Making My Style

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Been a while since I posted anything on here. But I've been feeling more and more in the mood to start blogging about my shop. I've always been a terrible journal writer or sketch book keeper or blogger or.... etc... Just something I was never in to. Except more and more, I find myself wanting to talk about my work, how I make things, what I think, and yet... I don't really have anyone to do that with. I think it's an artist thing. Artists like to talk about their creative process. So much about designing artwork revolves around internal thoughts and ideas and creativity. And while an artist gets to show off their creations on a regular basis, they don't get to talk about themselves and how they actually came about bringing their art into reality.

So... that's kinda what this particular blog post is about. Some rambling on my part about my creative process and how I've gotten to where I am now with design.

Around a year and a half ago, I was living in Arizona, attending a metal sculpture class at the local community college. My teacher liked to gather us together into the little lecture room and show us slides or movies about famous artists. One of those artists... who's name I can't remember... made life-sized sculptures of horses out of wood, mud, metal, recycled items, etc... We were watching a documentary on here, and she was describing the different materials she used to make her horses.

This is not an exact quote, as my memory is far from perfect. But, this is the gist of it.

"...every material has its own unique properties and ways of working with it."

"Wood is cheap and easy to use. You just got out and pick it up off the ground. But wood isn't very strong, and it breaks down and falls apart."

"Bronze is nice because it lasts longer, you can do so much with it. But it's soft. You can only bend it so far and then it breaks."

"Steel is very strong, it holds its shape, but it's very hard to work with."

"So the art is often a statement of how much you hate working with the material..."

That statement really stuck in my mind, because there is so much truth behind it.

I've always been a very 'clean-lines' kind of artist. When I draw, I don't make a bunch of sketchy lines. I don't keep the sketchy lines. I draw the lines of my work as cleanly and darkly as I can. When I shade, I shade boldly; shadows are very dark, where light areas are very light. I like everything to be well defined and cleanly visible.

This preference translated over into my sculpting. When I first started, I wanted everything I made to be clean and smooth and flawless. I didn't want welds showing. I polished my metal to as glossy a shine as I could (and heaven forbid I should scratch it!) All my edges were smoothed out as much as I could manage. I spent easily 5x as much time cleaning up my work as it took me to actually assemble it.

What this got me in the end, was a bad case of tendonitis in both arms (which continues to plague me to this day), and a lot of wasted time.

It was around this point that I realized that I really didn't like spending that much time grinding and polishing my sculptures. Especially after my back went out. Spending hours hunched over an angle grinder is not kind to tendonitis arms or chronic lower back pain.

So, I shifted my style. Rather then trying to make everything I made look clean and perfectly cut, I learned to embrace the imperfections. I am only human, and thus, I lack the steady machine precision to make every cut clean and perfect. I can't recreate every single pattern cut-out exactly. I make mistakes when assembling and have to add things or remove things, which sometimes means busting my sculpture apart, or scrapping a design I thought would work, but ultimately didn't.

I stopped trying to make everything look like it had been assembled by a machine, and instead started building things with the thought in mind that 'This is handcrafted, and handcrafting isn't perfect". My sculptures took on a rougher, less orderly look. I stopped trying to hide my welds, and instead began to incorporate them into the overall designs as texture and decoration. I still do some light cleaning, but not to the extent I use to.

I wanted that roughness, that imperfection, to be an integral part of my work. When people purchased my work, I wanted each piece to have its own unique look and design, even when it was essentially the same pattern. I wanted people to look at it, see the variety, the unsteady lines, the slightly flawed designs, and know that this was not made by a machine, but by an actual human beings hands.

Like that artist who's documentary I watched, my art, my style, has been shaped by how much I hate working with the material.

Which isn't to say that I don't still spend lots of extra time cleaning and polishing my work. But now I'm much more particular about it. Rather then do that on every single piece, I save super-cleaning for my nicer sculptures. Things that will be painted. Things that go inside. Gifts. Donations. Etc... If it's going outside... well... it'll rust. Not gonna waste hours putting a mirror finish on it just so it can go sit in the dirt and the weather.

And I've learned to see the beauty in recycled steel. In rust and grunge. In the discoloration of welds and cuts and scratches. Beauty in steel doesn't just have to be in smooth flawlessness.


Tig Man's picture

Well Angela, I'm glad you've

Well Angela, I'm glad you've found a level that you are comfortable with.

I've been a welder/fabricator for 47years & I combine traditional & modern techniques with todays technology.

All my work is precision & as you put it looks machine made but it's still obvious by it's design & structure that it is hand made to a high skill level.

Welding, you can put welds down that look like bird droppings but welding can be an art form in itself. Tig welding is the way to go, you can make your welds a feature of your work with many weld forms or put a weld down so smooth it's all but noticeable.

Fettling is highly skilled trade & not a labourers job as some would lead you to believe, eye & hand coordination.

In the main these days I make things for the hell of it because I can.

Regards The Tig Man


BrianVilmer's picture

Re: Making My Style

Great post Angela. I think you're spot on that artist really don't talk about what motivates them that much. Like you, I used to do what I personally call "the pretty stuff", which mostly consisted of paintings and drawings. I'd always been fascinated by metal art but hadn't really done anything with it. That was until a family tragedy completely changed my life. 

I have no problem telling people I got into metal art because I frankly wanted to just beat the crap out of something hard...haha. I laugh about it now but at the time it was my outlet and believe me, I was in no way interested in making "the pretty stuff". That's why I got into the industrial art scene, with rough welds, dents, scratches, etc.

Going through all that I found I loved the rough, unrefined look and that's why I still do it today. At the same time, I really enjoy and respect "the pretty stuff" and yes I admit...I occasionally make something shiny. haha.

I just wanted to respond to your post because I think it's great that you can walk into your shop and you can create whatever it is you're in the mood for that day. There's certainly a place and appreciation for both in this world.

- Brian Vilmer