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Mike Bethune Creates HDU Signage with Curves

Ker’s Winghouse model subject of sign to promote chain’s calendars.



For years, I’ve enjoyed eating at Ker’s Winghouse in Brandon, FL. Ker’s is sort of a regional version of Hooters; it operates 20 locations across Florida. And, like Hooters, it publishes a calendar every year that features many of the attractive waitresses and bartenders that work there. I approached the manager, Brett Mazzucco, about creating a freestanding POP sign with a carved depiction of one of the models featured in the calendar.
He agreed and, because of my status as a loyal customer, let me choose which young lady to feature in the sign. I chose Monique, who has worked at Ker’s for a while. She’s a very friendly person, as well as a head-turner, and was thrilled when I told her my decision.
Ker’s provided me with photos from their shoot, and I selected the pose that would create the best curb appeal. I chose a separate face shot, which became an additional piece of the sign. I kept the project hidden from my wife until it was nearly done. That way, she would be impressed with the detail of my carving, and couldn’t forbid it before I started!

Tool time
To begin, I created a cut-out of the shape I would carve. I used 1.5-in.-thick Design Board® HDU from Jasper Plastics. I always prefer HDU over wood because the lack of natural grain allows it to be carved much more easily than wood, and it won’t crack or split like MDO or MDF. To add more dimension to the base, I applied extra HDU layers, which I bonded to the surface with Gorilla Glue.
When I carve signs, I just buy a basic chisel set from Lowe’s, and then sharpen them at home to meet my needs. After chipping away large areas with larger chisels, I work down to a smaller set for more detailed features. I shape finer features with a set of small, sharpened screwdrivers. I also use several pieces of 80- and 120-grit sandpaper to refine the shape.
To carve the face, I worked with a smaller, separate HDU slab that I could hold in my hands. After having roughed out the shape with a small chisel, I fashioned facial details with an X-Acto® knife. Attaching sandpaper to a sanding block yields an effective tool for creating fine detail.

A little more coverage
Because I built a 3-D sign, I didn’t need to create a shadow effect when I airbrushed. So, I used a simple, double-action, gravity-feed Paasche airbrush. First, I applied a layer of gray primer. Gray is an effective base for an HDU sign because it’s a good color for examining details and finding any surface imperfections. Using Color Wheel acrylic-latex paint, I gradually blended in flesh tones until I was satisfied I’d matched Monique’s skin color.
Then, I mixed various shades of yellow until I’d matched the bright, lemon-yellow tone of her bikini, and browns and blacks until I’d replicated her hair color. I like to use Color Wheel paints because they’re formulated specifically to withstand extreme heat and humidity – very important when you’re building signs that will be installed outdoors in the Southeast. To create fine details on her face, I used a soft bristle brush.
After I’d completed the main sign, I sandblasted a smaller sign with Monique’s name to identify the life-size depiction. I fabricated it in the yard behind my shop using HDU, an air compressor and silica sand as an abrasive.
When I arrived with the sign, I was greeted with an enthusiastic reception, from both Monique and management. Hopefully, I’ll get a callback from this and other Ker’s location for the future. Signmakers work in a competitive environment. To succeed, you have to look for opportunities everywhere. Sometimes, like this job, they’re hidden in plain sight.

Equipment and Materials
Gorilla Glue industrial-strength adhesive, from Gorilla Glue Inc. (Cincinnati), (800) 966-3458;
Paint: Color Wheel primer and topcoat, from the Comex Group (Greenwood Village, CO), (720) 873-3060 or
Substrate: DesignBoard HDU (1.5 in. thick), from Jasper Plastics (Syracuse, IN), (574) 457-2062 or
Tools: Double-action airbrush, from Paasche (Chicago), (773) 867-9191 or www.paasche-; chisels, screwdrivers and sandpaper, from home-improvement stores

More About Mike
A 25-year veteran of handcarved- and sandblasted-sign fabrication, Mike Bethune founded Bethune Signs Inc. in the Tampa area in 1990. He learned sandblasting and engraving at the tombstone and monument foundry where his father worked, but, after having worked at a different monument fabricator, he opted to become a signmaker. He moved to his current shop in Thonotosassa, a Tampa suburb, in 2001.
His portfolio includes signs for numerous doctors and attorneys, state and county parks, the Florida Aquarium, MacDill AFB, the Tampa Zoo and numerous residential developments. He also served as a judge for last year’s International Sign Contest (see ST, April 2011, page 63).
His “calling card” is his shop vehicle, a Chevrolet HHR that’s outfitted with a 3-D sculpture of a sleeping man that’s secured to both rear side panels. A larger version was attached to his former mode of transportation, a 1954 panel truck.
“People would freeze on the sidewalk, wondering if that was a real guy dozing on the side of the truck,” he said.
For more information about Mike and his shop, check out his Shop Next Door profile.




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