Our client wanted a new sign for their pumpkin-weighing area on their farm/attraction, but with as small a footprint as possible. It also needed to identify the exit—through their gift shop, of course! A gantry crane straddling the path proved to tell the story in a very fun manner. Their mascot, Jack the farmer, sits atop the crane motor/tractor.
Our favorite farm customer needed a new sign for their u-pick apples. Again, referencing the story at hand, it had to include a gnarly old apple tree. A couple of juicy, red, oversized apples were a must. And a weathered board with a fun letter style made it fit into the character of the farm and match many other signs we have already completed.
It was fun to research and design the stylized retro-look signs from the 60s. This was the era when I came of age, and I knew exactly what I wanted.
We styled two gas pumps from this era but built them from scratch to create people-friendly, slightly cartoonized features in keeping with the other items we would design and fabricate.
I drew countless Rat Fink styled 1930s hot rods in the margins of my school books, since I was thirteen years old. I knew the look I was after without even looking at reference material. The engine is blown, smoke billows from the tires and the front wheels are well off the ground. This would be a photo opportunity I would truly enjoy building!
For the next photo op/hole marker I drew inspiration from Janis’s little Volkswagen bug which she had when I dated her so many years ago. This would be a convertible, of course, to facilitate easy entry for our guests who want a selfie. Who could possibly resist a photo in this little green beauty?
We did the design for a trade show display featuring laser machines. As we all know, a large trade show floor is a very busy place with every booth vying for the prospective customer’s attention. This calls for a spectacular display that makes the customer take notice, instantly informing them of what they are looking at in a memorable fashion. We, of course, took it one step further with a laser cannon. Who could possibly resist sitting in the chair for a selfie? Which laser of the many laser manufacturers at the show would you remember?
A bowling alley pub approached us to create some table/ centerpieces for their establishment. We designed these functional but decorative stills. They don’t take up much of the valuable floor space and yet effectively tell the pub’s story.

Signs can tell a powerful story

In theme signage—and often in commercial signage—signs help create a story

By Dan Sawatzky

Posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

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At our shop we consider ourselves, above all else, visual storytellers. When a new client approaches us for a sign we listen carefully and if possible do a site visit to gather as many facts and details as we can. Then we write a story for every project. It doesn’t have to be a long or drawn-out narrative.

Most likely, this tale will never be read— except by our client and sometimes not even by them. But this story guides our designs from start to finish. Once we are happy with the story we get down to the business of telling the story visually. Most often we seek to tell it in an entertaining, upbeat and epic manner.

Every element of the design needs to be in service of this story—key elements, color, lettering styles, building design, landscaping and a whole lot more. While there may be words on the signs we design, we prefer to incorporate as few as necessary and if possible, none. The fact is people best process information visually and don’t often take the time to read signs.

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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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