Dreams in Steel

I was in a “yes” mood when a friend suggested I take a metal sculpture class with her. At the time I signed up, I was just looking for occupations while I took a break from theater work. By the time the second class rolled around, my relationship had just dissolved like wet Kleenex and my life was in the process of complete collapse.

metal table

My first welding project.

In that horrifically sad time, I discovered that nothing in my life was as soothing as welding. The heat, the intense concentration, the sheer pyromaniacal joy of using a torch to melt steel — it all gave me the boost of confidence and satisfaction that I needed to survive.

My first project was this metal table, custom-built to fit over the arm of my sofa. I designed it specifically for the apartment my not-yet-ex and I were living in, where the end of the sofa butted right up against the entryway, leaving no room for a table on that end. I feel strongly that every seat in the living room should be accompanied by a spot to put a drink, so I started this.

Now, of course, having given up some of my furniture to move in with the ex, I no longer have enough furniture on my own to furnish an apartment, and my lovely roommate has almost no furniture at all. So the original point — saving space — is kind of lost, but it’s still a sturdy little table. I measured everything very conscientiously and yet there are still imperfections, which is a lesson about steel I still have yet to really get my head around — when it’s hot, it will shift and settle in totally unexpected ways.

my first welding projectBut I caught the bug. Now every time I can’t find or afford a piece of furniture, I think, could I weld that? I’ll certainly never buy an end table or a metal shelf again. Although the raw steel can get pricey when you’re buying larger pieces of welding steel.

The Art League School in Alexandria — highly recommended to locals, by the way — is where I took the class. There’s only one metal sculpture class, but if you take it again you basically get studio time and use of the equipment, and the ability to consult the instructor if need be. The second time I took the class, having done something infinitely practical the first time around, I decided to try to “freehand” things. Having spent a pretty penny on buying new welding steel the last time, the second time around I used mostly scrap and salvage pieces. It’s messy and less geometrically satisfying, but also liberating, when you know you can afford to screw up.

There’s a big collection of little bits of metal that people have discarded over many years of this course, so I grabbed some interesting-looking pieces and just started putting them together. My first thought was “teacup,” because I was full of thoughts about Then She Fell. But the thing started to take on a life of its own. It became an alien insect, recently squashed with an alien newspaper. When a cage-like structure I was thinking of turning into a lamp didn’t pan out, I decided I’d instead created a home for my creature. photo-5

Even in his current condition, he’s still trying valiantly to escape. I admire his pluck. He’ll live on my desk from now on. He’s awkward and haphazard and not at all what I was planning on, but I grew quite fond of him.

The cage structure, though, was a beast. I had not thought through all the complexities of welding so many little curved pieces together. Curves are a major problem for me still. Still can’t get my head around how to make them behave.

Having decided nothing further needed to be done to Marvin, I looked as some of the pieces I’d gotten at the salvage yard. I really liked the saw blades and the nails, so I sat with them for a while and decided that if I cut the saw blades in half, I’d have the start of a dragon. Raiding the scrap shelf for some little bits of textured steel floor, I started once again sticking stuff to other stuff to see what happened. metal dragon

I’m reasonably pleased with the result. He’s got texture, and depth. I love the rusty patches, and the scaly effect from the textured floor pieces. I used this project to get much more adept with a cutting torch, and discovered how hard it is to cut tool steel, and was inspired to try to combine the careful planning of my first project with the artistic embellishment of the later ones. The result of that experiment was a total mess, which I may eventually get out of my car and take pictures of. Suffice it to say, it was humbling to realize how much more I have to learn.

One Reply to “Dreams in Steel”

Leave a Reply