Sculpting a small piece can be as much work as a large sign—especially when you get a little carried away with things. That’s something I am famous for. But as always the end result is well worth the effort and time invested.
Every square inch of the trestle and rocks was hand sculpted. The texture on the rocks was quick as I simply crumpled up some heavy-duty tinfoil and pressed it onto the surface. A sharpened paint stir stick was the tool of choice for the small cracks.
I like to think I have lots of brilliant ideas, but the truth is many of these brainstorms become spectacular failures. The smoke machine I sourced for the project proved to be much too potent. A short burst filled our entire shop full of smoke, obscuring the train and everything else from view. It was “magic”. After several attempts, and with the deadline quickly approaching, I abandoned the idea (for now).
As with all of our projects we began by painting on multiple coats of the base colors. The trestle proved to be the most difficult as the insides of the timbers were hard to reach. We then painted on and judiciously wiped off a series of colored glazes, which really brought the piece to life. Rebecca did much of this detailed paint work.
The small scale billboard mural was done in the same manner as a real mural. I created the maquette in small scale and printed a transparency. This was projected onto the billboard and outlined before painting. The font is from LetterheadFonts.com. Thanks to the sturdy welded steel frame, the piece arrived in perfect shape at the MultiCam booth at the ISA Sign Expo in Las Vegas. More than 900 ballots were cast during the three-day event. Our Train Magic piece managed to come out on top this year.
We had a great time during the event, trading stories with fellow participants. The group was a little smaller this year but no less fun was had. Next year promises to be better than ever. Are you up for the challenge?
Many of this year’s entrants (including me) found it hard to find the time to complete our entries on schedule. I promised myself that next year would be different, so I began sketching out my ideas [at right] as soon as we decided next year’s theme: “Marvelous Machine.” I encourage everyone who wants to enter next year’s Sign Invitational to get busy and stay with it.

The details make a difference

By Dan Sawatzky

Posted on Monday, June 19th, 2017

The 2017 Sign Invitational is now history. The event was a little smaller this year with a flurry of last minute cancellations. I fully understood, for as the deadline to ship quickly approached (and my entry was not yet finished) I was reminded how important it was to get an early start on my piece and to keep at it while there was still plenty of time.

I wrote about this project in the May/June issue of SignCraft. At that point there was still some sculpting to do along with all of the painting. I wanted to add some special effects as well, including a train light and smoke. The headlamp proved easy, thanks to a tiny LED flashlight that I found at our local auto parts store.

I ordered a small smoke machine online and waited anxiously for it to arrive. When it did I plumbed it up to the train engine and gave it a short burst. It worked incredibly well! So well in fact that a few brief seconds of smoke filled the entire shop and obscured everything— including the train. After a few hours of fiddling and trying to control the output I abandoned the idea (for this year) and decided the piece would have to stand on the merits of its design alone.


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Dan Sawatzky

Dan Sawatzky's shop, Sawatzky's Imagination Corporation, is in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. Dan shares his experience in his Sign Magic Workshops on 3-D sign making, and his Sculpting Workshop.