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Crafting imagination

From Disney to Dairyland, a small group of theming artists turns the most outlandish requests into business showstoppers.

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Home-sized canvas

Price and her team of seven artists first brainstormed Cairns’ idea, and Price created a 3-D model of the original building onto which she could Velcro design concepts to help the couple visualize their options. In total, seven different designs were presented before they selected a favorite.

From top to bottom: The building on Grand Canyon Drive gets a facelift. Before attaching the rain screen, or canvas onto which the team will paint, a structure is built to support it. Price maps the rivet spacing around the front doorway before they are painted.

The F5 themers then researched everything from Wisconsin weather conditions to the paint that would hold up to them. They studied daylight and how the sun cast its shadows on the front of the house throughout the day.

A local architectural firm designed the structure for the screen — or the backing that would be affixed to the building to support the painted canvas — and it had to be approved by the city for structural soundness and proper venting.

“We couldn’t take the siding off the house or paint it as it was, so we built what we call a rain screen,” Swanke explains. Once the design was approved they finalized it digitally. “Sometimes you have to make something digitally look right because the structure may not be exactly straight or level,” explains Swanke.

Price’s team uses high-quality paints and clear coats from Florida, and Swanke also alludes to an unknown “secret ingredient” that Price adds to all her paint to make it last even longer. Clearly, it will remain a secret.

Primed white, the screen becomes a giant canvas onto which the artists paint freehand. Throughout the project, Price steps back to the sidewalk to scan for “hot spots,” or problem areas that draw the eye but shouldn’t.

“Many people won’t notice the details,” Price says, “but they will notice the things that are glaringly wrong. Take the rivets, for example. We want people to notice them, but they have to be perfect. The entire design has to look fantastic whether it’s from two-feet away or 100-feet away.”

The texture of the paint and the shadowing created by airbrushing and spray painting is where the true effect unfolds. Price has been known to use common items such as brooms, brushes, Nerf balls, sticks, or even sand to cast a particular sheen or to help age a design.

From Grand Canyon Drive, Duncan Edward’s front façade now sports what appears to be a gunmetal gray and shiny brass exterior, especially when hit with late-afternoon sunlight. Metal scaffolding between the two color levels appears to extend out from the building but it, too, is just an optical illusion.

This kind of artistry isn’t inexpensive, and F5 generally won’t consider jobs for less than $10,000, but every project doesn’t need to be Disney-esque, either.

“Theming is a billion-dollar industry,” Price states. “Think about the theme parks.

“At Duncan Edward, we looked at what it would cost, marked it up for a profit and gave them a real-world price. We can do a lot with paint, and we didn’t need any steel. Paint costs $50 a gallon, and we are very, very creative.” The group still hopes to build a red telephone booth outside the salon as a further nod to Cairns’ British roots.

Meanwhile, Price’s creative palette is brimming with possibilities. The team will travel anywhere they’re needed, and she believes the Wisconsin Dells could present some great opportunities.

The company is currently working to partner with area architectural companies and designers whose clients want to stand out from the crowd.

“It seems like nothing we do is usual,” notes Swanke. “If a company wants some-thing to look like a Ritz cracker and we have to build it in concrete, we would sculpt and then paint a concrete cracker so they could see how it looks.”

Price nods. “If the city of Madison wanted a giant cheese curd and cow and barn built for the tourist bureau, we could build it.” If a company wanted mermaids flying from the ceiling, or a giant gummy bear in front of a building — heck, even playing on a swing set — or something as subtle as aging the appearance of a sign, a door, or a room, F5 would handle the high-end detail.

“With F5, I just wanted a group of people to have fun with their jobs,” Price states. “The name represents our five value words: focused, fun, inspired, visionary, and experts.”

F5 Theming is certainly all of that.

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