How’s This Grab You?

A smashing octopus display in the lobby demonstrates this shop’s artistic reach.
The front lobby of GrafiXhouse Design Studio.

How can a shop best simultaneously show off its signmaking chops and blow customers’ minds wide open to artful fabrications that they may never have considered possible? Three-dimensional sculpture displays, for example, can be the perfect method when they accent a shop’s front lobby to showcase the power of an artistic display. With an exposed brick wall and a coffee table made from a pinball machine, we knew a weathered, metallic octopus appearing to break through the wall would be the perfect addition to our lobby at GrafiXhouse Design Studio (Garner, NC), showing the world what artists can do.


We began with a call to the good folks at Coastal Enterprises, where we purchased 15-lb., 1 ½-in.-thick Precision Board high-density urethane (HDU) – the perfect material due to the ease it provides when carving, shaping and gluing. Using a hand jigsaw, we first began to rough cut the tentacles and the head, then glued the multiple layers of HDU together with Gorilla Glue – using clamps and screws to hold the pieces together while the glue set.

When approaching the process of roughing in the shapes, we decided that our most efficient option was to use an angle grinder. We employed rasps and sanding paper to define the shapes, then filled in any screw holes or air gaps left by the Gorilla Glue with automotive Bondo. To finish, we chose 3M Ultra Flexible Sanding Sheets, which proved perfect for the purpose. 

Tentacles made of 1 1/2-in., 15-lb. Precision Board HDU were rough-cut, shaped, glued and screwed together to set.
Tentacles made of 1 1/2-in., 15-lb. Precision Board HDU were rough-cut, shaped, glued and screwed together to set.

Once the tentacles were sanded, we tackled the suckers. After some trial and error, we decided to go with Magic Sculpt self-hardening epoxy modeling clay. Each sucker was hand-sculpted and adhered to the HDU.

With all pieces of our tentacles built and sanded, we started laying on a coat of oil-based paints, choosing not to prime the surface, as this was to be an interior display. Next, we gave the octopus a metallic, textured finish using Rust-Oleum Hammered oil-based paint and 1 Shot metallic enamel. To break up the transition between the two paints and create a seamless flow of color, we blotted a sea sponge over multiple layers of wet paint. As the final touch, we painted over the silver with black enamel, using a rag to wipe the wet paint and create a rusted look. 


The painting complete, we mounted the backside of the tentacles to a 1/8-in.-thick aluminum composite material (ACM) substrate. For the shards where the tentacles would be “breaking through the wall,” we custom-formed polystyrene ½-in.-thick UltraBoard – first cutting them into shapes, and then using a heat gun to warm the plastic to a point where it could bend. We painted them the color of the wall they were to be breaking through, and used double-sided tape and mounting blocks to adhere them to the ACM.

For the sea foam, we set the tentacles on recycled laminate liner and then pumped expanding spray foam between the cracks to emulate the sea foaming up behind the tentacles as they broke through the wall. We then hand-painted and airbrushed the expanding foam a sea-like color. 

When making displays, we always try to hide the mounting hardware in order to give the structure a clean and completed look. For this octopus, we decided to hide the mounting screws in the HDU. To install, we sank two or three screws through each mounting plate and one screw through each tentacle, dabbing automotive Bondo over all of the screws and painting once again. 

We were faced with an interesting question when deciding how to make one of the tentacles look as though it were reaching through our metal-plated ceiling; we didn’t want to put any permanent holes up there. To solve this, we mounted the base of the tentacle to the brick wall, then mounted the tip flush to the ceiling. For the tentacle appearing to punch through the ceiling, we used .060 styreen plastic to create the shards. We then used double-stick tape to adhere them around the tentacle, spraying it metallic silver. Finally, we carved a spot in the base of this tentacle and glued in magnets, so it could be held to the ceiling without the need for holes. 


The glass-blown, reverse-painted eyes.
The glass-blown, reverse-painted eyes.

For the head of the octopus, we brought in a local glass blower, Jonathan Davis, to craft the eyes in the shape of a bowl. We chose metallic, oil-based paints to hand-paint the glass bowls. In order to give depth to the eyes, we painted them from the inside of the glass, building up the layers in reverse. Next, we glued the glass eyes in with Gorilla Glue – adding Magic Sculpt modeling clay around the eyes to create lids, and across the surface of the head to give the appearance of sea warts. The last touches to the head involved Createx air-brush paint and Hammered-finish Rust-Oleum in layers to build up the colors. 

To mount the octopus head on the curve of the wall required a French cleat. However, because the head couldn’t sit flat, we decided to add foam around it to fill the space. We sprayed expanding foam in layers to dry, then painted the layers with Createx airbrush paint and acrylic paint. Our final effort was spraying a coat of gloss clear coat over the entire octopus to give it a wet look.

Now our lobby features a stunning octopus sculpture smashing through the wall and ceiling – the perfect addition to excite customers as they walk through the door. The long process filled with experimentation and discovery helped inspire us (and hopefully will inspire our customers) to believe in the power of imagination and, of course, an awesome artistic display.


Substrates: Coastal Enterprises Precision Board,; United Industries UltraBoard,; aluminum composite material
Tools: Bosch hand jig saw,; DEWALT grinders and sander,
Finishing: 3M Ultra Flexible Sanding Sheets,; Gorilla Glue,
Paint Sprayer: Iwata Eclipse airbrush,
Paint: Createx airbrush paint,; 1 Shot enamel,; Rust-Oleum Hammered oil-based paint,


Signs of the Times June 2020

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