Signs of the Times - October 2015 - 63

A Runaway Train of Thought

If you've read ST regularly over the past 15-20 years -
and, in particular, our International Sign Contest issues -
you're quite familiar with Dan Sawatzky's work. Almost
invariably, the proprietor of Imagination Corp. (Chilliwack, BC, Canada) has been a winner in one or more
contest categories. Typically, his work involves complex,
multi-panel environments for theme parks, miniaturegolf courses, restaurants and other environments where
whimsy is a welcome attribute for placemaking.
Sawatzky has reached the highly enviable position
of being booked with work "months in advance." He
said, "We only build landmarks. For every 10 people
who seriously talk to us about a project, only one
customer is willing to listen to our suggestions, wait
their turn and pay what we ask."
And, for the pricetag, Sawatzky's customers receive
more than just a sign - his ornate environmental
graphics often incorporate well-defined characters
crafted with sculpted epoxy, and artful, yet stout,
structures made from fiberglass-reinforced concrete
that envelop a welded-steel substructure. Routed HDU
plays an important role as the directional focal point
of his distinctive creations.
"We typically fabricate our signs from 30-lb. [Coastal
Enterprises] PrecisionBoard HDU," Sawatzky said.
"We love this substrate because it lacks grain, is highly
stable and holds paint very well. It machines easily,
yet it's very durable. I love the look of sandblasted
redwood, but I've never had much luck with it because
it often splits and requires a lot of maintenance."
Sawatzky begins most of his concept designs with
hand sketches; once he deems an idea successful, he
scans it into Photoshop and color-corrects and edits
the file for production. After customer approval,
Sawatzky vectorizes the text and opens the file using
EnRoute® Pro 4 to build the file that's sent to his
MultiCam 3000 CNC router. For an intricate project,
such as this sign for a British Columbia-based theme
park, he also incorporated the background, the trestle

and rails, and the mining-cart wheels.
Sawatzky machined the sign's three HDU layers,
which span 4 ft. wide, on his router using a 3/8-in.diameter, ball-nose bit for most of the process, before
switching to a ┬╝-in., ball-nose bit. To impart detail
on the rail timbers, he prepared the surface with an
air-powered die-grinder. Fashioning the carts and
wheels entailed assembling the routed parts over steel
rods. Then, using Abracadabra's Magic Sculpt epoxy,
Sawatzky molded the woodgrain cart sides and the
Decorating each component comprises at least
three coats of General Paints exterior-latex paint, and
two or three coats of Modern Masters water-based
glazes, which add depth and texture to painted surfaces.
Sawatzky installed the sign with an integral, weldedsteel frame laminated into its center. Two squaresteel tubes protrude behind the sign; he welded angle
iron to these tubes, and bolted the apparatus onto the
building's heavy wooden timbers.
"Our challenge on every project is to make the next
job better than the last," Sawatzky said.

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Signs of the Times - October 2015