’Tis the Season for Carving

This past October, DUNA-USA, manufacturers of CORAFOAM® HDU, invited select dimensional sign fabricators across the country to partake in its first-ever “Spirit of Christmas” Sign Contest. The manufacturer had seen some amazing-looking dimensional signs being made by their customers, so they thought this contest would be a great way for some of the more creative sign makers out there to express themselves even more using their material.

DUNA-USA provided each of the nine participating sign shops with a 2-foot-by-3-foot-by-2-inch piece of twenty-pound U200 CORAFOAM sheet and asked them to use it to come up with a dimensional sign of their making that captured what the “spirit of Christmas” meant to them.

The company had one extra piece of instruction for the entrants: The contest was designed to be 100 percent creative fun and to not be treated as “work.”

0 0 NorthWoods DisplayEven better, DUNA-USA told all the participants that their entries would be donated to a pre-selected charity for display during the holiday season (in this case, the Ronald McDonald House in Chicago, Illinois; the Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington; the International Child Art Foundation in Washington, D.C.; and the Shriner Hospital in Houston, Texas).

“There were multiple goals with the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ contest,” says Brad Burnett, HDU sales representative at DUNA-USA (and the person who came up with the idea for this contest). “The main objective was to bring a feeling of Christmas into the children’s wards of numerous hospitals throughout the U.S.—as decorations during the run-up to Christmas day and also to Christmas-themed events planned at many of these locations throughout the month of December.”

Sign makers were told that each piece should be valued at a minimum of $1,500 to $2,000, because ultimately, these projects were going to be put up for auction by their respective charities.

“One of the main factors we relayed to the charities is the scale of craftsmanship and the correlative value involved in creating these donated pieces,” says Burnett.

Participating sign makers also had some personal incentives, as well.

The First Place winner won an iPad Pro, the Second Place winner was awarded a GoPro HERO4 BLACK camera, and the Third Place winner received a specially designed gourmet gift basket from Parmashop in Italy.

In addition to Burnett, judges included Roger Cox, owner of House of Signs in Frisco, Colorado, and Jeff Wooten, editor of Sign Builder Illustrated magazine. Entries were judged on execution, design, and wow factor.

Judging proved especially difficult as each piece was worthy of First Place.

“From Santa Claus to Christmas trees and presents to sleighs, we saw a little bit of everything that encompasses what Christmas means to many of us,” said Burnett. “In my opinion, the true mark of the success of this contest is seeing each entry as a piece of an amazingly creative puzzle crafted by this entire group of artisans.”

Here are the three winning entries—with commentary from the sign makers involved:

“Bethlehem” (pictured, top)
T.R. MacMunn & Sons
Mountain Grove, Ontario, Canada
Rodger MacMunn, Owner

Rodger MacMunn has been making signs for over twenty years, but believe it or not, this was the first contest he had ever entered. He admits that it took him about a month of brainstorming and fretting to finally settle down on a design he would be satisfied making for this contest.

His original idea was to just do something with the words “Merry Christmas” in many different languages, but he worried about possible spelling mistakes or misplaced accents.

He had already carved plenty of Santa Clauses in the past, so that prospect wasn’t exciting to him either. “And I don’t really like the commercialization of Christmas—except when some of that money comes my way,” he laughs.

So Rodger decided to do something related to the true meaning of the season.

“Christmas is still, for many, the time of year when we look forward to spending time with the extended family and friends,” he says. “What could say this better than ‘Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men?’ which all started on a clear night in Bethlehem some two millennia ago.

“And honestly, I really wanted to do a hand-carved gold star, so I designed everything else on the sign from there!”

Rodger works alone these days, primarily on dimensional signs, in his 20-by-38-foot sign shop located in a really rural, really remote part of Canada. “I have a lovely set of chisels and a CAMaster Mini Cobra CNC, all of which I used for this sign,” he says.

He did some Internet sleuthing and found a nineteenth century painting of Bethlehem that he liked, and using that as a bit of a reference, Rodger traced his vision onto the CORAFOAM blank. This allowed him to router-carve out the sky portion in order to lay the smalts. (Note: He used smalts honey and mixed it with some black 1-Shot paint to create this effect.)

He hand-carved the Bethlehem town scene and used a hand-router to put a little bit of trim lip/side edge on it.

The Cobra CNC router was also used to carve out the letters. Rodger chose the verse—“Glory to God in the highest and on Earth, Peace, Goodwill toward men”—because he found it was not only a good one for the season, but also a good way for people to live their lives in general.

The self-described “funky little” checkered background finish on the bottom portion of the sign was achieved using a 1/8-inch tapered bullnose bit. Rodger ran the same tool path with a 99 percent stepover twice with opposing angles.

Rodger used Modern Masters ME195 Copper metallic paint for the lettering and the face, while the other bronze color on the sign is Modern Masters Antique Copper acrylic paint. The rest of the paints are PPG PORTER® and SUN-PROOF® house paints.

He applied 22k Moon Gold Leaf from WB Gold Leaf to the hand-carved Bethlehem star and the gilded border to make them stand out even more.

In the end, Rodger hopes that his piece can inspire not just benevolence toward the less fortunate during the Christmas season but also throughout the entire year.

0 3 North WoodsSECOND PLACE
“Here Comes Santa Claus”
North Woods Sign Shop
Ludington, Michigan
Scott McGlue, Owner

The staff at North Woods Sign Shop believes that their sign will put a smile on all kids’ faces—those that are young and those that are young-at-heart.

“The gold leaf represents the sparkle in children’s eyes, the sparkle of stars, and the sparkle of the season,” explains Scott McGlue.

Scott recognizes that a lot of sign artists are really children at heart, so when it came time to make his contest entry piece, it inspired his shop to evoke the spirit of Christmas through a child’s perspective.

“Anticipation often makes Christmas Eve the most exciting night in a child’s whole year,” he says. “Santa, his sleigh, the reindeer, and his bag of toys evoke feelings of magic, wonder, joy, and hope.”

A little background: North Woods Sign Shop is the only shop in the area that specializes in carving dimensional signs of all types. Scott purchased the sign shop from original owner Diana Bondesen last spring, however, she still works there and was instrumental in selecting the design for this sign.

They manipulated the design of the sign using Flexi software. Then CNC Operator Greg Erickson imported the design into EnRoute software and carved out the details using their Techno CNC router.

North Woods Sign Shop employees then hand-shaped the CORAFOAM and sanded it until they got it the way they wanted. They used chisels to hand-carve additional details.

(Note: The Christmas tree jutting off the upper right-hand side is part of the original CORAFOAM blank.)

“Then we used 1-Shot and Chromatic paints and premium 2400 Series FDC green vinyl,” says Scott, noting that the 23k gold leaf was applied last after they had finished painting the reindeer.

Jeff Nelson and Diana performed all the brush-painting and gold leafing on the sign.

“They’re really good at getting gradients with a brush,” says Scott.

The shop has a wide variety of paint brushes colloected from over thirty years of sign painting—from M. Grumbacher and Winsor & Newton brands to brushes purchased at WalMart®.

While Scott finds that twenty-pound CORAFOAM is more dense and features more structure than eighteen-pound HDU, he typically uses ALUPANEL® as a backing to give more strength in mounting.

“We used it for this sign too, although it really wasn’t necessary because of its final size and weight,” he says.

0 4 SundanceTHIRD PLACE
“Believe in the Magic of Christmas”
Sundance Sign Company
Dover, New Hampshire
Mike Leary, Owner

“We come up with design concepts for dimensional and commercial signs every day, but being asked the question what does the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ mean to you and then bringing it to life was a challenge,” says Mike Leary. “We changed the direction of our design many times.”

They settled on “Believe in the Magic of Christmas” as their final concept, as it was classic...and classy.

“This phrase fit the question being asked, and it can have many meanings to many people—whether used to think of Santa, ‘giving and receiving,’ family, or faith,” says Mike. “The choice of a simple reindeer in Palladium leaf fit the sentiment of the quote.”

Mike’s shop carved everything on the sign using their Precix advanced CNC router and painted everything using 1-Shot paints.

Mike has been using a lot of PVC for v-carved signs (such as Kömmatex) but has been impressed with what he’s experience using CORAFOAM for these types of signs, as well.

The Sundance team used a stronger red for the background behind the gold leaf quote. “The bevel edge carries a slightly darker red to help with the transition to a very dark green, almost black recessed border,” says Mike.

For the text, Mike used the Desire Letterhead font, which comes with multiple versions of the letters. “We followed an eighteen-page book on how to use this font,” he explains. “It has twelve As, fifteen Es, etc.”

  • North Woods Sign Shop, Ludington, Michigan. Second Place.

  • Sundance Sign Company, Dover, NH. Third Place.

  • Artistic Signs, Omaha, Nebraska.

  • Countryside Signs, Seekonk, MA.

  • Creative Sign Company, Wyoming, IL.

  • (1 of 2): Great American Sign Co., Basking Ridge, NJ.

  • (2 of 2): Great American Sign Co., Basking Ridge, NJ.

  • Signs By Van, Salinas, CA.

  • Synergy Sign and Graphics, Strasburg, OH.

Mike credits his entire five-person staff at Sundance Sign Company, who all worked on portions of the sign, for putting this finished entry together.

In the end, the shop achieved a very elegant, very traditional image that impressed the judges. “We wanted to stay away from what a lot of people gravitate towards—Santa Claus and that commercial aspect of Christmas,” says Mike.

Honorable Mentions:

Artistic Sign
Omaha, Nebraska
Joe Putjenter, Owner

Countryside Signs
Seekonk, Massachusetts
“Mike Z.,” Owner

Creative Sign Company
Wyoming, Illinois
Doug Haffner, Owner

Great American Sign Co.
Basking Ridge, NJ
Gary Johnson, Owner

Signs By Van
Salinas, CA
Phil Vanderkraats, Owner

Synergy Sign & Graphics
Strasburg, OH
Jim Dawson, Owner

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