Right after I read the SignCraft article “How to sandblast redwood signs” by Mike Jackson I knew I had to get a sandblaster. The first sign we made with this new fancy equipment was for our own art gallery, which we were building at the time. The sign shape was anything but square and was carefully incorporated into the design and style of the building which we also did.
With one sandblasted redwood sign under my belt it was time to dress up our own sign shop. It incorporated MDO panels with a sandblasted redwood sign and a cutout of our own cartoon mascot. It wasn’t long after we finished the signs that my phone started ringing with orders for this new work.
To sell this work I needed to do top-notch proposals. They were hand drawn on illustration board, but cut to shape and mounted with spacers behind to make them jump off the page. With every project we were shooting for the moon and in the process hopefully taking our clients far beyond what they had in mind when they came in.
As part of the promotion for our sign shop we donated many key signs throughout our community. We viewed it as good for our little town and in the process good for us. It worked beyond our wildest dreams!
We entered creative floats into the local parade each year. While these early efforts were crude by today’s standards they challenged us to learn new skills. We also got the word out to everyone that we could do imaginative and fun projects.
By this stage of my career I was firmly of the opinion that a sign was far more than a board with words on it. I was doing more concept design for buildings and the signs incorporated into them. While we did only a fraction of the work, everything fit together seamlessly. I learned that design was extremely valuable and vital for our customer’s success.
By this time the word was spreading rapidly about our creative abilities. I was asked to design and build the entrance arch for the Pacific Rim Artisan Village. Looking back it was a bold move and perhaps more than a little audacious. But we didn’t know what we couldn’t do. We pulled it off within the 45-day deadline—with the help of many good friends.
With each successful project we raised the bar a little more. Our initial efforts at theme architecture on other people’s buildings (a sign is more than just the sign) afforded us the opportunity to build a new building of our own. To announce the project and to gather prospective tenants we, of course, first built a sign—a little better than anything we had done previously. It was a multilayer MDO panel with a sandblasted cedar name.
I also learned to not take myself too seriously. I incorporated humor and a cartoon style into much of my work. Word spread with every project and we became known internationally for this kind of rare work. The world would soon be beating a path to my door.
It was gratifying to receive commissions from far and wide for my unique style of work. This design was for an arts council office in Twentynine Palms, California. The style mimicked the desert landscape and southwestern style but did it in a very unusual fashion.

My dimensional sign making roots

51 years have taught me to focus on what I do best—and say no a lot

By Dan Sawatzky

Posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2019

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Sign makers I meet often comment about how they would love to do the kind of work we do in our shop instead of the same old, same old, flat work they produce daily.

There are many reasons why most shops don’t do this kind of work, and believe me I’ve heard every possible excuse through the years. It’s a fact that most sign makers keep pretty busy and doing a creative project can be disruptive to that process. Convincing a customer they need/want something a little on the wild side (and more expensive) can also be a challenge. Then there is the matter of selling the work and getting the premium price this kind of work demands. A whole set of new skills are needed to fabricate this type of sign as well, for this work doesn’t pop out of a printer after hitting the go button.

My own personal journey into the world of dimensional signage has been an exciting fiftyone year adventure (so far) and telling it here hopefully will offer some ideas for sign makers out there who want to get into this kind of work.

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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.

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