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, May 31, 2010

A little more traditional.

We've worked very hard for many years to establish a reputation as a sign shop that did anything but 'ordinary' signs. But that doesn't mean we can do traditional designs - with a twist to take them over the top of course.
Our latest project is a sign for a naturopathic doctor. He asked us to design a sign that reflected the heritage of the old farmhouse that housed his clinic. It was well over a hundred years old, but now in the center of town. We came up with a sign that respected this heritage and also the occupation of the doctor. The sign will sport the same green color as the house. Everything that is yellow in the design will be 23K gold leaf of course. The base of the sign will be covered in river rock as a symbol of his natural approach to medicine
The sign design was created in EnRoute using the vector logo the doctor had provided. The curly-cues are from the Butler Gold collection.
I used a variety of techniques to create the 3D routing file. The lettering is beveled as are the culy-cues. Other elements are domed. I also added a subtle dome under the logo to make it pop off the sign. The woodgrain texture was created from a sandblasted woodgrain bitmap from my collection. The file is being routed from a 1.5" thick sheet of 30 lb Precision Board as I type. The picture below shows the rough cut about 3/4 of the way through.
I never get tired of watching the MultiCam whittle the shapes from the flat sheet. I know the files are complex mathematical formulas - code generated inside EnRoute. While I could never hope to understand how it works, I do know having this amazing program allows me to dream up ideas, and then in mere minutes create files that takes hours to run. I love watching the result... watching the machine move as if by MAGIC... and before my eyes the project I had just imagined comes to life.
Stay tuned as the pieces of this project come together...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Twisted metal

The second name panel I would create for the Sign Magic Workshop was for Doug from Illinois. I knew he was into rusty, weathered (faux) metal and rivets. I also knew he claimed to be a member of the "Blind Magicians of the Orient." I would combine these two ideas into one name plaque. The premise of the piece is that it is an old piece of a ship wreck, salvaged from the deep. The name of the ship is 'DOUG' of course. A few of the rivets on the slightly stressed and twisted metal are missing. But if you take into account the clues above namely 'Blind Magicians' you will notice the triple row of rivets spell out MAGIC in braille.
This vector file was relatively simple, comprised of two panels, a triple row of rivets, and the lettering. It only took minutes to create. I then created simple reliefs in EnRoute adding a simple fade/blend bitmap to create the twist in the metal.
Then I used a second bitmap file from my collection called Splotches 2 which creates a deeply pitted look to faux metal.
The rivets were simple rounded reliefs. The missing reliefs were done as zero height reliefs which effectively drilled holes when I merged lowest with the main relief. The lettering was a simple 0.2" tall relief.
The file was tool pathed with a rough cut using a 3/8" ball nose bit and the final pass was done with a 80% overlap using a 1/8" ball nose bit. As the MultiCam churned away I was back to my desk with another inspiration for the next panel...

The brainy one

One of our attendees to our Sign Magic Workshop is just finishing her Arts Masters degree at University. Robin seems to enjoy a playful but very thoughtful approach to her art. As I thought about a name plaque for her the image of a brain came to mind. I would wrap her name over this image - just for fun.
I did a quick sketch in my book to make sure the idea flew and I was happy with only a quick partial drawing. I already had created a bitmap in my collection which would provide the texture I needed. Then I created the vector drawing which I would need to make the reliefs in EnRoute. The design would be both formal and playful at the same time.
The relief for the 'brain' was a simple oval. This was made into a domed relief. The two halves of the brain were then added to this relief by O.15". The outline around the lettering was created as a flat relief .7" high - an arbitrary number. I then selected an oval the same size as the brain relief as well as the letter outline and created a domed relief of the lettering. Going to the side view I bumped it up until the letter outline protruded over the brain relief a suitable amount. The texture bitmap was added to the brain to a depth of 0.15"and everything checked with a render before proceeding.

The background oval was created with a chamfered edge by limiting the height of the relief which was done with the create bevel relief. Lastly I added the domed lettering to the lettering outline. Once I had adjusted everything to fit inside my 1.5" thick material I them merged the elements together to form one relief.
I used my favorite tool bits to cut the piece... a rough pass with a 3/8" ball nose bit at a 50% overlap to start. The rough pass took less than 10 minutes.
The final pass was done with a 1/8" ball nose tapered bit with a 80% overlap. I was running the files with an island fill - perfect for this shape piece. I ran the files on our MultiCam 3000 series router at 300 inches per minute. The final pass took just under an hour for this 12" x 14" panel.
While the file was running on the MultiCam I was busy at my desk creating the file for the next panel...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What's in a name?

One of my most challenging tasks these days is to dream up name plaques for each of the attendees at our Sign Magic Workshops. While it would be easy to simply type out each name and then create the routing files I try to do a little better that. My own name plate above is a good example of what I am trying to do with these pieces. My name is there of course - all lower case as I sign it these days. It's a cartoon font signifying the type of work I enjoy. Every line on the plaque is wiggly and textured of course - my trademark. But creating a tag for myself is easy. I know who I am and what I am into. It is not nearly that easy to come up with unique plaques that suit each of those who come.

As each person signs up for the workshop I immediately go on a quest for details about them. While this sometimes limited information helps me come up with ideas for the plaque I also do my best to find out more. The better I know my students, the better I am able to teach them. What are they into? What are their hobbies? What are their current abilities? Where do they come from?

I jot down the details I manage to gather... then set to work creating the dimensional artwork. Sometimes it's easy. We've played host to many folks I've known for years. Some I have read about in the sign magazines. Other times it is a real challenge. When I'm really stumped I'll pick up the phone and talk to them - but don't come out and tell them why I've called. Listening to their voice alone is often enough to spark a cool idea that reflects their personality. Contact is often only by email only meaning I have very little to go on. The web is sometimes a great source of information. Most are business people with websites and there are always clues there to go on. Some are artists who have had showings of their work. Sometimes I simply have to come up with something with little to go on except their name.
Today I started work on six name plaques for the folks that have signed up so far for the workshop in June. In the next series of entries I'll chronicle the process of design and production on this fun projects...


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Quick painting job

The painting started with the tan color, followed by the first of the glazes purposely overlapping the areas not yet painted. I painted it in this fashion to minimize the amount of edge cutting I would need to do.
The next step was to lay in the colors on the bib jeans, followed by a dark blue glaze to bring out the jean textures. Then I painted all the other bits including the buttons, bow tie and the bear's eyes.
A dark brown glaze was next over everything that was painted. Then the lower areas of the letters was painted the same color as well as the bear's nose and eye pupils. Things were progressing fairly rapidly. The lettering areas got two coats of white paint in preparation for the next step. Each time I completed a color I would put the piece under the shop fans to speed up the drying time.
The only thing left was the lettering. I started with the black which was easy to cut with the raised layers I had created as I built the file in EnRoute. The blended lettering was next. The finishing touch was the two little white highlights in the bear's eyes to bring the piece to life.

The parade is still two weeks away but things are almost ready. It sure beats rushing around at the last minute!

Making it look like a bear...

After the basic shape of the bear's head was established I got a bucket of clean water and slopped it onto the sculpture. This would stop my fingers and other tools from sticking to the sculpt. I first smoothed things out then using a piece of an old towel I pressed it gently into the soft sculpting medium. The terry towel makes believable skin texture complete with pores. The folds I had in the material even created wrinkles. This texture was applied to all the areas which wouldn't be covered by hair.
Then I formed small bits of sculpt about twice the size of a finger nail and applied them in random rows, starting at the bottom. After wetting the sculpt I used a small sharpened stick to draw in lines which looked amazingly like fur. I kept it random ... this was a wild bear after all.
Then it was time for his coveralls. I formed the parts, wet them down and pressed in some coarse lawn chair fabric we had bought for this purpose. When the fabric is pulled off the pattern remains. Once stained with the glazes it will look pretty fine!
The final step was to add his eyes and bow tie. It needs to cure overnight before we get busy with the paint...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Creative on a budget

Most projects in our shop involve CNC router work in some form. Often it is just little bits... if the router is the best tool I fire it up in an instant. One of the projects I am working on this week is a parade float for our second business Giggle Ridge Adventure Golf. Since the parade float will only be used for one parade this year the budget and time invested were of course limited. But that didn't mean it was to be less creative.
I've been working on a train project for our yard for more than five years. Every grampa should have an electric train for the grandkids. Mine just happens to be a little bigger than most. There is still lots of track to be laid and the engine still lacks the electronics and motor, but it is looking pretty good already. The train engine has employed a little dimensional router work including the name plates and the numbers on the side of the engine, With the forced deadline of the parade it was the perfect excuse to put in a little time on the project making it ready to use as this year's parade float. That involved doing some metal fabrication work on the hitches which went quickly. I also decided the signs we would use for promoting Giggle Ridge should be dimensional. It's the way we do things in our shop. I had built the EnRoute files and done the routing for two copies of the signs more than a year ago. One was for up at the golf - the other as a sample piece for the wall here at the studio. Only one copy had been completed, while the other had gathered dust in the time since I had begun the project. Yesterday I dusted the pieces off and set to work once more. I know there are some who are curious how we combine our sculpting work with the routered stuff we do. This project will answer that question.
The routing file was done in four layers. The bottom layer was the log background. This file was created by using one of my bitmap textures. The grey scale artwork instantly was transformed into dimensional artwork by using EnRoute. The next two layers of the sign were simple routing offsets of the letter shapes. The top layer of the sign lamination was the name Giggle Ridge. It features a custom font I call Spaz and more textures created using one of my bitmaps. I had done some priming and painting of the pieces back when they were routed but they were also marked with the dirt, dust and paint splashes from hanging around too long in the shop. No harm however for we would soon fix that.
To start the sculpture I cut some bear shaped blocks from scrap Precision Board. These would save a bunch of epoxy sculpting material and speed up the process.
I screwed the pieces to the base layers and then used the die grinder to quickly add some rough shape to the head and shoulders. In short order we were ready to begin the sculpting process. The epoxy is made from two components... a resin and an activator. They are mixed in equal proportions and the end result is a sticky, clay like medium. I compare it to plasticene - the stuff we all played with as kids. Only this gets rock hard in about 3-4 hours. I quickly shmooshed it on the blocks I had cut to shape.
Once the entire shape of the bear head was done it was time to start in on the detail work.

I'll be continuing the story the next time I post...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another one done!

Last week the weather finally got nice enough for three days in a row to finish our project on Vancouver Island. I had delivered the pieces a couple of weeks ago so the client could build the small building. I was to do the faux rock work around the bottom and do a little touchup. The work only took about 12 hours at a leisurely pace, sometimes merely waiting for paint to dry. I spent an equal amount of time just getting to the worksite and back.

The days were warm and sunny, the birds were singing cheerfully, perfect for the work at hand. Everything we had done in the shop fit perfectly and looked great along side the work we had done six years previous. Matching colors on the touchups was easy as we had carefully noted the colors we had used and the old paint had faded little in the ensuing years. It's nice when a plan comes together!
I of course had to take the convertible for one last test drive before I headed back down the road home.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Finishing the prefabrication...

As always, we started with our base coats using a top quality acrylic paint - all brushed on by hand. I planned the painting process to make it as easy as possible... just as I had when I was fabricating. It is a lot easier to cut painted edges to a corner or raised edge. By designing with painting in mind it speeds up the process greatly. I was also mindful of light and shadows as I designed. Nothing showcases dimension better than light and shadows.
Once the base coats were on we mixed up a custom glaze called 'grime' to age the pumps instantly. The car was done in the same fashion. The glazes instantly tied all the colors together. These pumps and the car looked like they had been around and in use since the 1930's. They would also fit seamlessly into the facility we had built more than six years ago.
Loading the pieces was easy for this too had been kept in mind since the planning stage. I had welded threaded nuts into the car to screw in eye bolts for lifting and to fasten the load onto the trailer. To load the pieces onto my trailer I used our overhead lifting beam in the shop and then backed the trailer under the elevated pieces. Once the features were safely onsite the eye bolts were simply unscrewed and the piece was ready to go.
Before we knew it the time had come to deliver the pieces... always an exciting day at our shop. Driving down the road was an adventure. Every stop we were surrounded in an instant with lots of questions about what it was for, where was it going and even of they could pose for a picture or two beside the imaginative load.
The trip was uneventful and my client was all smiles as we pulled up. He had a machine waiting to help unload and the pieces were in place in minutes. I would return to do the finishing touches when they had the building constructed around the pieces we had done.
Stay tuned for the final installment...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Small simple bits make for a larger and complex project.

The beauty of using EnRoute is that these seemingly complex pieces can be made relatively simply. I only built the file once and then resized it for the three applications. Gluing the pieces back to back gave me the pieces I needed for the pump toppers and the sign. Multiple pieces, as required for this project are as simple as creating a copy and then nesting the pieces to fit on the Precision Board.
On this project the routed pieces were relatively small, but by using the router to produce the most complex parts it saved me a bunch of time over all. Using the router also ensured conformity in multiples. Using EnRoute allowed me to make these pieces NOT appear to be machine made.
The gas pumps were fashioned the same way as the car. A 'pencil rod' frame was welded over a simple structural steel. This would allow for safe transport and installation in one piece.

Before we started in on the paint I took it for a test drive to make sure it felt right. Stay tuned for some paint shots and the final installation...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Small piecess in a large puzzle

As I revisited the project we had done pre-router days it made me appreciate just how much easier things are these days with our high tech tools. The project I put the finishing touches to wasn't largely done with the modern ways, but they did play an important part and made the project both faster and easier as well as better.
The project was the entrance/ticket booth for a bumper car attraction. It was part of an adventure golf (double course) we had done six years previously. This would feature the same theme (1920's & 30's) as the rest of the entertainment facility. I designed an old time gas station as the primary feature. The car would be interactive and act as a photo opportunity. The gas station would be the ticket booth.
The plans were pretty basic, drawn mostly to help the customer understand how it would all go together. To keep the project within budget he would fabricate the building after we had delivered the pieces. I would return when he was finished to do the faux rock work around the bottom of the building.
The signs, pump toppers, gauges and logos would all be designed using EnRoute and then routed out of 30 lb Precision Board. The car, pumps and post would be sculpted by hand using epoxy over a welded steel frame. This would be the fastest and best way to do the project.
While the MultiCam did the routing I set to work on the welding of the framework, test driving it every once in a while to make sure it was right.. This was a cartoon world where 'conventional' methods simply don't work that well.

Once the framework was done, some expanded lath was carefully 'tied' on and two layers of sculpting epoxy was sculpted into place forming the skin of the car body. The routed pieces would be sculpted into the antique gas pumps.
It all came together fairly quickly. The routed pieces were designed in my 'famous' wiggly style to fit in with what I did by hand. Stay tuned for the progress...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

We can go back once in a while...

They say we can never go back. This week however, I had a chance to do just that. I was doing some work on a project that was started before we bought our MultiCam five years ago. Everything was done by hand in those days and our material selection was very different than we have now. I got to see how our project had fared out in the weather for about six years in a harsh, coastal, salt water environment. For the most part the adventure golf had weathered well, even though the maintenance had not been quite as vigorous as I had recommended. The project was largely built of sculpted concrete over a welded steel framework. Most of the features had been built in our (new) shop and then transported to the site. That was a first for us as previous to that we had built everything on site.

One of the first projects we did after getting our MultiCam was the highway sign for the project... almost five years ago. To ensure it fit in with the rest of the theme and the resort area I had used a wide variety of techniques and materials on the project. The sign had a welded steel frame, faux rock work (using manufactured stone), sculpted concrete, and routed Precision Board. I had used EnRoute to create the routing file. I remember struggling to incorporate textures into the lettering. It was all new to me back then and almost a first in the sign industry. It was all painted with acrylic paints. The neon and reader board were supplied by other vendors.
It was the first time we had combined so many different techniques and materials in one project. I was eager to see how they all had worked together and how they had held up in the harsh salt water environment of this site. The concrete had some minimal leaching on the seams, common for this situation. The acrylic paints had held up extremely well on all the substrates. I was especially pleased to see the routed and layered Precision Board was still in perfect shape.
My observations of this visit reinforced my decision made five years ago to purchase a MultiCam router along with EnRoute software and take this new venture to the max. Using a router has allowed me to take on large projects with a much smaller workforce to help me. It also made our projects much more transportable, allowing us to do much, much more in our shop rather than on the road. Working in a controlled environment meant we could control costs much better and also sleep in our own beds each night rather than in a hotel room.
After seeing how these 'new' methods have held up through the years compared to our old ways I am confident I made the right decision.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Summer Sign Magic Workshop

We've decided to do a summer Sign Magic Workshop. The dates are June 25-27, 2010. It promises to be a small group but this means that it will be better tailored to what each participant wants to learn. The workshop will be the eighth workshop we have held in our studio. For more information follow the links starting here... www.imaginationcorporation.ca/workshops/index
Over the last three years we have hosted more than 100 artists from literally around the world at our studio. Together we have explored the three dimensional sign world. I do my best to cram in forty years of experience into three short days of teaching. Enroute, of course figures into the experience. I'll demonstrate my way of working inside this wonderful program, hopefully taking out the mystery and showing how even the most complicated piece is merely a series of small steps that aren't really that difficult.
Mostly, what I am eager to pass on is the passion I feel for this craft. I'll take each participant back to where I started, showing them how I built my skills and abilities. I'll show how every ideas starts small and grows, first as a rough sketch, through to a rendering, then on as a 3D file, onto to construction and then on to a finished piece.
We'll get our hands dirty as we practice the techniques in the shop too.The days will be long but will pass incredibly fast as every moment is crammed full of learning all we possibly can fit in.
I'm looking forward to another great weekend sharing my passion with like minded folks!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

And exciting day in Yarrow...

We live in a small town. A very small town. The local population is only about 1100 people and that includes the surrounding farms. It doesn't take much to create excitement here.
Today was installation day for the sign we made for the Vedder Mountain Grille. The restaurant is in the very center of town. I didn't call ahead. I knew the owner was there for I had walked by when I had gone for the mail a short time before. I knew she would be wonderfully surprised to see her sign arrive too. I wouldn't be disappointed.
As I swung open our big 'magic' shop doors our neighbor took instant notice. He came running
to see what we were up to. It's always fun when we pull out our latest project. I pressed him into service to help me load the heavy sign onto the flat deck trailer. We have great neighbors I can always count on. We laid the sign down with the post towards the bottom. It was pretty stable. I never bothered tying it down... for we were only going a half block. I could go nice and slow.
I pulled up in front of the restaurant and there was instant excitement. Customers left their tables and pressed up against the window to get a closer look. THE NEW SIGN HAD ARRIVED! The owner came running outside and gave me a great big hug and did a happy dance out on the sidewalk. One regular customer whipped around back, grabbed his pickup and backed it onto the sidewalk. He flopped the old sign in the back and it was instantly gone! Another fellow who was walking by helped me tip the sign upright off the trailer, more customers who had rushed outside steadied it as we righted it. All the local merchants (there are only twelve in town) peeked out of their doors to see what was happening. This was BIG news! Locals driving by honked and gave their thumbs up. No doubt the new sign will be the talk of the town for the whole day and perhaps into the weekend too. It is a nice sign... complete with gold leaf.
Undoubtably something else that is exciting will happen soon in this little town and the sign will just become a fixture that no one takes much notice of. But today at least it's a pretty exciting thing. :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Planning ahead in the design stage to save time in production.

I begin the planning process for painting even when I'm doing my first drawings for the sign. When I'm creating the files in EnRoute each layer is planned to make it easy and quick to paint. Primer is first. We use Coastal Enterprises FSC-88 WB primer. Thick bodied like cream it doesn't shrink or crack as it dries. This allows us to introduce a little more subtle texture to key areas of the sign - like the lettering.
Once the primer is on and dried well it's on to the base colors, painting the lower areas of the sign first. Each color will be cut in using the raised edges. I purposely overpaint, well past where the next color is to go. This means I only have to cut in once with every change of color. The blue was very bright but I'll fix that in the next step.
Then I mixed up a navy blue glaze using a clear base (without any colorant in it) We add custom mixed acrylics at a ratio of about 50/50... then add a dash of water to give us a little more working time. Once the glaze is slopped on we wipe most of it off again with a towel to reveal the highlights of the sign. I went over the the blue two times with the glaze to get the effect I wanted.
The 3D graphic came next. First I painted the green base coats. Once these were dry I dabbed on the colors based on my reference photo of the mountain. Then I used a dirty brown mud colored glaze to tone things down a little.
Painting the scroll was easy. Because I had created a hard and deep edge around the letters I could quickly drag my brush by creating a clean paint line. I'll add another coat of paint yet along with some blends to create age and shadows but it's looking pretty snazzy already!
Then while the scroll dried I painted the copper paint on the outer edge of the sign. It will be hard to believe the sign is made from Precision Board or largely done with a CNC router when we are done.
The sign still has a fair ways to go with second and third coats of paint still to come as well as the gold leaf but it's looking pretty fine already.
Stay tuned!