Thursday, December 29, 2011

Goodbye 2011! I'll Never Forget You!

Right before the holiday, I had several projects to complete.

A friend asked if there was any way I might be able to work in a sign for her family before Christmas.
We talked about what she wanted, and it turned out she'd seen a sample of mine from early this year that she liked.  Her parents are farmers and are now John Deere users.  She brought me some pictures of the farm and I set up the file for the carve in less than 10 minutes.

After about 20 minutes of carving, the 3/4" Azek was ready for primer and paint.  I decided to not strictly stick to the John Deere colors for the sign, but to give them a little more depth and color.  The green background includes 4 glazes of varying colors including a metallic green gold that gave it some really neat highlights.

Finally, a small oval in the sign received some airbrushed clouds and hand painted silhouettes of their home and original tractor.  The John Deere used to harvest is also on there and is shown hard at work...

Once all the projects were done, and the presents were was time to travel to spend the holiday with family.  My daughter is always excited to see Grandma, Grandpa, her aunt and cousin.  We ate too much food and generally enjoyed the mild weather.  Multiple trips down to Grandma and Grandpa's lake were taken.  I even let Elena do some driving in the 4 wheel cart! She was in heaven.  I'm afraid, though, she has a bit of a lead foot...note how much her mother, Ashley, is holding on to the bar for dear life!

As 2011 draws to a close, I realize that it's been a wild and amazing year.  The business is rapidly growing and I've had the very good fortune to see some of my work make it into magazines, newspapers and more.  I've had the opportunity to paint murals with old and new friends and spend time doing work that I love.  Robots, murals, rockets and signs filled my dreams and my days.  I've only scratched the surface of what's possible and am so excited to consider what's ahead.

One change is the name.  The new year will bring the new and more appropriate name for my company- "Haffner's Fantastic Creations".  I will be leaving the website for  "Haffner Signs" in place so people who know that name can still find me.  It's going to be a great year!

I hope you'll stay with us and watch!  Happy New Year to you all! See you in 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together...

The last of my Star Wars projects went smoothly, quickly and were a real joy to do.  While I've spread the story out a bit, the process went much more quickly!
The poster from "Return of The Jedi" was relatively easy, especially with the new airbrush!
I began by making vectored shapes over the hands and lightsabre (an interesting bit of information is that I have heard that it was George Lucas' own hands holding the device that were used as reference for the image/poster!). Here is a scan of the original poster:

I've also mentioned from time to time that changes occur during the process of a build that improve the piece.  George Lucas does this himself.  The original title for the 3rd film (or number 6 if you like) was "Revenge Of The Jedi". Before the release, George decided that jedi were above revenge and he changed the title to reflect that.

The "logo" at the top was not as clear as I would like, so I was able to locate a vectored version of the logo already built and included that in my vectored version. This would give my carving much more crisp lettering.
Using the new technique, I combined it with the original image in the carving program and the carving came quick!
On to prime and paint!

The filmstrip was really where I decided to have some fun!  I had been thinking that I wanted to do a piece that hade more "dimension" and would be related to all the films in some way.  What I came up with was a filmstrip with 3 panels. Each panel would have a different frame.  I decided to skip the "20th Century Fox" logo and go directly to the "Lucasfilm ltd." logo for the first frame. The next frame would be one that was all too familiar to fans, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away". Last was, of course, the Star Wars logo. I began with an illustration of a filmstrip:

I then prepared the design, even taking the time to do my best to match the font used in the "A long time ago" panel. The "frames" would be inset into the filmstrip...
Once carved from Azek pvc, the real fun began!  I enlisted the help of my local Azek distributor, Todd Farden from Parksite.  Together we talked a bit about the amazing properties of the product as we watched it heat up on my grill. I mentioned that eventually I'd need a better method to heat my Azek!  Once it was the right temperature, we took the piece and wrapped it between 2 4" pvc pipes to create the loose "S" shaped bend.  While Todd held it, I bent one corner out a bit for an additional bit of flair- and poured cold water over it to 'set' it and lock it in shape.
The piece then got some textured prime (although not much texture on the frames as I wanted them a bit smooth).  Then it was time for paint. The real fun on this was to try to match the blue on the text and the yellow on the logo...but I really wanted to nail the 'Lucasfilm' logo.  That logo often has a green "glow" and individual points of light that animate around the logo.  This is where the airbrush was invaluable.  I was able to mix some of my "Modern Master's" metallics and arrive at some colors that I felt worked. I was very pleased with the result! The photo makes it look a bit more yellow...

  Last, I whipped up a couple of other Star Wars logos and primed and painted them in the last couple of hours.  Normally, I'd like to let all this sit and cure for awhile...but I didn't have that luxury!  They all were given time under some indirect heat and a fan to attempt to cure them as much as possible as they were later wrapped, packed and sent overnight to Texas! They all made it with no damage!

6 pieces in 3 days! It was a challenge I set for myself and I was really happy to have made it happen. A little sleep was in order and then it was time to head to the next adventure!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mini Mural at Christmas

We've promised my daughter for about 2 years that we'd totally re-do her bedroom. When we moved in we didn't have time. Last year I bought us a little time by doing a small 4' x 8' section of stone wall with a Harry Potter logo and sculpting the bird.
We decided to get her a full size bed for Christmas, and I realized it was finally time to get the whole room done. I talked with her at length about what she wanted- and Harry Potter is still #1. She originally just wanted the whole room to look like a room in Hogwarts, but I convinced her that might be a little dark and make the room seem small. We agreed that what would be really cool was a mural of Hogwarts on one wall and a painting of the "Marauder's map" on another. The other two will be faux stone.

I found some great reference online and spent yesterday airbrushing and hand painting the sky, and blocking in some rough colors for the castle. I'm enjoying it!

Anytime you can work on your skills and make your daughter happy is a good day!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I’m altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further

So I decided to pull a Darth Vader and "alter the deal" with regards to what I'd send for this Star Wars project. They were really only expecting the first poster- but I had bigger plans.  Why not do all 3 of the originals? Heck, why not do those and a couple other things, too? 

My feeling is that it is better to set realistic expectations for my clients and then try my very best to exceed them...whether it's a paid client or for a donated project. In the end, I'm happier having gone further than they expected, and they certainly are as well!  It's seems unfortunate that  many companies have lost sight of this simple idea. 

So- how to handle these other projects? Simple. Follow what I did for the first one. Design, Carve, Prime, Paint...repeat as needed!

In the early Empire poster, Vader is barely visible.  While I like it, I felt that if I was going to do a "dimensional" version of the poster, he'd need to be a little more prominent.  You can also see from the scan below that I decided to skip adding all the credits at the bottom of the poster. It's not that it couldn't be done, but I had to come up with ways to save some time and make these in the time available. I felt the primary image was the important part. 

I did some searching and found some good Vader photos. I'm certain an intelligent fan out there will catch whether or not this "version" of Vader is appropriate. Didn't know there were different ones? Shame on you. 

The vector was pretty easy....and with a more visible Vader, I was ready to carve. I wouldn't make him quite as visible as he is in this image, but it was really there to give the carving some dimension.
Here's how it looked in the carving application, all ready to go.

Once it was carved, it was time for prime, basecoats and some more airbrush and hand painting...

The logo was fun to do....I just did "brushed " coats of a metallic silver and nickel..and I think it turned out ok!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stay On Target...

My latest project has been a series of famous Star Wars posters and other Star Wars related items that I've donated to a great cause.  My understanding is that the episode of the tv show that these are part of won't air until next year, but in the meantime here's what I did!

I spoke with the folks at CarveWright on the phone..."They really liked your movie posters you carved awhile back".  I was already way ahead of him.  Star Wars posters were something I wanted to recreate almost as soon as I got my CarveWright 4 or 5 years ago.  In my mind I thought "Awesome!" and then immediately "Uh Oh...I got a bad feeling about this."

You see, the process of converting an image into something you can carve dimensionally isn't as easy as you'd like.  You can't just import the image and carve it. Further, the folks at Lucasfilm protect their copyright vigorously and I didn't want stormtroopers showing up at my shop.  Thank goodness this project was already approved by Lucasfilm!

Here's the rub- If you have a person with dark hair..the face stays high, while the hair becomes carved very deep.  I'd run into this and found that if I was willing to put a great deal of time into modifying the image in photoshop, I could get something I could carve.  To be honest, the paintjob did the work of making it look good. My carvings were "so-so" at best.  So here I was saying "Yeah! The original Star Wars poster would be a cool one to do for them!" Oh boy.

I knew I had about a day to figure it out, while waiting for the carving material to arrive. I figured out that I better solve the problem and fast.  These things had to go out in 3 days!

The solution came as part of a backup plan.  I took the poster image and vectored (created lines) around each of the objects in the poster.  I figured that if nothing else, I could have varying layers and each would become a mini-canvas for the painting.  Not ideal, but I knew it would work if it had to.

I imported this new image into the carving software and then had an idea. What if I combined it with the original scan and added the two together? The result was exactly what I'd hoped. My problems were solved!

Now it was a relatively simple matter to create files for the other 2 posters and carve them as well!

I also felt that I wanted to do more than just send copies of existing posters (albeit with some modifications I decided to make).  I came up with the idea of doing a "filmstrip" that I could make from Azek and heat up and bend into a nice "s-curve".

Now it was on to paint!  The first poster clearly had the most detail, and I knew it would take the most time, so I began on it early and worked on it off and on for the 3 days I had until I had to ship the project. All of the pieces were primed and textured...with a little less texture on the people/droids.
Then base coats of black paint.  I then charted some unknown territory for me and decided that some of the pieces really called for airbrush.  It was time to get a decent one and I started with an Iwata HP-BCS.  Knowing very little about airbrushing, I can tell you it's the best I've ever used. Unfortunately, this isn't saying much. I hooked it up, and started painting. Instructions? No time.

Next I began to alternate airbrush and hand painting.  The reference photos were great and the process taught me a great deal.
In a short time, I was looking at my own dimensional version of the first poster!
I made some small changes, like adding gold to C3PO and some blue to R2D2 (the original art treated them mostly in off whites and darks).  I also added the more well known version of the star wars logo (the original is pretty different!). Soon I was done and ready to move on to the rest!
Stay tuned for more! The empire is preparing to strike back!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Underestimate The Force

Last week I got a phone of those calls you kind of have to pinch yourself and ask if it's happening.
A nationally syndicated television show is in Texas helping a family whose home burned down in the horrible fires that happened there. Being in Texas, they called CarveWright (their home base is there) to see if they might want to lend a hand.

When the producers told CarveWright what they wanted to do- they said "Oh, man! You gotta see what this guy in Illinois is doing with our machine. I bet he'd help out..."

As it happens, the father and two twin boys are huge Star Wars fans. The father had collected Star Wars stuff since he was a kid...all lost in the fire. They told me that the plan is to do a Star Wars room for the family and asked if I could come up with anything that I could make and send in just a few days.

I agreed to help and even told them what I thought I could make and send. A fast call to my local Azek pvc distributor (Parksite) scored a donated 3/4" thick sheet 4' x 8' long. All I can say is, "Todd Farden, Parksite and Azek, you rock!"

From the beginning, my plan was ambitious. It included 6 items, while they were expecting much less. Even one was an undertaking in the time frame, but I just felt it was something I couldn't pass up...a chance to help a family of sci-fi nuts like me, a chance to make Star Wars stuff with a blessing from Lucasfilm, and a chance to participate in a tv show my daughter and I love to watch. I couldn't do it small!

I had to invent a way to do a couple of the projects and pushed myself to try new things along the way. It was only 3 days, but it felt like 2 weeks. Todd stopped by and was even wrangled into helping me bend some Azek I'd heated up on the grill. I think I better come up with an Azek oven pretty soon!

The last push was an all-nighter, but it was worth it. I completed everything, boxed it up and sent it off to Texas.  I hope more than anything those 2 boys like what I did.

I had a chance to create a new way to carve images, a sink or swim introduction to the airbrush and a variety of techniques to adapt and learn. Stay tuned!

I love my little CarveWright and wouldn't trade it for the world..but you can probably guess that my mind was racing with the possibilities of what could be done if I had a larger new cnc machine.  Maybe by the time they need help with a "Star Trek" room, I'll be able to make some of those dreams even bigger!

Being part of it was an early Christmas gift for me and I couldn't be more thankful even if none of the items make it on air. I find it fitting for this family that the original Star Wars film's subtitle is "A New Hope".


Friday, December 9, 2011

Keeping My JuJu Intact.

I believe in advertising.  In fact, I've been indirectly and directly in the advertising field since I left college. The best advertising is "word of mouth" and now "word of social media".  A happy client will let people know who made them happy (And an angry one will let people know why too...even more loudly!).  I take the idea of helping my clients very seriously, even though much of my work is light hearted in tone.  I have fully digested the concept that by doing the right thing by your client and doing a little more than you have to, you'll be paid back many times over.  Recommendations that help a client (not just upsell them) show that you are thinking beyond the accounting ledger.  It means you're thinking about the "Giving Back Ledger".
The reward isn't always money. Sometimes it's something more important: A new friendship, a new contact with a vendor, inspiration for new ideas. Sometimes, it's free advertising...
In just under 1 month, I've had my work  shown in "The American Woodworker" and just today I picked up a local paper called "The Stark County News". Inside?

The reporter was here a week or so ago, and seemed a bit overwhelmed with my wacky workshop of fun.  I was pleasantly suprised with the article and delighted to have been included.

When I  got back from lunch and picking up the paper, I had another suprise waiting in the mail.
The mural I painted here in my town (Wyoming, Il) was included in a magazine called "Remember The Rock". It's a magazine dedicated to the memories and stories about The Rock Island Trains. My credit (and company name and web link) are on the opposite page not shown).  I don't even mind that they added some text to the image to create the story headline!

I am working on a project over the next couple of days that's a bit of a secret project. I'll be able to talk more about it later, but suffice it to say that I'm honored to participate and to do something for someone else. It's my way of trying to keep the "Giving Back Ledger" in the black.  An old friend named David Renner would sometimes say "When something goes your way, you've got to give back. If you don't, it'll mess up your JuJu."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hey...I wonder if I just....

Since I purchased my small CNC machine, I've experimented with many various ways to do projects.  I sometimes vector images in applications like Illustrator. Sometimes I convert an image to black and white and I've had some success carving "pictures" this way if I do a fair amount of work in photoshop to make it carve well.  I started thinking this morning that maybe there is a way to combine the two.
I went back to my vectored Star Wars piece and imported the original image it was based on.  In the carving application I overlayed the two and selected "additive". This told the application I wanted both sets of data to be used in preparing the carve.  So it had data on some solid shapes at various heights, and then a bunch of data on the image...I think the combined result is interesting.
It looks pretty good and should be relatively easy to paint.  Before I do it in Azek pvc (Thanks to my local distributer Todd at Parksite), I decided to do a test carve in some 15# HDU to see what isn't working so I can correct it before the final carve. It's carved at roughly 14" x 20"...
Not bad at all....just a few small changes and it'll be ready to carve when the Azek material arrives tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I have three of these that I get to do- and it's a tight turnaround. I think it's fair to say that I have a couple late evenings ahead in order to make this happen...but no worries. I couldn't be happier than to get a chance to do some Star Wars art!
The first movie poster is certainly well known. The Hildebrant brothers were already known for some Lord Of The Rings calendar art, but this poster in 1977 put them on the map and into history.  It still stands as one of the most recognized posters in the world.
How to begin?  I decided to vector the key images from the poster and those layers will then be carved at varying depths.  These layers will act as guidelines as I go in and sculpt the finer details.
Here are the vectors all drawn in over one another.
Next was to decide which layers are deeper in the image that I will be converting to something with more dimension.  Even at this early stage, there's no mistaking which poster this is. Just a few shapes define the image and prove what an impact great design can have.

Now I import the image into my carving application...where I've added the dome for the deathstar.  This will be the "base" for my sculpting and painting.  I plan to carve it in "Azek" pvc.  I have the Star Wars music playing in the shop and I'm itching to carve...but first I have to add the "Star Wars" title itself!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Laugh It Up Fuzzball...

I'm starting a new project this week. It's a tight turn...but I'm dedicated to making it happen.  I plan to share much of the process here, but won't be able to show the final work until it's completed and the final project that it will be part of is completed.  The fact that it's approved and I have permission to do what I'm planning to do is amazing enough.  For now I'll leave you with a hint: