I’ll have to apologize for the image quality on some of the pictures. I only took pictures of the progression of the project to text them to Jarrod to show him my progress. 🙂
The transition from full-time craft events to full-time bicycle events has been a bit of a shock. The price tags associated with booth space at cycling events is much much higher. I’ve been working with the promoters to pay for booth space with prizes and trophies to reduce my fees where I can.
In 2015, I was commissioned by the Denver Post to create 60 pieces for their sponsor gifts. It was their 30th anniversary, and they wanted to do something different. (You can read more about them here.)
2017 is the 30th anniversary of Elephant Rock, and the promoter was really receptive to the idea of making something similar for their anniversary. That’s a big win for me; I love custom work. (And how cool is it to have two 30th anniversary pieces in my portfolio?!?) It presents challenges every time so I have the opportunity to sharpen my problem-solving skills. This time was no different as it seemed I ran into a new problem at every step.
Since I had the computer files for the Ride the Rockies pieces, it was a fairly straightforward to change the center to the logo for Elephant Rock. The CNC machine is very useful for producing clean 3-dimensional designs. I built the design around the color scheme for this year’s event and came up with this lovely mock-up.
I spent a few hours cleaning up the file to give it to the CNC machine so that it would produce a lovely 3-dimensional image. When the magic buttons were clicked to initialize the machine, the CNC router said, “Nope.” The image was too small for it to cut out. Bummer. I ended up just cutting out the background pieces with the idea of figuring out how to do the logo later.
At this point, we were getting things ready to head out to Fruita including repairs to the Jeep so that it would make it there and back in one piece. The project was put on the backburner, and occasionally I thought about methods that would accomplish what I needed.
I sought advice from a friend in Austria who had a lot more experience than I did with this kind of work. I suggested using the vinyl cutter that I make our window decals with. He said that the design was probably to detailed for that and that matching the dimensions would be very difficult. He suggested using an iron-on t-shirt transfer. I had heard of this method before as a way to print images onto wood, but wasn’t really sold on the look of the finished project. One method we didn’t discuss was screenprinting. I had never tried it before and had heard that the process can be a little tricky.
I ordered everything I needed to try these three approaches. I found a vinyl that had the RGB numbers so I could find the color closest to the color scheme provided by Elephant Rock. I picked one that was near perfect. I ordered a screenprint kit that was large enough to use for other projects as well. And I stopped by the office supply store and picked up a pack of iron-on transfers. Then, I went through a crazy process to get the right paint colors.
You can’t take a printed image in to match; they are rarely true to the original. I used a website to transform the RGB values into named paint colors made by major manufacturers over I have no idea how many years. Each entry gave me 10-15 named colors. I worked for ACE and True Value for over 2 years, so I knew exactly what their machines needed from me to look up these colors. Off I went to the paint counter and had the colors mixed. It was fairly painless once I figured out how to convert RGB to named colors.
I painted all of the back pieces first, because that was the easy part. I made a few extra faces so that I had some to experiment on. I painted three faces to test the process. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t want to have to go cut out more faces. The iron-on test piece was a solid color since the transfer paper can handle more than one color unlike the vinyl and screenprint.
First experiment: Vinyl
I spent a couple of hours changing the file to produce the most detail possible using the vinyl cutter. I put in the piece of vinyl, and I wasn’t satisfied with the first cut, so I went back and spent another hour to produce a better one. That one I was pretty happy with; I don’t know that the cutter could do any better. I spent a lot of time weeding (removing the vinyl I don’t want) the image since it had so many tiny details. I put the transfer tape on the final image and transferred the logo to the clock face. When I removed the transfer tape, I couldn’t get the vinyl to adhere properly, and it made a big mess. The image was also not the same size as the opening for the painted face as my friend had foretold.
Second Experiment: Iron-On Transfer
As bad as the vinyl was, the iron-on was worse. The colors printed out as an almost perfect match for the paints. At least close enough that no one would notice. I tested a piece on a scrap that I had painted the same color as the background. It turned out terrible, but I only read the instructions after I actually ironed on the transfer. Yeah… I didn’t do that right at all. It did prove to me that the colors would not have to be adjusted to accommodate a non-white surface. I printed out the logo and followed the directions this time. When I peeled back the paper backing, a horrible mess was revealed. The paint had softened, and I’m pretty sure that my iron is ruined now. I think this technique would work well with a piece of unpainted wood, so I’ll try it again later.
Third Experiment: Screenprinting
The only thing I had left to try was the method that scared me the most. Screenprinting requires a precise set of circumstances at various stages mostly relating to light. At this point, it was overcast and not predicted to clear for a few days, and I needed full sun to make the screens. I had my images printed out ready to go.
Finally, I had full sun, and I also had four days until my deadline. I wrote to the promoter and told him that I was having issues so the pieces might not be ready when we originally agreed. It killed me to write that email. I haven’t missed a deadline in 8 years of doing business. My stress levels were pretty high at this point.
I made my first screen with the small pieces they provided. I was very careful to follow the instructions instead of proceeding half-cocked like with the iron-on transfers. After the screen dried, I did my first ever screenprint.
I was pretty impressed with myself, so I went ahead and made the screen for the logo. My second screenprint ever:
I still wasn’t ready to jump up and down yet. Not until I tested it on the real deal.
Now I just had to finish the rest of them… I managed to finish all of the faces two days before the deadline. I was stoked! Now all I had to do was put in the chainring bolts and motors. This is where I discovered that something went a little wrong at the CNC stage of the project, and the chainring bolt holes and motor recess on the background piece were too small to fit the parts. D’oh! I had already painted them. It was getting late at this point, so I decided to work on them the next day. I had already given the promoter a heads up, so I wasn’t going to destroy my reputation, but still… I had never missed a deadline.
I decided that since I used the more paint-friendly MDF that sanding was the way to go to increase the size of the clock motor recess, and I had a bunch of drill bits I used to make the bolt holes when I was doing them by hand, so I just opened those up with the drill. The palm sander was too big to fit into the motor recess and taking too long to remove material, so I dug out our dremel. We actually had sanding drums, so I tried them out, and it literally took seconds to fix the problem. After I fixed the openings, I sanded the surfaces flat and repainted them. Thankfully the face was the right size.
The paint was still a little wet when I put the chainring bolts and motors in, but I actually finished all of the pieces early the morning of the deadline, while I was still in my pajamas.
I emailed the promoter, and he picked them up that afternoon. Whew. That was seriously last minute.