Working Within Parameters

When I first started working with metal I would pick up any scraps that I could find. These scraps had shape and the shape would suggest different possibilities of how I could use the pieces. As I welded or brazed two pieces together, the resulting shape would give me some ideas for the next step. This is very similar to using the grain of the wood as a guide to design.

It was a big jolt to me the first time I was faced with a plain sheet of metal. There was no “shape” to guide me. It was rather like the difference between remodeling a house and building a house.

When I moved into selling my work the parameters began to multiply. The initial sales were made to furniture stores. I had six or seven designs that the sales reps would show to home accessory buyers. This meant that I no longer could use scraps. I needed a material source that I could depend on.

Since the sculptures had to be shipped to the furniture stores they needed to be packaged. I use to joke that I designed for United Parcel. United Parcel had a size limit of 184 inches. This was length and girth. The cartons I used were 48” in length, 24 “ wide and 6” deep. This meant that the sculptures had to be a bit less than 48” long and a bit less than 24” in height and less than 6” in depth.

Then the sale price of the sculpture became an issue. What price would be a competitive price? I needed so much to cover cost of labor, materials and profit. There was a percentage to be paid to the sales reps. To get the prices down to where they were competitive meant that I had to figure out the most efficient ways to produce the sculptures.

All of the above does not include learning how to photograph the work, laying out the photos and copy for brochures and hang tags.

Creatively, sometimes it was two steps forward and one step backward. But one creative success eventually leads to the next creative success.

When I first started I had no idea that I would become interested in fabric. What would someone who is interested in welding possibly have an interest in fabric? It was when I began photographing my work that fabric as a background became important.

I particularly like to use a hunter green velour fabric for my displays. Copper and brass show off well against this color and material. It was when I photographed pieces against this background I discovered that the velour fabric sucked up all the light. The photos were dismal at best. So for photography I switched to a hunter green hard surface fabric.

I still don’t know a lot about fabrics, but through trial and error I have learned what works and what doesn’t.

Photographing my work has also led me into learning more about using digital cameras and lighting. No more shooting everything in Auto mode. I had to switch to manual mode and begin exploring the different settings.

This led to learning to work with Photoshop and other graphic software.

The whole point here is that what started out as wanting to make things out of metal expanded into a host of other areas.

To make all of this easier I could have hired a photographer, paid someone to package the sculptures for shipment and had a tool company make the jigs and fixture.

The truth is that I couldn’t afford to do that, and the result is that I creatively have come up with my own solutions.

As I’ve said, “Skills are cumulative”. The skills I’ve learned to overcome these challenges have carried over to other areas of my work. Each new challenge that has been overcome leads to more self confidence.

To the point that I know that I can do it, the next step is “how do I do it”?

What I have done is not rocket science, it just the willingness to fail.

Hope for instant success but be prepared for some failures along the way.


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