This set of large signs describes both Wingfield Pines and the abandoned mine drainage system on the site. The images of the four full-color interpretive signs images will be embedded into anodized aluminum and set at a 30-degree angle on locust posts in four areas around the site to describe what is unique, interesting and educational about the area being viewed.
Each sign began with a slightly different style and layout and over time we chose the elements we thought worked best and made the signs look consistent and recognizable as a set. The fonts were the same on all, but the color bars top and bottom, identifying logo and tonal backgrounds were brought in from one sign and another to create the identifiable appearance.
The text was composed by the group and re-written and edited multiple times as we worked the set to exactly what it should say. The main diagram illustration was done by the graduate students who compiled the master plan for site renewal, all other illustrations were my originals, and most photos were mine as well, as described in the detail for each sign.
I really appreciate the fact that we incorporated illustrations into several of the signs as well as photographs. Nearly everyone relies on photos in designs, especially interpretive signs, but signs tend to look very similar when they are discussing the same topics. Good photos can’t always be found even for common species of flora and fauna, and demonstrating a process with a stock photo is often less than clear. Sometimes you really need to “illustrate” your point.
INTERPRETIVE SIGN NO. 1
Interpretive Sign No. 1, above, brings you to about the middle of the site, very near the entrance and is used as an introduction to the site. This sign is 48″ x 24″ and includes the overall diagram of the site (taken from the master plan for renewal) so you can get an overall view of the size and layout of the site, and it also includes information on features of the site such as the meadow habitat and the wetlands, the trails which tour various areas of the site, and just a bit about the ecology, flora and fauna.
Illustrations and Photographs There are too many species to list them all, so we chose a few representative species that depend on the floodplain ecosystem and I sketched illustrations in pencil with watercolor washes for gentle color, scanned them and created a collage in InDesign until the sign was finalized then recreated it in PhotoShop where I had more control of feathering and opacity. Most of the photo references were from my own photos, though the beaver chewing on the tree was sketched from an idea using photos of beavers and trees. All the photographs on the left except No. 4 were my photographs of the site from times I’d visited.
INTERPRETIVE SIGN NO. 2
Interpretive Sign No. 2 is located at the entry point for the AMD outflow into the treatment system. This sign is 36″ x 24″ and discusses the historic uses of the land with three older aerial photos showing dramatic changes to its use and condition. It also includes a section of a mining map showing the tunnels and sections where they would be situated under the mill immediately behind where you are standing so that visitors have an idea where the mine water is draining from and the extent of the mine. Finally, it introduces the AMD system.
The illustrations and photographs on this one are taken from other sources, but the idea of using the historical photos and the mining map to discuss the land use and extent of mining were mine. I had seen an old aerial photo in the master site plan document, found the source and looked up all the photos of the site that were available on http://www.pennpilot.psu.edu/ operated by the Pennsylvania Geological Society and obtained permission and copyright to use them. How better to illustrate that in less than 40 years the land had gone from farmland with a naturally meandering creek to being strip mined, deep mined, left with bright orange mine ponds and the creek channel completely straightened? The mining map in the blue area might look like a street map, but it’s actually a map of just the entry section of tunnels in this section of the extensive Montour mine far below the hill behind where viewers are standing.
INTERPRETIVE SIGN NO. 3
Interpretive Sign No. 3 is located on the opposite side of the AMD system on a slight rise so the viewer can see the series of ponds and the wetland while looking at the sign. This sign is 48″ x 24″ and incorporates a recent aerial photo by Ace Aerial Photo with arrows indicating the path of the water. The sign also describes the three stages of the system and gives a bit of data on the results of water quality.
Illustrative additions, the arrows, were created in InDesign by drawing the shapes with the pen tool and applying a white outline and filling with colored gradations. In both the arrows and the three circled letters I wanted to reinforce the idea of the change in the water quality; while it really is as red as the first arrow and the circled “A” when it emerges into the water jets, it doesn’t really look blue near the end, but that’s the universal “clean water” color and who would understand “clear” arrows? Not me. The color bar at the top and the tan background in the text area from this sign became two standard features for each sign.
INTERPRETIVE SIGN NO. 4
Interpretive Sign No. 4 shows the structure and function of a wetland and is placed where the mine outflow has the last of any pollutants cleansed by natural filtration by plants and digestion by microscopic organisms and macroinvertebrates. This sign is 36″ x 24″.
The illustrations used on it don’t describe the structure of the Wingfield Pines wetland, though, but were ones I created for the South Fayette Conservation Group for their four-pond wetland created at the school campus. ALT liked the style and the original said about as much as they’d like to say about wetland structure, flora and fauna, so instead of “recreating the wheel” we decided to ask SFCG if we could use their information.
I did like the plain ink lines on white of the original illustrations, but because the other signs, especially the illustrations in Sign No. 1, incorporated color, I thought we should add color to these for consistency and to make them just a bit different from the SFCG sign. And because I had always wanted to see what they looked like in color! When it came down to it, though, my first and second ideas didn’t work and I almost gave up. I didn’t want to modify the original sketch, which was done on frosted acetate in two parts, and this sign is 36″ wide where the original was 48″ wide.
First I printed the sign out to size in sections on watercolor paper intending to paint directly on that, but it was too rough for the fine ink lines. I then printed the sections out on paper and began using colored pencils, but realized I’d have to scan each piece of paper and match them all up, which can be tricky and I feared the ink lines would degrade. I ended up putting vellum tracing paper over the printed sections and using colored pencil on that, then scanning only the tracing paper and matching each of the to the corresponding section of the illustration.
The information within the illustrations is what the SFCG members had composed to describe the hydrologic cycle of how a wetland is created, the hydrophytes that thrive in anaerobic soil and water, the energy cycle including flora, fauna and microscopic organisms and macroinvertebrates. The information at the bottom is specific to Wingfield Pines.
THE WELCOME SIGN
The Welcome Sign was the first sign I designed, when the content and layout of the others was still undecided, but this sign didn’t need to coordinate with the others since it’s content wasn’t interpretive but simply informational. With all the text that would be on it, I wanted to break up the rectangular shapes of the sign and the copy blocks and help the sign itself stand out in the landscape, hence the “wave” that divides the three areas and mimics the surrounding hilly landscape.This sign was done using cut vinyl on aluminum except the ALT logo, which was printed on vinyl and adhered.
Placing all the disparate sections of text on the sign without a device like the wave was nearly impossible as the financial supporters are listed in order and size in accordance with their financial support, including the use of their logos. On a sign of this shape, they couldn’t easily be simply listed because the sign just wasn’t tall enough. And while they are essential to the project, I was sure the introductory statement, the mission of the project, would be lost if it wasn’t sectioned off in some way that made it stand out.
Illustrations I created the heron sketch after trying a photograph or two. The heron is symbolic of the restoration of habitat, and a huge rookery of herons lives less than a mile from Wingfield Pines. I was glad to add it to the layout as it draws attention to itself and to the introductory text.
You can see more of the signs I’ve designed on my website under Posters, Signs and Displays. You can also see other products I’ve designed for this customer elsewhere on this blog under Allegheny Land Trust and on my website under Allegheny Land Trust.