Technically speaking, the kind of cut and welded metal art that I make is referred to as Direct Metal Sculpture. This type of metalworking is in contrast to brass or bronze sculptures which are typically created using an indirect method such as the lost wax casting method.
The pieces that I create involve cutting, hammering, welding, shaping, and otherwise directly acting upon the metal to manipulate it into its final shape. In other words, there is no pouring of molten materials.
Some people have asked me about the actual process so I’ve taken the liberty of documenting the creation of a couple of pieces.
These two wall-hanging sculptures are part of a series of 3 Dimensional art that I created starting with the self imposed restraint that I would use nothing but simple shapes and that the works should convey “movement”.
The first step in the process is to actually sketch the design and make a decision regarding what I want it to ultimately look like. In this case I envisioned a group of butterflys flying off into the distance. After I was happy with the rough sketch I scanned it into the computer and then converted all of the images into digital representations.
I then needed to design a background for them. Initially, the background consisted of a simple 2′ x 3′ rectangle, but I was displeased with the results of the first one I created so went back to the drawing board to create a different background pattern. I wanted one that basically looked like a back and forth brush stroke, a “painted background” if you will, and this is what I ultimately came up with. It looks simple now, but it took me several hours to be happy with the design you see.
At this point it was time to begin the fabrication. I converted all of the digital artwork into machine “cut paths” and then used my PlasmaCAM to begin cutting out the raw shapes. For these particular sculptures this meant cutting out the fish, butterflys, backgrounds and also mounting stems to give the desired 3-D effect.
Next came the tedious task of welding all of the stems onto each of the elements, followed by welding everything to the background. For this particular project I used the MIG welding process because it allowed me to hold the parts with one hand while welding with the other.
As the pieces went into place on the background I had to constantly readjust for the placement of the next component. It’s difficult to anticipate exactly where to place them from a spacing perspective even though I had laid them out to scale on the digital mock up. You can’t really take measurements so you just have to eyeball it.
Once all of the welding was complete I had to grind the surface of each piece by hand, both to remove the weld marks and to render the desired light reflective effect. The grinding of these two pieces alone resulted in a few pounds worth of metal shavings, which I gather up with a magnet while cleaning up.
I’ve skipped a few intermediate steps, such as the creation of the wall mounts for the back, but at this point the fabrication is essentially complete. The only thing left is to apply the background color. This job is best handled by a professional, so I took the pieces to my good friend and extremely talented powder coater Romulo Garcia.
Romulo was nice enough to allow me to video the entire process of powder coating these pieces, but I haven’t had time to edit the video so I’ll have to put it up another time. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t until after he worked his magic that the works really came to life.
These two pieces are now installed and I’ve received favorable feedback from the happy customers. If they choose to read and respond to this post then they can provide any details that I happened to leave out.
I should point out, because I know he’s going to in the comments, that I’m at least 6 months late delivering the Shooting Star piece you see in the mock up to my friends Greg and Kim (bad John!) – though they want the plain rectangular background. I have 0 doubt that he’s going to chime in to lay on some more peer pressure in the public domain. :-)