One sign using a big box of tricks

Our next Sign Magic Workshop is to start in only four days. It seems that no matter how much I try to get done ahead of time, the last few days there still always seems to be a lot left to do. This time is no exception although we are in pretty good shape.
One of the projects we will be doing for this workshop is a new sign for our driveway.the drive is a long one and everyone (especially me) tends to race down it to the shop way out back. We had al old sign asking people to slow down but it was time for something new – something that would grab folks attention. I did up a quick sketch, then set to work making it happen. Most of the work will happen in our workshop with coming weekend but I needed to do some prefabrication ahead of time for the workshop only lasts three days.
The chicken was sculpted with Abracabra Sculpt over a welded steel armature. A ball of tinfoil was pressed into the middle if the armature to bulk it out a little before I started sculpting. Over a couple of days I spent bits of time to build up the form of the bird, then add feathers, one at a time. It looks like a lot of work but it actually went pretty fast.
The next step was to create the routing file for the sign in EnRoute. This file used a while bunch of steps and tools including creating reliefs, applying bitmaps, and uses the sculpting tool. The lettering is raised and beveled too. I’ll go over the creating of this file in our workshop to show how it was done in detail. I used a custom cartoon font which I had created a while back. The woodgrain bitmap was also from my personal collection. The back panel for the sign was simply a flip of the front but without the lettering. The front and back of the sign were routed from 1.5″ thick 30 lb Precision Board.

The center piece of the sign was done with a piece of 1″ thick material. I also routed a ‘T’ shaped hole in this piece to accommodate the steel structure I would weld for this purpose. The sign, including the face will be glued together during the workshop. I’ll be demonstrating how I add grain to the edges with the air powered die grinder.

I drilled two holes from the top of the center piece and pushed the extra long chicken leg armature through it, then welded them to the steel ‘T’. This chicken won’t be flying away any time soon! Two heavy steel rods in turn were pushed through holes in the back panel and then welded to the ‘T’ with the back panel in place. This structure was then welded to a larger armature which would form the basis for the ‘tree’ that would hold up the sign with the chicken perched on it.
The sign still has plenty of work to be done before it is finished but it is now ready for the workshop. Although some steps are complete (like the routing and welding) I’ll be describing these steps using the piece as reference. Then we’ll do the balance as a demonstration piece with help from my students. Hopefully by the weekend it will be pretty much done. Stay tunes for more pictures…

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Dan Sawatzky

Dan Sawatzky is best described as a creative force in the sign industry. He and his wife Janis are owners of Sawatzky’s Imagination Corporation – a small family company that specializes in the design and creation of dimensional theme signs and environments. They tackle projects of any size from small signs to entire theme parks. Their work has garnered numerous international awards and Dan’s articles appear frequently in the sign trade publications. Dan and his crew also host Sign Magic and Sculpting Workshops in their studio a number of times each year with attendees coming from around the world. For more information please visit

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