For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by welding. Why? because it’s an assemblage (say it like it rhymes with collage: assem-BLAH-ge) of sorts, making it the cousin to collage. Putting things together, assembling and welding, from found and manipulated objects. AND what could be more fun than using a blowtorch to cut and create the pieces and parts?
OK, I’ll admit that at first the blowtorch was intimidating. Just like the nail gun was intimidating when my brother showed me how to use it. “I can’t do that, why did I sign up for this?” Was my initial thought on both counts. But then…. well let’s just say my hesitation gave way to a feeling of empowerment.
My local art school offers this weekend welding workshop with accomplished sculptor David Lee Cumbie on a regular rotating basis. If you are an Orlando local, you might want to check it out! Class size is small, for individualized instruction–a perfect learning environment.
Diving-in to a Pool of Possibility
We started the class with a bit of information in the classroom about the different types of welding, what to expect out in the yard, how not to get burned, how not to ruin your shoes by stepping on hot metal (a point I found out first hand later in the day) etc.
Then we hit the ground running. 20-minutes later I was handed a blowtorch and was blowing molten metal holes in the side of an old propane tank. Wow.
All materials were provided. We had complete access to the scrap metal pile (I guess it’s hard to bring you own steel pieces and parts). David explained to us that learning the technical skills was easy, it was looking into that scrap pile and coming up with a creative concept that was difficult.
I’m kind of used to doing that.
My first thought was to take a simple sheet of steel and cut some interesting shapes out of it. I had a white metal marking tool that I drew out circular shapes with. As many of you know, I am draw to concentric circles, circles, and spirals like a bug to the light. I guess it’s the Klimt in me.
The center piece that I cut out, looked back up to me from the earth below. “Oh,” And just like that, ideas began to slosh around in my head.
Our fearless leader made some great creative suggestions and gave technical guidance, but truly let us experiment and figure things out on our own. Just before taking us into the welding space, he had toured us around the sculpture garden to show us examples for inspiration. I immediately fixated on the idea of a kinetic effect. I wanted my sculpture to have moment. David brought me picture frame wire as a concept and a material for making that happen.
Life is Really Just a Circle
(That’s a Big Head Todd and the Monsters lyric). After the success of my first piece, which I completed on day-one of class, I began dreaming in metal. David asked us to come to class the second day with an idea of what we wanted to create, now that we knew what we were doing.
He really had a lot of faith in the four us.
Of course I was dreaming of circles, because I was inspired by David’s gate at the studio. I visually dissected it to learn that the the circles were short cut sections of pipe and that the verticals were long cut sections of pipe. I now had a whole new appreciation for metal pipe.
After you have a concept, you begin cutting your pieces and parts. I would say that cutting took significantly more time than welding. My metal flower concept came to me the night before in that place between asleep and awake… a place that often brings me gifts of creativity.
I fired up the blowtorch and began cutting pipe sections the long way and the short way. I dug through the scrap pile and found other circular pieces like caps, lids, valve handles, and pre-cut sections from previous students. In addition to blowtorching sections of pipe, I also cut the valve handle off a larger contraption, chopped up some chair legs, and maniupulated what looked to be tent poles painted red with adjustable holes running up the side.
Seriously fun stuff.
Putting it all Together
My project began with constructing individual flowers. I found a base piece in the scrap pile and adorned it on both sides with some old wrought iron sections. It was gratifying learning to bend the metal by hand and how to heat it up in a vice with the blowtorch and pliers, in order to twist it more easily. I made my flowers up as I went along, welding circles and stems together to create shapes that were visually pleasing.
After all the flowers were constructed, some were welded to one another, for stability. It was getting late in the afternoon of the second day of class and the light was low outside. I looked up from my welding work only to realize that I was the only student remaining. We did start with a small group, only four of us, and now I was the last man standing. Actually I was the only female.
David helped me secure my flowers to the base in a little more sturdy manner than I had them on there myself. He showed me how to hit the whole thing a bit with the hammer to see if it was stable. When we finished, we took a few photos of my masterpiece the golden light of the late afternoon.
My favorite time of day.
Feeling grateful for the opportunity to partake in this welding workshop weekend. It was nice to be the student and not the teacher, to learn something new and different, and to be proud of the two pieces I came home with. A big thanks to David Lee Cumbie for a great class and for the folks at Crealdé School of Art in Winter park for hosting it!
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