feet wide by two feet deep. This build envelope includes a shipping crate which your creation must fit inside (for transport) and be displayed on top for the show. Please refer to diagram A.

4) Electric (120 volt) or battery power may be integrated into the creation. Lighting of all types is allowed. All types of motorization/mechanical movement are prohibited.

5) Each piece must have the word ‘SIGNS’ integrated into the design in some fashion.

6) Judging will take place at the 2016 ISA Sign Expo and will be voted on by show attendees in a blind judging fashion. The creations are not to be visibly identified by shop, artist name or logo.


Rube Goldberg  - A contraption , invention, device or apparatus that is deliberately over-engineered to perform a simple task in a complicated fashion.

These machines usually have many moving parts. Because our contest allows no motorization or movement of the display piece(s) it presents a formidable design challenge to capture the feeling of movement. The further constraints of maximum size and theme also make the design that much more difficult. It is our hope that the more challenging the competition the more creative the entries will be. This is a chance to have some real fun!

All creations will be displayed for judging in MultiCam's booth at the 2016 International Sign Expo in Orlando, Florida

Results of the blind voting will be announced at the ISA show on April 23, 2016. Time TBD.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Adding a little color

Two of the models are now in the paint stage and coming along nicely.  It won't be long until they are finished.

The little tugboat is sporting all of it's base colors and is ready for the first of it's glazes.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Starting sunken ship sculpt

Angie and I made good progress on the sunken ship model today in two one hour sculpting sessions. She mixed the epoxy while I sculpted, except what I was called away and she got to do the little crab on the rock beside the ship. In an hour or two at most tomorrow we should have this thing ready for paint.  Since its a study model to be used to talk to sponsors of the attraction I didn't overly fret about detail, instead concentrating on capturing the story and mood. It's coming together nicely and should paint up pretty nice. Stay tuned...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sub model - part one

The second project study model we are building is a submarine. But it's not a typical sub. This one is designed to appeal to kids... something they would imagine to explore the deep. The model will be a combination of CNC and hand sculpting. As always it started with a concept.

 I drew the needed vectors for the claws, legs and tanks in EnRoute.

Then I began building the reliefs. The cylinders for the legs was first. I used the pill shaped vector to create a round shape using the dome tool. Then the piston rod in the same fashion.

I then created a zero height relief which I would use to trim the cylinder to length using the merge highest function.

 Then I began building the various relief - all as individual pieces.

The larger parts of the legs and claws were modified by sinking the centre portions.

 The rivets and pins were added to the reliefs using the dome tool.

 The dome tool was again used to create the ballast tanks.

 I then combined all of the reliefs to make the legs and claws one piece.

I then nested all of the pieces and created a zero height relief big enough to accommodate all of the pieces plus a border big enough to accept the bits I would be using. The pieces were merged to this base plate using the MERBE HIGHEST command. It was then ready for tool pathing and was sent off to the MultiCam to be cut from 1 sheet of 30 lb Precision Board. I purposely left an onion skin so the tiny pieces wouldn't remove themselves from the vacuum table. Tomorrow we'll glue them up and begin hand sculpting the rest of the crab.