Rusty Elegance

Sometimes, a customer will come into our shop knowing exactly what they want. Sometimes, when it involves the use of materials and techniques that we have implemented in the past with great success, the visit can bring a welcome change of pace. This was the case with the new Marisol restaurant that just opened at the Cliffs resort here on the coast.

The manager asked that we create a sign that would be installed high on the wall visible from the freeway. The sign needed to be about 5'  x 12'  in size. She wanted it to be thick in dimension and also include gold leaf lettering. The rusted signs that we have been doing around the city were exactly what she had in mind but she did not have a logo and wanted us to develop one for her. The restaurant was to be of Mediterranean influence and some simple lettering to project that style was requested.

I found a letter style designed by Chuck Davis called Mirage Bold. With a little finessing it was just the ticket for this particular client and the new look for the Marisol restaurant was born. This job would turn out to be pretty straightforward, with the new logo design to be used for menus, print and advertising, as well as for signage–the large sign mentioned above, and a smaller sign located in the breezeway to greet patrons as they enter the restaurant.


Our client wanted the large sign, which would be 8" in depth, to appear to be thick iron. My job was to create it, yet keep it light enough to be able to be installed in a fashion that would fall within the budget. I chose to use 10-lb. Sign Foam3 (HDU) with the idea to cut the design on the router as a shell, which would keep it hollow and light. The individual pieces were then glued together with epoxy, using cyanoacrylate glue to tack-weld the pieces in place while the epoxy cured.

After creating the router paths I cut three layers of 2"-thick HDU. The first layer would be the face of the sign, including the inlays for the lettering. The second and third layers were merely the returned edge creating the look of a solid and thick piece when assembled. The letters were cut with a simple rounded-over edge from 2" HDU as well.


When all fabrication was complete we primed the signs with Coastal Enterprise’s water-based primer and followed with a coat of rust-colored acrylic paint. On top of this base we applied three heavy coats of Iron Metallic surfacer from Triangle Coatings. The iron was painted on with a foam brush with little attention to detail to create a random thickness and pattern to the surface. The iron was left to dry for a couple of days, after which acid was sprayed using the HVLP gun to make the iron nice and wet. This coat was left to run down the signs and soak in. Once dry the acid was sprayed again a little less liberally, to dampen the signs, once again bringing out more rust and oxidation. After a few days the signs became a nice rust color with deep reds and other warm colors.

The letters were prepared with Lefranc 12-hour size and gilded with 23-karat patent gold leaf. The bottom edge of the gold letters were outlined with black to dress up the lettering and give the appearance that they float away from the rusted back. The sub-copy, at The Cliffs, was painted with blackened bronze and then spattered with iron metallic surfacer to make it harmonious with the large rusted panel.


The sign was installed on the wall using a French cleat. To make this, we rip a board at a 45-degree angle, creating two pieces. The two pieces are used with the help of gravity and a little adhesive to create a simple, but solid mounting assembly. After mounting one piece to the wall and the opposing piece to the sign we can hang the sign at the proper height, with the ability to slide it left or right, which gives us a little more flexibility to position it exactly where it should be.

Normally, a wooden cleat would be mounted to the urethane board with epoxy, giving the cleat a strong and permanent bond. But we used Sintra for the cleat on this job because it won’t rot and fail outside in the weather. However, epoxy does not stick to Sintra (sheet PVC), so to deal with this I drilled out large 1˝ cores in the urethane. The cores were filled with epoxy and then the cleat was screwed to the urethane board with screws and washers. Once cured, the screws were held tight in the epoxy core, which will not pull out of the urethane board.

To make installation simple, eyebolts were set with epoxy in the two opposing ends of the sign. These were used to hoist the sign into position with a boom truck. Steve Fear with Coast Monument Services was gracious enough to help us with the installation of this project. The inside sign was installed by first screwing and gluing with silicone adhesive the Sintra filigree or lace to the wall and then the rusted panel was pin mounted to the wall to finish off this restaurant package.