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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A box with a whole lot of 'space'

Today I fired up EnRoute to build the files for the sides of the box. Building files for the Plasma cutter is so much simpler than the CNC router. I only have to think in two dimensions. I imported the sketch I had drawn of the four sides and then used the vector drawing tools to accurately recreate the files. Because all of the lines were the same width I simply drew all of the single lines and then used the offset tool to create thickness.  I neglected to grab a screen shot of the vector lines. Sorry.

Once I had the vectors I sent the CNC files to the MultiCam plasma cutter and watched the magic happen...

The plasma cutter sliced through the 3/16" thick mild steel plate like butter and in only a few minutes per piece the cutting was done. They all turned out perfect and require only a teeny bot of sanding to get rid of minimal dross. I suspect it will be a whole lot more work to grind the paint off the two pieces and also smooth out the welds on the corners.

I decided that the corners of the box are to be rounded which I'll accomplish by welding in a quarter section of pipe This meant I needed to make the sides a little thinner on the edges. While I had the plasma cutter all warmed up I also cut the ODYSSEY lettering.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Last of the trim

Some projects, particularly those we do for ourselves can seem to take forever. We've been slowly but steadily working on finishing all of the details on the new house, which we moved into more than two years ago. Inside we have things pretty much wrapped up but on the outside there was a little more to do. The last area that needed it's trim was the giant front window. We did the decorative concrete work, which needed to be done first, early last summer. The big projects of last year meant everything was then set aside until they were done. Last month I finally built the routing files and let the MultiCam do it's magic. On rainy fall days I've had the painters busy in the shop doing the base coats and glazes between paying projects. But there haven't been many rainy days. This week the last of the painting was at last done. It was time to get the trim into place. We brought out the scaffolding and set to work. In a couple of hours the trim was up and finished at last.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Crustacean creation complete

Painting the crab submersible was fun from beginning to end. I began with two coats base coats of gold. Then I did a blend coat with the gold on the bottom and a blend to a deep red on the top. The model instantly came to life.

Once the preliminary colours had a chance to dry thoroughly I started in with the glazes. I started with the bottom of the model. Because I was working alone and the complexity of the shapes I decided to use a small spray gun to apply the glaze in a hurry. Once I had applied the glaze I judiciously wiped it off with a soft towel. Then I worked my way upwards to the top of the piece, first spraying on the glaze and then wiping it off with the towels.  

Once the submersible was done I put the model under the fans to cure. Then multiple coats of taupe paint were slathered on the base and then allowed to dry. A green algae was then sponged on, primarily around the rocks.  Then it was back under the fans before another spray of dark glaze. Once the glaze was dry I applied a some gold dry brush for a little bling and sparkle.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Spring 2016 Sculpture Magic Workshops

Dates set for Spring 2016 Sculpture Magic Workshops
My email box has been full of late with requests for the dates of the next workshop. So full in fact we've decided to host TWO Sculpting Magic Workshops this coming spring. After looking over our schedules we have set the dates. The first Sculpting Magic Workshop will be April 15, 16, and 17, 2016. The second Sculpting Magic Workshop is set for April 29, 30 & May 1, 2016. The response has been great already and we look forward to two high energy events. There is space still available in both workshops. For more information go to http://www.imaginationcorporation.com/sculpting-workshop/

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Assembling the crab submersible

Building the crab submersible model proved to be a whole lot of fun! Peter started the assembly but didn't get very far before he was called away to other things. With the deadline beginning to press I took up where he left off. We crated a rough shape by hand with the four pound foam.

I did a quick coat of sculpting epoxy and then mounted the leg and claw bases. To keep things aligned I carved small support blocks from the four pound foam and propped everything in place.  Then I let it all set up overnight.

 After leaving it harden overnight I could work on the piece easily without having things slide around or droop. I drilled for the supporting dowel and mounted the body at the right height and angle. Then it was a matter of gluing on the balance of the pieces and mounting them to the base board. Easy. Once I had sculpted the undersides and added the detail on the lower body I again set it to the side to harden.

With the piece set up I could handle it easier without fear of handling the fragile model. I spent a little time adding the extra details. Once it had set up again (a couple of hours) I could add some primer, primarily to add more texture.

Tomorrow I'll spend a few minutes bending some wire and gluing it in place to simulate hydraulic hoses and electrical lines. Then we'll be ready to begin the paint process. It's going to be fun!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bottle cap

I was asked just how I might create a bottle cap in EnRoute. While I suppose there are many ways to go about it here's my method.

First, depending on how accurate you wish to be you would need to measure a bottle cap to get the proportions. I didn't have a bottle cap handy and so I just guessed for this demonstration piece. I opened the star tool and defined my vector shape as having twenty corners. Now as I look at the menu I see a bulge function which would have saved me some of the next steps... but no matter. If I were using that I suspect it would have taken a negative number to get what I wanted. I did it by hand a couple of steps down.

I then drew a circle and entered it in my faceted shape.

I modified the faceted vector using the point editing tool

I then used the round shape to create a hero height relief.

I then Chamfered to centreline using a shape I had drawn. This created the tapered edge disk with rounded top edges.

 I then used my bevel tool (with an angle of 80 degrees) with limit to height to build the crimped edges of the bottle cap. This was done as a separate relief.

As a last step in modifying the relief I used the dome tool to add a slight roundness to the top of the cap.

I them merged the two reliefs together using the merge highest function. I merged the round shape to the crimped edge shape.

Although my demonstration piece wasn't quite to scale it shows how I would tackle a piece like this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Feeling crabby!

Peter had first dibs on the sculpting of the crab submarine but he was called away to do other things. With the deadline quickly approaching that meant the fun job fell to me. I wasted no time in getting busy! I was feeling crabby!

Peter had done a little work and set the direction of the project. So I mixed up a little sculpting epoxy and got to work. I've learned to build a stable shell and structure initially. Once that sets I'll begin the detail, tomorrow. Temporary stands kept everything in line until it sets. Imagine this thing at full size! It will be a little over seven feet tall and about twelve feet long! The kids are going to love climbing inside!

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 Challenge

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.