Greg: I have been using a lot of Maple as in that piece, also Cherry and Oak. I buy from a local saw mill in widths of 12 - 13 inches all for around $ 5.00 a board foot, kiln dried and skip dressed and then I have this nice Dewalt planer (gift from my wife) I have been using clear semi gloss lacquer on everything, doesn't yellow and dries quickly so less chance of getting dust fouled while drying. I get in quarts right now, thin it about 25% and put it in Preval sprayers I get from Sherwin-Williams. I was brushing it but spraying is the way to go.
Gregory: Yes I use I-Picture for all my stuff (Raster based carving) and have learned most of the ins and outs of it, so I'm having good results from it. I have yet to get into buying a different program such as Greg and learning how to use something like cut 2-d, I will down the road just don't have time for it right now.
Bob the more I play around with Artcam the more I learn, last night I found out you can cut a dwg drawing on the line just like you can with cut2d, Gregory if you get a chance and you have a registered version of Artcam you should try that option it make fast and easy signs and you can load a v carve bit in and make really nice signs that way.
We don't have a lot of fancy wood down here so I use oak and pine. I find the hardwood keeps the bit clean and sharp longer than the soft stuff.