The team at Sign Effectz, Inc. is absolutely delighted to have collaborated with California-based artist Deborah Aschheim again. She was commissioned to create art for the Los Angeles Police Department training academy.
The art work connects new generations of law enforcement officers with the history of the LA police force. Her work consisted of 22 full color and black & white panels, each a different size, and installed on an outdoor concrete wall that is 78’ long and varies in height from 18’ to 20’.
All of the panels feature Deborah’s watercolor drawings translated into powder coated metal. 14 of the watercolor artworks have a second layer of tempered glass with a black line drawing that “floats” above the color layer.
We’ve worked together in the past on a number of her projects. According to Adam Brown, Sign Effectz President, “Our main goal is to help professional artists like Deborah see what’s possible through our enthusiasm for materials and engineering. We helped show her that what she wanted is achievable.”
Deborah commented, “Even on a project like this, which involved two other fabricators (the specialized printers) my first thought was still to call Adam and his company Sign Effectz to help engineer a unique installation that doesn’t look like anything people have seen before. I value my relationship with Adam because he really loves art and inventing creative solutions to the engineering and design of my work. He is much more than a fabricator. It’s so valuable to me that we can collaborate on coming up with the final solution for the artwork and the site.”
This project also had personal appeal for Adam. His father is retired from a long career in law enforcement. He served as a Milwaukee Police Officer and as Deputy Sheriff in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin.
Adam’s process began by digging into the project budget and designing materials and methods to fit the project needs. They also explored different custom frame structures to support the artwork, from totally custom to “off the shelf” products.
They stayed true to Deborah’s original concept with a few tweaks along the way.
- Must be cleanable and accessible from the backside.
- Must factor in sun/UV exposure, rain and insects.
- Must withstand seismic activity, common in this region.
The first stab at the costs of custom run products came in higher than desired. That led to research into off-the-shelf products. Adam commented, “In the sign world, there are a large number of very diverse and qualified resources. Leveraging these resources is important in our process. We looked at vendors we had firsthand knowledge of or experience with and went with SignComp™, as we’ve had a long-standing relationship with them.”
The end result is a hybrid solution: a customized SignComp™ aluminum extrusion made for a durable and architecturally pleasing frame system for attaching the artwork to the wall and lining up the 2 layers of material. The modifications to the panel support details of the extrusion allowed for the tight tolerance spacing between the two panels. The project team modified the support channels where the glass mates with the aluminum using special EPDM gasket material.
The frames were finished using a Class 2 clear anodizing process, one of the best and most durable finishes for aluminum. The glass was manufactured as 1/4” thick and was tempered to strengthen it and make it a safer product, like the windshield of a car.
A Little Bit of History
St. George Signs in Milwaukee was the first sign company Adam worked for. It was there that Adam experimented with ways to add dimension to artwork. That included using polycarbonate to add shadows on some of his own personal designs he created for his home. This was another one of his personal connections with the project.
Back then designs were created by hand, everything from the graphic lay out, cutting out a stencil to back spraying, to cutting and weeding. In today’s technology, these types of designs are prepared in 3D CAD software so the final products can be viewed before being manufactured (ie…the shadow effect and spacing between the panels can be seen on screen). Adam described it, “Back in the 80’s, what I loved about the sign industry, what drew me to it as a career choice is that there is so much more to it than just commercial advertising.”
Logistical & Technical Considerations
In order to give the artist more layout freedom of the 22 panels on the concrete wall, a full-scale pattern was plotted. On site, they laid out the pattern on the ground first. There Deborah could move it around as needed until she was comfortable with it. Then they mounted it in one piece on the wall.
The technical and/or engineering details of the install had to be followed strictly, since the LAPD training academy is built into the side of a hill. The installation location (concrete wall) serves as a retaining wall, varying in height from 18’ to 20’ high and filled with reinforcement bar, typically set 2 inches in from the face. They drilled 1 ½” deep holes, using a REDHEAD drop-in style anchor and adding Simpson Strong Tie brand acrylic anchoring adhesive to each mount location.
The installation site was down a flight of stairs requiring each panel be hand carried down the stairs. This was a bit nerve racking to say the least. The glass came from Montreal, was expensive and was specialty printed. In preparation for this, the panels were all pre-assembled in Deborah’s California art studio. The Sign Comp Extrusion added stiffness to the glass panels, allowing for more secure handling. They also had to ensure a good seat of the seals for each one to keep water and moisture out. Doing this work in a controlled environment was deemed best.
Adam reports several tense-filled moments working with the largest piece of glass (48” x 68”), “We put together the frame structure in the studio and it flexes much more than one might realize. Glass requires a lot of special handling, especially when it’s that big and heavy. The solution was a lot of patience and stable movement. If I had a heart monitor on during the installation, I’m sure you’d get some good readings!” The installation went off without a hitch.
The Los Angeles Police Department Training Academy is the latest site where sign industry know-how and engineering contribute to artistic endeavors.
Deborah’s Point of View:
The places where Adam and Sign Effectz, Inc. really went above and beyond the anticipated scope of work was a) helping me keep all the different sized panels and fames organized so no errors could creep into the project. For this I’d really like to shout out a) to Adrian Esguerra (Sign Effectz, Inc.) for his informative and error-free production packages; b) Adam for coming to LA to lead the install, train me and my assistant to be his crew and troubleshoot unexpected things that came up, including my need to make small adjustments to pacing once I saw the works at scale and c) most of all, dealing with the delays outside our control that made this project have a very long timeline from concept to install.
Adam’s Point of View:
Material & Methods – “It’s about where to apply the knowledge, experience and engineering. Our main goal is to not overcomplicate things, in fact, simple is better! We contributed to this the most before it reached the shop or the glass supplier in Montreal. Somebody on the team has to be good at value engineering, leveraging innovative thought and resources. That’s our job, it’s what we’re good at.”
Adrian’s Point of View:
Deborah’s artwork featured drawings of motorcycle and bicycle officers, squad cars, helicopters and cadets from past eras. What makes the project stand out is the use of overlapping transparent line art over full color photographs or sketches and getting a nice 3D effect. My family has pictures on the wall of relatives that go way back in time. The pictures help us remember them. I feel like this project serves that purpose in a way for the LAPD, that there is a rich history worth preserving.
- Renderings by California-based artist, Deborah Aschheim, capture the spirit of the LAPD past and present, in twenty-two custom fabricated aluminum display boxes by Sign Effectz, Inc.
- Display Type #1: features a SignComp™ Extruded Aluminum Wall Mount Retro Body #2042 and hingeable Retainer #2052 forming a display box showcasing a single powder coated aluminum panel of a particular rendering.
- Display Type #2: features the same SignComp™ Aluminum Extrusions modified by Sign Effectz layering a clear tempered glass with printed black outlines of one particular image, over a powder coated aluminum sublayer with a full color rendering of the same image, creating a 3D optical illusion, enhancing the viewing experience.
- Installation site: Los Angeles Police Department Training Academy