Sign & Digital Graphic Portfolio Contest 2010


There are many adjectives in the dictionary that mean essentially the same thing as the word “great,” and I’m pretty sure all of them were used when describing this year’s entries for the annual Sign & Digital Graphics Portfolio Contest. One of the best parts about our contest is that at the end of every year, we get to take a look at some of the most beautiful work done in our industry. 
One of the more frequent comments I hear about our contest is that the collection of work we show is a wonderful source for ideas and methods to help other sign shops improve their own offerings, and we couldn’t agree more. It’s easy for a sign shop to sit back and say “it’s all been done before,” but year after year we see signs that simply defy convention and take the industry as a whole to a new level. 
Tasked with deciding which signs would be honored as this year’s best were judges Matt Charboneau of Matt Charboneau Signs, Drake, Colo.; Mike “Mike Z” Szczoczarz of Countryside Signs, Seekonk, Mass.; Mardeen Gordon of California Sign Group, Monterey Bay, Calif.; Linda Cranston, art director of Sign & Digital Graphics magazine and myself.
I would like to thank every sign and graphics shop that submitted entries for the contest. We received so many high-quality entries that we feel guilty for not having the room to acknowledge many more fine examples. We would also like to take this time to remind everyone of our Auto Art Contest coming up soon to recognize the world’s best vehicle graphics. Those who submitted vehicle graphics for the Portfolio Contest will automatically have those examples entered into our Auto Art Contest, which publishes in our June edition. Keep an eye out in these pages and at for our entry form and contest information. And now, let’s introduce the winners.
1st Place
Sawatzky’s Imagination Corporation
Dan Sawatzky
Chilliwack, B.C., Canada
If you’ve been in the sign industry long, you’ve probably heard of or seen many of Dan Sawatzky’s signs over the years. He and his two employees at Sawatsky’s Imagination Corporation in British Columbia specialize in dimensional signs that don’t so much inform you of your destination as help transport you there. A quick look around will give you a clear idea that this is no ordinary sign shop, and the winning True North Sub Shop sign is another fine example of what a little imagination can bring to the signage industry.
Dan has an interesting method of getting the most out of his talents. Each year he sends out a challenge to all of his friends in the sign industry. 
“The challenge was basically for everyone to do a sample this year for their shop that took it in a direction that they wanted to go in the future,” says Sawatzky. “Something that would build their skills and push their limits creatively.”
The first-place spot in the Sign & Digital Graphics Portfolio Contest 2010 was a result of that challenge to himself.
Inspired by the Jules Vernes classic “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” Sawatzky’s sub-themed sign was designed and built as a showpiece for his studio. It was designed using Adobe Illustrator and EnRoute Pro software. The sign was created from 30 lb. Precision Board on their MultiCam 3000 series CNC router. The barnacles and starfish were sculpted using Abracadabra Sculpt, and the sign was hand painted with acrylic paints. 
“While most people use their machine as a jigsaw, we like to do three-dimensional stuff,” says Sawatzky. “And we’ve trained on our router to do dimensional and wiggly—things that a router traditionally doesn’t do.”
The bracket was crafted from steel in the shop. The sign measures 30" wide, 36" tall and 24" deep. Sawatzky says the sign was created as they were able to sneak in a few extra minutes here and there around the normal day-to-day work.
“The sub shop is a good example of where I want to go in the future,” says Sawatzky. “The signs are way out there in terms of what is normal and what type of sign I want to do.”
The success Sawatzky has achieved because of his work with three-dimensional signs is not something he wants to keep to himself.
“I would encourage other sign makers to go away from the norm, the flat, the typical signage to go into this type of thing,” says Sawatzky. “The rewards are huge, creatively especially, and financially as well.”
2nd Place
Lunsford Signs Inc.
Joel D. Lunsford
Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo.
Joel Lunsford and his wife, Janette, had a tough task on their hands. They were asked by client Lisa Tarr, an established artist and illustrator, to come up with a sign for her art studio. While creating art for artists can add a little pressure to the design and production process, this time everything turned out for the best. 
“This client was actually the perfect client because she was very concerned about quality and very receptive to our ideas,” says Lunsford. “She liked the 3-D versions of the sign. It was kind of intimidating because she is an artist. She’s very good, so I had to come up with a design that I thought someone who is like that—who is very good in her field—it would have to be up to her standards, so it was setting the bar pretty high for us to achieve something that someone with talent would see as pretty cool.”
Tarr had sought out Lunsford Signs after checking out the shop’s website, Her studio caters to individuals who like to paint or create and finish pottery. She also conducts art seminars.
The art studio is located in Grand Lake, Colo., near the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Lunsford says three million people are estimated to drive through the area every year, giving his sign quite the large audience. 
This project was designed on Corel X3 and carved by hand with assistance from their MultiCam router. It is made of PVC, 1.5" SignFoam, Dibond and epoxy with a hidden welded aluminum frame. It was finished with Matthews paints, 1 Shot and smaltz. The gold portion of the paintbrush is gold leaf. The paint pallet was originally going to be a digital print, but Lunsford said they wanted the 3-D effect of the blobs of paint to show up on the pallet. For the font, Lunsford chose Curlz.
Joel and Janette work out of a 5,000 square-foot shop in the small town of Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo., where they’ve been making signs since 1998. 
“The fabrication took a long time,” says Lunsford. “As we’re doing them, we start seeing things that we want to add and modify and change. And we may not have initially charged them for every aspect of it, so as we’re getting into the fabrication, we’re thinking of all these cool effects we want to add to it.”
In the end, Lunsford Signs created an effective work of art for a client that specializes in works of art.
3rd Place
Danthonia Designs
Christina Maendel
Inverell, New South Wales, Australia
Year after year, the team at the Christian Community-owned Danthonia Designs in Inverell, Australia, continues to put out amazing work.
“Danthonia Signs turns out consistently beautiful signs,” says contest judge Mike “Mike Z” Szczoczarz. “Their use of color is outstanding. Any one of their entries could be in this slot... or higher.”
Taking a quick look at their website,, will give you an idea of just how well regarded Danthonia is. The awards and accolades jump off the page.
For this Yetman on the Macintyre sign, Danthonia used SignFoam3 HDU, laminated to PVC with 3M adhesives. Finishes include Dulux Weathershield Paints, Liquitex Artist Acylics, and 23 kt gold leaf. It was designed in Adobe Illustrator.
“Every Danthonia sign is a custom work, but this sign did get some special attention,” says Joe McKernan of Danthonia. “Some unique aspects to the design include the four-post hanging system and the airbrushed gradient background color, which is somewhat unusual for us. It is also kind of interesting how the 3-D sculpted banner behind the “gum nuts” has no writing on it. It is simply there for the ambiance and the look/feel it gives.”
The signs that come from Danthonia are a team effort, with Christina Maendel designing this piece and Brenna McKernan painting the pictorial. But Joe says probably 15 people may have pitched in on the production. 
It was Danthonia’s previous work that brought Yetman to their door.
“Yetman is a small town in Australia’s “bushland” of Northern New South Wales,” says Joe. “About 40 percent of Danthonia’s work involves signage for local governments. Over the last few years we have done entry statements, park signage and related destination branding for more than 75 Australian councils. Yetman had seen our work around and wanted two new Danthonia-style entry signs to show local pride and promote fishing in the area.” 
Joe says the official government response to the signs was “they look good.” But he and the staff at Danthonia know there’s more to the sign than that.
“Many of our government projects involve large contemporary, somewhat industrial looking signage,” says Joe. “I liked the fact that this ‘little town’ got a ‘little sign’ and that this little sign has the ability to really influence your first impression of the town as you drive into it.”
Honorable Mentions