Minutes after having completed a challenging, snowy outdoor installation west of Vail, CO, I fielded a cell-phone inquiry from a potential out-of-state customer who sought a unique project. Cold and stiff from working in a blizzard for several hours, I was instantly warmed with adrenaline as I heard the details of this potential project. My creative wheels were already turning.
Mike and Rose Faul were opening Potter’s Fire, a new, custom-pottery studio in the historic district of Herndon, VA. They were interviewing prospective craftspeople to create a one-of-a-kind sign that would reflect their future studio’s uniqueness and high quality.
“We want to deliver a unique handmade product, and all of our marketing and branding should reflect this high level of care and concern that goes into each product we sell,” Mike said.
I was getting excited about the possibility of working with a client who appreciated the high caliber of design and craftsmanship they saw in our work and wished to convey with their new business.
I went right to work that same evening. I sent the Fauls photos of a few recent projects not yet on our website, along with information about our processes, and budget ranges for our custom work.
I sent photos of our sign for The Olive Fusion, a gourmet cooking store in Breckenridge, CO, which solidified the deal. Mike wrote, “The Olive Fusion Sign reflects what we were thinking in our minds’ eye. That sign, more than any other we’ve seen, depicts the style, colors, tonal values and con-
trast ratios we would like to see in both the logo and signage for the business.”
I also sold Mike and Rose on a comprehensive branding package to include logo development, busi-
ness cards, a stationery package and an e-mail signature block, all of which was to be handled by our new sister company, SignTech.
Design and permits
During our in-house, project-kickoff meeting, Bruce Holisky, SignTech’s art director, and I were already scheming various approaches we’d take to communicate this unique business’ message. Bruce led the design scope, and, along with some great reference material provided by the client through our creative-brief process, began his research. His study preceded rough sketches and, finally, concept renderings that were submitted to the client.
Much of Holisky’s inspiration derived from research of the pottery industry and vintage kilns, as well as images of Mike’s work and that of his mentor, David Voll. Mike’s enthusiastic response: “Wow! You guys rock!”
We submitted our design to Herndon’s Heritage Preservation Review Board; a board work session and public meeting followed. This process spanned a month; in the meantime, we completed the identity package’s remaining parts. The board loved our signage plan, and they expressed a wish that other businesses would put as much effort into their sign program. “Your designs set a new standard for the town,” we were told.
Firing up production
Preparing for fabrication required several brainstorming and planning sessions. Transforming a 2-D drawing into a 3-D sign through the development of unique textures and layers requires extensive coordination. It had to tell the shop’s story to everyone who passed the store.
One early step involved recreating the design’s ceramic pieces as 3-D prototypes. Specifically, we had to verify how the scale and overlaps would work to determine the sign’s overall thickness. We achieved this with Rhino 3-D modeling software. It’s a terrific program that allows you to view a design from all angles and manipulate dimensions.
Vanessa Damoulis, the daughter of Periandros Damoulis, mastered this very difficult program, and produced the full-scale prototypes that we used for reference and to create patterns. Vanessa and her father recently immigrated to the U.S. from Greece. Periandros works in our shop as a master designer and technician. (Editor’s Note: Periandros formerly operated a signshop in his native country, and has been featured in ST on several occasions.)Advertisement
The finished sign measures 5 ft. x 6 ft. x 14 in. thick, and weighs approximately 350 lbs., so it required extensive engineering. The sign also needed to withstand a nearly 2,000-mile journey in a crate, then decades of Virginia’s changeable weather – all while being strong enough to withstand a teenage vandal’s urge to make one of the sign’s vases a souvenir.
We milled portions of the sign on our Gerber Sabre 408 CNC router. To prepare for this, we modeled the components with Vectric’s Aspire 3-D software. Periandros created these files, and we began to finalize the precise dimensions and proposed textures needed for this sign. We built dozens of parts and pieces.
We fabricated the majority of the project with Duna Corafoam® and Coastal Enterprises PrecisionBoard® high-density urethane (HDU), along with internal steel supports and ¾-in.-thick, MDO backers. We constructed seven layers of 2-in.-thick HDU, which were epoxied and screwed together. We used 15-lb. HDU for the layers, 20-lb. for the signface, and 30-lb. for the pottery.
Other materials incorporated into the sign were Magic Sculpt epoxy resin – which we used to build the potter’s tools and tankard – 23K goldleaf, industrial acrylic paints and glazes.
The Fauls installed the sign themselves, so we integrated a sensible mounting system to make the installation relatively uncomplicated. We built an MDO French cleat with vertical spacers, which make the sign appear to “float” 1.5 in. off the wall. We’re very cognizant of how each sign gets mounted, and, in most cases, don’t use hardware that penetrates through the face of the sign. We spent many hours milling the HDU parts, and constructed the sign layer by layer. We paid close attention to the sign’s structural engineering as we progressed.
The project began to take shape with handcarving and sculpting the faux-ceramic pots and potter’s tools, which we created with Magic Sculpt and shaped with Pfeil carving chisels. We welded the rods and ends of the potter’s tools with a Miller welding system, and finished the pieces with faux-finish, acrylic-paint techniques to give the sign an aged look. We knew this sign would be viewed closely, so every detail required utmost care. We secured the sign inside a heavily padded crate made of 3/8-in.-thick plywood, shipped via FedEx for the long journey to Herndon.
The best rewards for pouring our heart and soul into a challenging project is hearing the positive feedback from the public. Then we know we’ve made a difference for the client’s business. We receive many compliments for nearly all of our completed work, but the testimonials received, after the Potter’s Fire sign was installed, were the “grand slam of all testimonials”.
According to the Fauls, Herndon’s mayor and town council have heaped praise upon them for their new sign, and the town’s Council for the Arts has declared the sign a work of art unto itself. Mike said, “Almost everyone who passes in front of the shop stops, points and admires your handiwork.”
Equipment and Materials
Coatings: Acrylic paints, from Sherwin-Williams (Cleveland), (800) 474-3794 or www.sherwin-williams.com; 23k goldleaf, from W & B Gold Leaf LLC (Sheboygan, WI), (920) 459-8206 or www.wbgoldleaf.com
Router: Sabre 408 CNC router, from Gerber Scientific Products (Tolland, CT), (800) 222-7446 or www.gspinc.com
Software: Illustrator® software, from Adobe (San Jose, CA), www.adobe.com; Rhino 3-D software, from McNeel North America (Seattle), (206) 545-7000; Aspire 3-D software, from Vectric (London), www.vectric.com
Substrates: Corafoam® HDU, from Duna Inc. (Baytown, TX), (866) 383-3862 or www.dunausainc.com; PrecisionBoard® HDU, from Coastal Enterprises (Orange, CA), (800) 845-0745 or www.precisionboard.com; Magic Sculpt epoxy resin, from Abracadabra Signs (Ayr, ON, Canada), (877) 342-0847 or www.abracadabrasigns.com
Tools: Carving chisels, from Pfeil Tools (Langenthal, Switzerland), www.pfeiltools.com
Welder: Millermatic 212 MIG-welding system, from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. (Appleton, WI), (920) 734-9821 or www.millerwelds.com
More About House of Signs / SignTech
Roger and Julie Cox own two specialty companies in Frisco, CO. The primary shop, House of Signs, an award-winning custom sign company, has created signature 3-D signage since 1989. Their sister company, SignTech, opened in the summer of 2012 to offer a wider range of design and signage services to the area. SignTech is a graphic design studio that specializes in logo and brand development. It handles the design, fabrication and installation of vehicle graphics and wraps, as well as window graphics and interior and exterior, digitally printed signage.
For more information, visit www.houseofisgnsco.com
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