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The Making of a Sign

I am finally coming good on my promise to reveal some of my sign-making secrets.  Before you get intimidated and think, “I can’t paint.  I can’t draw.  My lettering always ends up looking all funky and like a second grader made it.”  Let me assure you that anyone can make these signs. 
Start off by finding something to paint.  I prefer old doors and boards that I find at antique stores, yard sales and flea markets.  I like that they have an age to them already, so I don’t have to create that. Try to look at things in new ways.  I’ve used sides of an old crate, table leaves, and a dismantled shelf to make signs.  If you can’t find old doors or wood, though, don’t despair.  Some crackle medium, distressing and glaze can make any piece of wood look old. 
The second thing you need to do is create your design.  I look for inspiration everywhere and snap pictures if I see old signs or cool designs I like.  I don’t copy them, but I use them for inspiration. 
I use MS Word to develop layout and select the fonts.  I’ll then use a sketch or clip art if I want to add a picture to the sign. 

The third step is to transfer your design onto your board/door.  I use a projector, which is an awesome tool for this.  It’s much more flexible than stencils and is faster than using a transfer method.  A projector is about a $100 investment, but it’s well worth it if you’re selling your work or making a lot of signs for you home, friends and family. 
If you don’t have a projector or cannot justify buying one, you can use graphite transfer paper.  Simply print your image to size and trace over the lettering with the transfer paper between the image and the board.  A Cricut or Silhouette is also a handy tool for making your own stencils.   

Paint over your traced design using whatever color you want.  I use acrylic paints and generally mix them to achieve the desired color. 

Once the paint is dry, sand it gently to distress and apply an antique glaze over the entire piece to bring it all together.  I generally use dark walnut wood stain on my signs.  If there is original paint on the antique door, I’ll sand (wearing a respirator) and seal it with polycrylic before painting the sign.  Please read my post on lead paint, if you’re unaware of the dangers. 

So, those are the basics for making a good sign, but the one last component is one I can’t teach you.  It’s a sense of what is going to look good.  I play around a lot with fonts, designs and borders before I get to the painting.  I also try to match up the design to the kind of wood or door I am painting on, so the sign looks authentic.  This just takes research, practice and developing your gut feel for it. 

I hope this gives you some ideas and confidence to go make signs of your own or at least it gave you a point in the right direction!
I also have not forgotten about the video tutorials.  I filmed two of them last week, but it sounded like two children (mine) were being tortured in the background, so I need to film them again when I have a quiet house. 

Miss Mustard Seed

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  1. I’m sorry if you’ve answered this question before, but I was curious if you used the antique glaze AND the walnut stain? And if so, do you do complete coverage of one and then complete coverage of the other?

    I can’t wait to watch the video of the Nate show! Love your blog!

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      no, you really only need to do one or the other. Not both.

      • Thanks for taking the time to answer my question! I thought they wouldn’t work together, but I was a little confused and wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on some awesome technique everyone else knew about! :)

  2. Christina says:

    Have you ever found old wood that needed to be painted first? If so, what kind of paint do you use for that? I have an old barn down near me but, it’s so old there is no paint left on it and with so much wood I’m sure I’ll want some of them painted. Do you ever add anything to moisturize the wood? Some old finds are really dried out. Thank you in advance for answering.

  3. cynhtia says:

    I was wondering how do you get the image of the clip art (wheat) to look so good and detailed. Also how do you project the image on to cabinet doors/barn wood so level? No one asked so I think am the only who isn’t getting it!

  4. Deb Stone says:

    Can you please tell me what brand or kind of projector you use for your signs?

    BTW you are the God Mother of Bloggers and are such an inspiration to us all. I don’t know the first thing about blogging but would love if you would recommend some resources for me to learn how to get started.

    Thank you kindly,

  5. Melanie says:

    I have a question I have a projector but I was wondering what size of font do you use so it won’t come out so huge and not fit on the sign

  6. Julie says:

    I love your blog and creative design style. I too have a question about the sign font creation. How do you get the font to come out curved in Microsoft word. I would also like any info you could give on starting a blog, please!!!!
    Thanks so much,

  7. Rosemary says:

    Yes, Please tell us what type of projector. I’m completely in the dark.

  8. I read that you need to use bonding agent before painting a piece that has already been painted. Can you use primer instead then follow with Milk Paint?

  9. claressa says:

    Hello. I was wondering if the fresh oysters sign is available for purchase.

    Thanks in advance!

  10. Thanks for the great tips, Marian! Can’t wait to try these.

  11. Catherine says:

    I’m sorry, but I do not understand at all. How is the image getting onto the wood from the projector? Are you just projecting the image onto the wood and then copying the image by hand?

  12. Sabrina says:

    One can make a projector for phones with a shoebox and a magnifying glass. Instructions are in Internet and Pinterest.


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