Ready for take off!

Once the sign was done I could hardly wait to drag it out into the sunshine to photograph. The 23K gold leaf letters absolutely sparkled, jumping to prominence as was right. In spite of being small in relation to the sign they instantly became the focal point. The natural light played on the textured surfaces of the sign, the shadows adding even more dimension.
The little red plane, complete with pilot roared through the center in dramatic fashion. The sign will be a great centerpiece in our trade show display. The back of the sign is just as fun, detailed and interesting. In this view you can better see the sturdy steel rod that holds the plane firmly in place.
The sign another great example of how EnRoute helped us craft a sign that would have taken many times longer than by hand. Even though it was largely made by a state of the art, automated CNC router it still looks very much hand crafted. Once again the MultiCam did the grunt work, saving the fun parts for me.
I could now cross one more of my ‘one-of-these days projects’ off my list. No worry though, I have plenty more of these type imaginative and fun projects still waiting patiently on that list. There are also a few more fun projects underway in the shop…

Laying down the sparkle…

Once the size has tacked up it’s time to lay down some gold at last. It is amazingly easy. The gold is so thin and light it will blow around if there is a wind. Take a sheet of gold (still on the tissue paper) from the book and gently lay it into the size. Press it down, burnishing it by rubbing through the paper gently. Lift off the paper leaving the gold stuck to the sign. Move to a new section of the lettering and repeat.

The gold will be a little ragged and uneven but not to worry. We’ll fix that in a hurry. Once you have finished a section take a large, very soft brush and go over the letters, gently knocking off the excess gold. The brush actually scratches the surface of the gold and these minute scratches make the gold catch the light and sparkle. The effect is dramatic and amazing. Tiny flakes of gold will fall like snow to the floor. I use a brush I picked up from a cosmetics counter as they are much less expensive than a real gilder’s brush.
It didn’t take long to go over all the letters. I put the gold on in the same order I had put the size on so the tack on the letters stayed the same all the way through.
Next installment I’ll show the finished signs – sparking out in the sun…

Getting ready for the gold…

While gold leaf work is very rare these days and also add a lot of value to any project it really isn’t very hard to do. It’s actually a relatively simple and easy process. Gold is sold by the sheet in books of twenty five pieces. Each piece measures 3 3/8″ square and is REAL 23K gold. It has been pounded very, very thin. I like to purchase 25 books (or one box) of gold at a time. It is much more economical that way and no matter how much I buy the freight is about the same. On this project I used thirty two sheets of gold… only about fifty dollars worth of gold. I would have spent more than that in labor adding a second coat of paint to the letters if I didn’t gild them.

I use oil based size to fasten the gold to the signs surface. It comes in slow or fast determined by the time it takes to tack up or dry to the point you can lay the gold. I like fast size for surface gilding as our shop tends to be dusty. The size looks like varnish and is clear. A thimble full was more than enough to do this project. A little goes a long way! We recycle plastic pudding cups for this type of job. Once we are done they are tossed and in that fashion I don’t have to worry about using any solvents – except to clean my brush.
I brush the size on with a small brush. Because we routed the bevelled letters with a slight shoulder, raising them off the surface, they are pretty easy and fast to paint. Skill helps but isn’t critical. A good, quality brush is critical however for a good job. I took my time and covered each letter well so there would be no holidays (missed spots) later.
Now comes the hard part… waiting for the size to tack up. How long we wait depends on the temperature, the humidity and if there is air movement. When its ready a knuckle dragged over the size will squeak. (do this on a test piece – not your finished work)
Next installment we’ll get to the flashy part…

It happens every time

Paint always adds a big dose of magic in a big hurry. I had decided we would make the compass ring look like it was cast in solid copper and bronze. We use Modern Masters acrylic metallic paint to good effect in our shop. This metallic paint is brilliant and holds up well outside. I especially like that we can apply it with a brush by hand.
I applied two coat of the gold/bronze first. The metallic copper color was next. The piece was extremely bright and a bit surreal at this point but I’d tone it down shortly.
The first glaze I mixed up and applied was a rich caramel color. I put the acrylic glaze on thick with a small brush and then wiped off with a small soft towel. I had to work quick to keep a wet edge between areas as the piece was much to large to do in one go. After the first light colored glaze the textures already popped a little more already even though it was pretty subtle. Back it went under the fans to dry.
The last coat of glaze was a dark chocolate with a hint of metallic purple. I worked from top to bottom, while jumping quickly from back to front and side to side to minimize dry lines between segments. The work went quickly and the piece instantly came alive as I finished. The dark brown was the same color we had mixed for the plane over a year ago and visually united the plane with the frame through which it ‘flew’. Everything suddenly made sense.
I’ll let the piece dry in the warm studio overnight, then add the final finishing touch in the morning – 23K gold to the lettering. I’ll take some pictures of the process and show just how easy this amazing process is.
Stay tuned…

Off the ground and flying!

The first two layers of Precision Board came off the MultiCam in a hurry because we had used a large diameter bit to route them. I glued these up over a simple welded steel frame and clamped them good. By the time the second set of pieces came off the MultiCam the previous pieces were dry enough to add the new ones to the assembly.
The next morning everything was good and dry. The clamps came off and the fun began! First I gave the entire piece the once over with my air powered die grinder. I trimmed up the glue joints, textured the edges and aded some extra character here and there making the sign look well used. It took less than 15 minutes and was well worth the effort.
Then I sawed the old stand off the model plane and drilled a new hole in the bottom. The 1/2″ steel rod would come more out of the side of the plane instead of the bottom as it had previously. By lining it up with one of the balloon tires it became much less noticeable and not where one would expect it. The sign was coming along nicely already.
Next up was some paint!

Making the sign 3D

I selected the diamond shaped vectors first and then used the bevel tool at about 11 degrees with a .3″ vertical edge to create the reliefs. I knew they couldn’t be taller than 0.8″ I added a subtle texture using a bitmap from my Texture Magic collection called ‘SPLOTCHES 1’ this was created to a depth of 0.1″
The next step was the ring with the degree notches around the perimeter. Its a simple flat 1″ thick relief. Then I selected this and the little box vectors and subtracted the notches by creating a negative relief. O then created an offset vector around all the pieces and merged them. This was made into a o.0″ thickness relief. Then I selected all of the reliefs and merged highest. I tool-pathed the file using a 3/8″ ball nose bit with a 90% overlap. It was machined in a single pass.
Since this sign would be two sided I needed to build each side and then flip it to make the other side. Because I built the files somewhat in a freehand way I couldn’t simply route two copies and then expect them to fit together.
Next up was the ring with the name of the business. This was done by creating a simple domed file, then adding the same splotches bitmap for the textures. The writing and stars were beveled at 21 degrees with a 1.5″ shoulder. Since this was perfectly round I could route two identical copies – one for each side. The tool-pathing was done in two passes. A rough pass was done with a 0.1″ offset with a 3/8″ ball nose bit at a 50% overlap. Then a single final pass was done with a 1/8″ ball nose with a 80% overlap.
All four pieces were to be routed from 1″ thick 30 lb Precision Board. Next entry I’ll be showing how we assembled the pieces…

Da Plane boss – da plane!

Like just about everyone I know my wish list of projects far outstrips my time. But I do get to some of them on occasion. I built this little plane using EnRoute software about a year ago. Actually I built two of them. One went to a friend of mine from Texas who attended one of my Sign Magic Workshops. The other has graced a shelf in my studio. The intent was to feature the piece in a larger sign when I got a suitable idea and some time. A few days ago I finally got the inspiration and began the project.

I took my laptop computer into the house and in the commercials of our favorite show I built the vector file for the sign. It would feature a compass rose and would be for a fictitious business called ‘DUSTY’S FLYING SERVICES – SINCE 1954’ (I was born in ’54) :) The file took a little head scratching but really wasn’t that hard. As always I had to plan just how I would build the 3D file and how EnRoute would handle the reliefs as I created them.
I’ll go through that process on the next installment…


For the first while after we installed our MultiCam router I was still very much in discovery mode. I was learning the ins and outs of EnRoute trying to figure out just what was possible with this amazing software. I remember one day I was flipping through an old issue of National Geographic and came across a picture of a fish fossil. The photo was pretty cool and it inspired a great idea that simply couldn’t wait to be done. I scanned the picture from the magazine into my computer and opened it in Photoshop. I then made it into a black and white image and then set about tweaking and adjusting things to what I knew would work on the router. I bumped up the contrast a bunch, eliminated much of the conflicting background and added in some missing bones. It didn’t take long – about ten minutes in total. I then saved it as a bitmap.
I then created a second bitmap using a large speckled brush. It took literally seconds. I called this one spilled Coke. Then in Illustrator I created the vectors I needed to create the medallion panel shape and raised lettering. These were all imported into EnRoute and a relief was created with a slight dome. I then sized and applied the bitmaps one at a time. It only took seconds and involved a few clicks of the mouse. I tool-pathed the shapes, with a rough pass using a 3’8″ ball nose bit and a final pass using a 1/8″ ball nose but and a 80% overlap. I threw a 1″ piece of Precision Board on the MultiCam and set the machine in motion.
In less than an hour the file was done. I had been busy doing other things, except when I simply couldn’t resist sneaking into the router room to check on the MAGIC that was happening there. I whipped on a coat of grey acrylic paint and set the piece under our shop fan while I mixed up a dark glaze. The panel was dry enough to then cover it with the glaze and wipe it off with a shop towel. Just like that the panel was done.
In about an hour and a half we had gone from idea to finished product. Previously it would have taken days to accomplish anything similar.
I was suddenly stoked about the wonderful things that were now possible. There were no limits. The MAGIC had begun…

Finish line!

With the paint on the little hot rod came alive in a hurry. We decided on lime green to stand out from all the other sample signs in our display. While it looks pretty cool in the pictures this little car looks even better in real life. With the big & little tire combination and that attitude in it’s stance this little street rod is ready to grab lots of attention.

The sign isn’t large. It measures 26″ wide x 24″ tall x 10 ” deep.

Car with final sculpt applied

Over the basic form we created in EnRoute it is a simple matter of adding a layer of epoxy and then sculpting the cartoon of the car. The ‘cartooness’ is much easier to achieve by hand than it ever could be inside a computer program but having an accurate shape as the foundation saves a great deal of time and effort. The wheels are left as they came off the machine and look great!

Next installment I’ll show how it looks all painted up and parked on the rest of the sign.