Making Bronze Nature Trail Signs For The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

One of our recent projects was producing finely illustrated tactile nature trail signage for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

A photograph of a little girl holding a crayon rubbing of a badger taken from a circular bronze nature sign. A crayon rubbing taken from the 'Badger' tactile bronze nature trail sign

Illustrator Helen Spencer has a B.A. Hons in Fine Art and a PGCE. After teaching art and textiles for a number of years she is currently working as a freelance illustrator, artist and craftswoman. She also teaches in schools and runs textile workshops.

The Design Brief

Artist Helen Spencer approached us to make ten foundry cast circular flat relief bronze plaques used as nature trail signage for her client the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. They are 152mm (6") diameter and approximately 8mm deep. They have a plain raised border about 4mm wide.

These finely illustrated wildlife plaques are aimed at young children to create crayon rubbings of the various animals, insects and plant life depicted on them.

A close-up photograph of a circular foundry cast bronze nature trail sign featuring an embossed illustration of deer.A close-up of the detail on the deer flat relief bronze plaque showing the satin polished 2d raised image and the patinated background.

Getting The Right Level Of Detail

Helen hand-drew the nature sign designs. To help her to get the right amount of detail for our casting process we did some small technical alterations on the first design to make sure that it was reproducible in bronze. Some small details suitable for print were not going to come out in sand cast bronze. Working on a level of detail similar to that on a decorative rubber stamp we managed to find the right balance of artwork detail to bronze plaque castability. Once we had the prototype artwork Helen then went away and created the other designs. On Helen's suggestion we also later added the border and the fixing holes to all of the artwork.

Moulding And Casting

A photograph of a circular cast bronze nature trail plaque featuring a flat relief owl illustration mounted on a wooden post. The owl plaque security screw mounted onto a wooden post.

Once we had the artwork correct we created foundry patterns with the flat relief detail. These were then moulded in sand. Molten metal was then poured into the sand moulds. Once cool the plaques come out of the mould needing work to removing excess metal and have holes drilled for taking the mounting security screws. The embossed detail on the plaque is about 1.5- 2mm depth. With only that depth it is skilled work turning a rough sand casting into the refined finished plaque.

Finishing The Plaques

Using hand and machine tools in multiple stages we take off just enough of the dull rough top surface of the cast metal, only fractions of a millimeter, gradually bringing out the shine and distinctive character of the bronze. Once the plaques were polished to a satin finish the background was chemically aged or patinated to a chocolate brown colour giving contrast. The plaques were finally coated with a satin clear coat to protect the plaques from the elements.

Please give us a call today on 01274 572240 or contact us about having your own illustrated signs or tactile signs made.

"I am totally delighted with the plaque and have sent photos to all and sundry. You have done a brilliant job Carl. I am so glad I found you! I will certainly be recommending you to anybody in need of your services in the future. Thank you so much. It was wonderfully packed but I could not wait to open it!"

Pat Henry, Chair of St Joseph & The Helpers Charity

"We were commissioned by Cameron Mackintosh Limited to create a commemorative bronze plaque for the 25th Anniversary of Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre in the heart of the West End, we turned to Carl Huxley at Specialist Metalwork Skills to get this iconic installation created. From initial discussions through to the on time and on budget installation of the piece Carl and his team guided us through the process and delivered a truly stunning end result".

Mark Hollington, Newman Displays Ltd.