Shop Conversations: Brian Blankstein

Nathan Abhalter Smith: How have you come to be working in metal? Have you been doing it for a long time, and has it been a long route to here?

Brian Blankstein: Well, the route to here is long and twisting.

NAS: Yeah, perfect.

Coffee Table (detail) by Brian Blankstein

Coffee Table (detail) by Brian Blankstein

BB: As a kid, I was the kid that was always playing with Legos and building stuff. Didn’t really figure out that I could build stuff as an adult until I was 25 or 26. I went to school – I did math and computers and stuff like that – I hated it and didn’t really realize why. I started building stuff with my hands, at that point mostly woodworking, and started taking woodworking classes, and I was really really into it, and I realized this is what I had been missing all this time. So I was at Chicago School of Woodworking sort of right after they opened. They didn’t have any classes then, so I quickly exhausted their catalogue. I was in the middle of a career change, and had three or four months off, so I did a kind of unofficial apprenticeship thing with them, so I like hung around and did chores and stuff for them and used free shop time. One of the things that I built when I was there was I built this table that had like an etched, inlaid glass top. So I was figuring out that I really liked working with a lot of different materials, mixing things together. A pretty obvious next step for me was, I want to learn how to do stuff with metal.

NAS: So that you could change the composition that much more. . . .

BB: Yeah. And metal and wood are beautiful together.

NAS: Yeah.

BB: And I was totally into steampunk at that point – so I was like, if I do stuff with brass and wood, that going to be amazing.

NAS: Yeah, yeah. (Laughing) Have you disavowed steampunk?

BB: No, I just . . . that was my entry point to a bigger world. And I still love that aesthetic, but I don’t know if the steampunk lifestyle is for me.

NAS: (Laughing) Sure.

Trivets by Brian Blankstein

Trivets by Brian Blankstein

BB: So at that point I’m like, how do I learn how to do stuff with metal? Because wood was fairly straightforward to me, but no one in my family makes stuff, I didn’t have a lot of friends who made stuff or anything like that, so I didn’t have a good sense of what was involved in the metal world. I know there are people who weld stuff together and make crazy sculptures and stuff, but I don’t know what the hobbyist entry point is. . . . So I started looking at welding programs and stuff like that at community colleges, but it was all very geared toward you’re going to be a certified welder welding girders together, and like fixing submarines and stuff like that. And I was like, that sounds like I could get some technical knowledge, but it wouldn’t be very fun.

NAS: Yeah. Yeah, I assume there’s rigor, and weld this weld over and over and over to X, Y, Z. . . .

BB: Yeah – don’t smile. Well, I don’t remember how, but I eventually found the Evanston Arts Center. And I looked up the departments and I went to a class and Matt [Runfola] taught me how to weld, and it was awesome, there was so much stuff here. And I’ve kind of been, on and off due to availability of time, I’ve been pretty enamored of metalwork for the past . . . five-ish years or so? So I still do a little bit of woodworking, but most of what I’m doing is in metal. And the transition from only working in wood to metal was really weird because like, in woodworking, you’re always checking things to make sure they are perfect and they’re right. In woodworking, you’re working with organic materials, but it itself is not a very organic process. You have to plan everything in advance, and if you cut something too short, you’re done. There’s not really a good way to recover from that most of the time. And so, I’m in the metal shop for a few weeks, and I’ll buy some rod stock, and I’m like checking it for straightness – and everyone is looking at me like I’m crazy, and I realize – oh, if this isn’t straight, I can just bend it, no problem. And you’re working stuff and something falls off – okay, just stick it back on. I don’t like this this way, how about over here? And you can just improvise and you don’t have to plan ahead. You can do pieces where you’re planning everything ahead, but there are pieces where you could improvise. I made a table that was all this ropey viney leafing, and there was no real plan. I didn’t know anything except, it’s triangular, it’s going to be about this tall . . . go. It was a really freeing experience because I could just play, and not have to have everything planned, or check the plan.

NAS: Doing the table with inlaid glass – thorough plan, you have to follow everything, or it’s a total disaster. . . .

BB: There was a little bit of improvising, because I realized I wanted it to be something else, and I couldn’t do it, so I was like okay, I’m going to do this thing . . . but, yeah, you had to plan that in advance. So I really liked the freedom of metal, and I love the feel of it, and the weight of it is nice, and I did a lot of things with some metal and some wood combined, and that was a lot of fun. I was mostly doing welding early on, and at some point I discovered forging. And I was like, I love all this other stuff, but this really speaks to me. And I don’t know what about it. . . . It’s very physical. And you can really feel the metal as it moves. I don’t know, I really enjoyed it, and the process of how you get things from point A to point B, I think made a lot more sense to me. It’s not like it’s a complete replacement for any of this other stuff – I still weld things together, but forging is just fun.

NAS: The physical aspects seem particularly pronounced. Is it changing your thought process about the thing you’re doing because you have to be so physical with it?

BB: I don’t know that it changes my thought process so much as, my thought process didn’t work quite as well in other media.

NAS: Yeah, yeah. Okay.

BB: Not that any of them were completely alien or anything, I’m pretty good at figuring that kind of thing out, but this just felt very natural. And after years of doing things where I’m sitting at a desk all day, to be up and swinging a hammer for hours and hours, it’s exhausting and it’s great.

NAS: Nice. Do you have a desk job now?

BB: I have no job now. For the last five years of so, I was a mechanical engineer in product development. We were doing a lot of prototyping and making little test pieces, and stuff like that, and that part I loved, I loved: okay, we need to cobble a thing together. It can look like anything you want, but it really has to feel like this . . . we want to test this thing out. That was really cool. But then there was a lot of sitting at a desk doing CAD, or filling out forms, and things like that, and I was like, this part’s not for me. As that went up and the prototyping went down, I was like, eh. Okay, I’m done.

NAS: Was there a particular project or thing you were making when you started working with the forge where that’s when it clicked, or was it even just the fundamentals, the entry point which sort of immediately made it obvious that this was the thing for you?

BB: I know I talked to Matt [when CIADC opened], and I know that at that point I was already specifically interested in forging. I did a little of it back at Evanston Art Center, but there was maybe a year or two where I wasn’t able to get up there, I was just too busy. I already had my mind on forging, and I don’t remember how I got to that point. Other than maybe it was just that I had done enough of it that it was like, I miss this. I want to weld, but I really want to forge. It might have been that I had the idea I wanted to learn how to forge a knife, to make really nice kitchen knives, or something like that.

NAS: Have you done that?

BB: I’m working toward it, I’ve made several knives just out of scrap metal, but to make a really good knife you need to use high carbon steel, because that allows you to harden it, a knife won’t hold an edge unless you harden it, so just like the tip will fold over. That involves some more complex processes; you have to do heat treating and tempering and stuff like that. So I’m learning a bit about that, how to make them sharp enough, but I’ve gone through the process of getting the rough shape out. It’s something I’d still like to do at some point, it’s sort of always in the background, when I have a spare moment and I’m not sure what else to do, I’ll go ahead and make another rough knife now.

Firepokers (detail) by Brian Blankstein

Firepokers (detail) by Brian Blankstein

NAS: You were saying the other day that you have hundreds of firepokers?

BB: I was imagining having hundreds of firepokers. I have more like a dozen.

NAS: Okay, well, speculative hundreds of firepokers – were they going to be straight up ornamental, or. . . ?

BB: So, I knew that I didn’t know a lot about forging. And it seemed like the best way to learn would be through repetition, and a firepoker seemed like a kind of thing that is fairly simple, straightforward, but allows for enough variety to experiment with different techniques. It’s a quick project, so it’s not like I’m spending weeks and weeks on it, I can get through one in a day or two. Probably a lot faster once I’ve done a few, a quick turnaround to generate a lot, which is helpful for learning.

NAS: So at a dozen, you were like, alright, I’ve gotten what I can get out of this?

BB: I’m going to go back to them at some point, but I have firepokers piling up in my apartment, I don’t have a big apartment, and I don’t have a fireplace.

NAS: (Laughter)

Firepokers on table by Brian Blankstein

Firepokers on table by Brian Blankstein

BB: So, I’ve given a couple of them away. A lot of the things I’ve made historically have been out of need. Like, I need a table. I’m going to go make one. Something to hang things on a wall, I’m going to make that. So, something else came up and I was like, oh, I should actually go do the things that are important, rather than more firepokers. But it was good, but making the firepokers I got to learn techniques, such as making handles that look and feel good, things with a good hold.

NAS: Are they like the handle that’s on that wrench [in the exhibit Country, Life & Economics, which was recently in the CIADC exhibit space]?

BB: That was something that I had made to put on a firepoker, but I never made the poker to go with it, and we needed a handle, so I was like okay, I’ll just stick a nice handle on this thing. You know, if I need to make another one, I’ll make another one.

NAS: Nice.

Twist Wrench by Brian Blankstein and Emily McCormick

Twist Wrench by Brian Blankstein and Emily McCormick

BB: And I have an idea for the Demo exhibit, but I don’t have time to do it. Here’s my idea – and if someone wants to use it, they can. I would make like a dozen different handles, and get a ball, and weld them all to the ball sticking out at different angles. If I had time, that’s what I would do for that. And if someone else has time to steal my idea, that would be fine.

NAS: It’s sort of like a mace head full of handles, or. . . .

BB: Or like a big jack.

NAS: Right.

BB: That’s what I would do for Demo. I might still do that sometime because I feel like it would be fun.

Shop Conversations: Laura Miracle

Laura Miracle: I might just say as an introduction, I’m a sculptor . . . I have an MFA in making things, and that context is useful.

Nathan Smith: Yes, indeed! What is your title here?

LM: I’m the woodworking department manager, and an instructor in the woodworking department [at Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center].

NS: I would like to talk about that in a bit, but first, I’d like to talk about all the other things you are up to right now. . . .

LM: [Laughter]

NS: . . . if you’re up for talking about that.

LM: Yeah! I have a lot of irons in the fire. I just got a message from someone who’s interested in having me create some sewn bags – so that’s a whole other thing that I probably haven’t previously shared with you. . . . I have a few different dream business plans for functional art. I’m really interested in tool belts and tool organization, which of course connects to being the shop manager – that’s part of why I’m here, because I just love tools, and I love being organized.

NS: When I first started working here, I would just like . . . wander around the woodshop, just staring at stuff, I think because the order is aesthetically appealing and kind of – maybe a little bit strangely – of the things I was seeing here, I was like: this is the most visually pleasing, just how the tools were set up looks right.

LM: Well, that makes me really happy.

NS: The way I came up with the idea for the Blueprints exhibit was from basically wandering around the woodshop, your walls look like this exhibit. . . .

LM: Oh yeah! So, part of that has to do with that I really believe in giving things space, and that’s part of making it easy to get access to tools, right? So when you’re talking about the tools being arranged in such a way that first – I like to have hangers or supports for the tools that only fit that one particular tool so it makes it intuitive for returning them, and that has to do with the years of experience that I’ve had in community-built shop environments, where you have people who don’t necessarily know what things are called. It’s not enough to just put a piece of tape that says “slip-joint pliers,” because –

NS: I don’t know what that is. . . .

LM: – if you don’t know what slip-joint pliers are, then it doesn’t help. But if you can look at the shape of the tool and match it to the shape of the holder, then you have at least another clue as to where that thing should be stored.

NS: It’s kinda like those kids puzzles where the apple goes in the shape of an apple.

LM: Yeah! You’ve figured me out . . . in my artwork, I’ve done a lot of exploration of things that fit other things very exactly. I made a series of sculptures, and created boxes with lined fabric receptacles for those pieces – and those things fit just exactly in there, and I get a great amount of satisfaction from that – putting the apple piece into the apple spot. It’s really . . . it feels really good. It also fits into the [Door Chandelier] I made too. That was part of what that was about – trying to match the profile of that found door with the cutting on the bandsaw.  

NS: So, tools, tool belts, bags. . . .

LM: Two years ago, I took a leatherworking class at the Chicago School of Shoemaking and got myself set up with an industrial sewing machine. I have that set up, which I’m really excited to start maximizing – but, as you know, the struggle of keeping the bills paid and the incoming coming in is a very real struggle.

NS: Do you have a working studio?

LM: I have a dining room that – well, air quotes dining room – I have a studio in my kitchen. So that’s something that I’m still very interested in. And my idea, my plan is to have the tool belt and tool carrying systems be kind of a winter pursuit because, in the spring and summer I’m really working on being a garden designer.

Raised beds

Raised beds

LM: I build raised beds for people, and I build garden enclosures, trellises, and garden stuff made out of wood. . . . I love working with cedar. That’s generally the material that I’m using. Time will tell what the lifespan of these constructions will be, but I’ve been at this for about two-three years, and so far of the things that I’ve made, they’ve all weathered to a really beautiful silvery-gray color, and there’s no real sign of any kind of decay or damage. That’s in terms of the objects, but I am working towards becoming a full-on gardener in the sense that there is a potential for what I call subscription, where someone has a set of raised beds, and they basically contract you for the growing season to kind of come out and manage the ongoing care of the garden, including succession planning – where it’s like, once this plant is done you pull that out and what are you going to put in next? Where you’re trying to plan double seasons overall, as well as knowing soil requirements, and light requirements, and all that.

Garden enclosure

Garden enclosure

NS: The first year we had a garden, we basically tried to get someone else to do it. . . .

LM: [Laughs]

NS: . . . because, you know, we’re especially bad at the succession part. We put stuff in, but that would be the only thing that would go there for the entire year, and it is just a fraction of it’s potential . . . Do you do a combination of edible and decorative, or?

LM: I’m actually entirely interested in growing food. It has to do with this thing for me that . . . you know, understanding where our food comes from is just really important and fascinating pursuit. I feel strongly that we should all be working to be more connected to the food we consume. So, that’s not quite a political thing for me, but almost there.

New raised beds

New raised beds

NS: It’s an environmental thing in the sense that it’s your immediate environment, and you would like to be more conscious of it?

LM: Right.

NS: We have a garden. And still, some of the people who have access to it – there’s a wild disconnect, wherein they won’t take stuff to eat out of it, unless it’s brought indoors to them. It’s like a combination of not knowing if things are ready, or something. . . .

LM: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying –

NS: It’s really strange.

LM: Yeah, definitely. Well, I’ll share this with you . . . I just started a garden just outside my new apartment, which was kind of a big decision for me, to put all that time and effort into that, because I’m a renter, and so this is what stopped me in the past from having a garden . . . I didn’t want to do it, but I’m at this place where it seemed really important for me to have my own growing space. So I planted spinach and mesclun greens and buttercrunch lettuce and carrots and beets – and then the squirrels ate all the seedlings. And it was so heartbreaking, but is was also really grossing me out, because that means – ahh, eww, ahh –

The enemy

The enemy

NS: That’s the disconnect . . .

LM: That’s what I’m saying.

NS: . . . that stuff’s in the world.

LM: I know, and like there aren’t squirrels on farms other places?

NS: Well . . . there might not be tons of squirrels in like, the middle of Iowa or whatever . . .

LM: That’s true.

NS: . . . maybe there are, I don’t know.

LM: There are animals though, for sure. And this idea that the food that you get from the supermarket has never been a part of nature – is obviously just silly.

NS: We rent too, and we didn’t set out to have a garden, but at Roman Susan we put together this exhibit where it was decided that rather than building pedestals – we priced it out – we found we could have Home Depot deliver two hundred cinder blocks to us and we could make them out of stacked cinder blocks. And then, of course, the exhibit was over and we had two hundred cinder blocks . . . and we were just like, what the hell are we going to do with these things?

LM: [Laughter]

NS: So, I convinced my landlord to let us have these cinder block beds. So, it’s the same thing – it’s kind of a wild amount of effort someone who is renting, but it’s really cool that they’re there, and there are all these guys that hang out in front of our house, because there are a lot of group homes everywhere around there, and they hang out at the bus bench in front of our house to smoke. Anyway, they are always telling me, Oh yeah! The mice – not mice. The rats come and visit your garden every night. And I’m just like, yeah, shrugs.

LM: Yeah, what are you going to do?

NS: The annoying thing is – they don’t like tomatoes, but they will bite one every night to make sure they still don’t like them.

LM: Yeah, it’s so maddening. Yeah, so that’s actually the project that I was working on today, the triangle I was making is going to be part of a series of supports for frames for my garden that will have either mesh, or – the idea I’m working under is that it’s going to be both to keep rodents out in the summer, but then also those panels can be switched out for plexiglass panels to make it into a cold frame in the spring. So the triangle is just to set over the bed and then the screens or the plexiglass fit in over.

NS: There’s a lot of other green stuff around our garden, yard, trees, et cetera. And so lots of rodents just get distracted, there’s plenty to go around. There are tons of rabbits, so we put marigolds around everything because they don’t like their scent, plus rabbits don’t like nightshades? So that’s good. But, well, rats and stuff – not to be deterred by the scent of anything.

Pest protection

Pest protection

LM: I did the cayenne pepper thing too. So after the initial destruction, I did an entire shaker of cayenne pepper over all the seedlings, and now they are coming back, and the squirrels have stayed away, but it just rained like crazy last night, I we’re going to have to go buy more cayenne. But that feels pretty good, because you just wash it off, and it’s fine. And I actually have marigolds around, too, although not in a solid border – maybe that’s the thing, it needs to be like. . . .

NS: Squirrels can fly.

LM: Yeah, squirrels can fly. So I’m covering with mesh, that’s really how I solve that.

NS: We have scarecrows, which endears us to our neighbors, I'm sure.

Cinder block garden beds plus scarecrow

Cinder block garden beds plus scarecrow

NS: So, you have other projects too, yes?

LM: Yeah. Yeah, but wait – there’s more! I am also an art director for an artistic collaborative performance group based out of Humboldt Park called Opera-Matic, which does free performances in the parks. I work with a team of artists to do these collaborative installations and participatory art events. It’s kind of hard to describe – but yeah, I do art direction for them.

Opera-Matic

Opera-Matic

NS: Because it is in public parks, do you feel you have a lot of interaction with people who would not be engaging with art otherwise?

LM: That is absolutely true, and in fact that’s the goal for Opera-Matic – to engage audiences that are not traditionally served by theatre. We get a fair amount of our funding from the park district, and we talk about how our goal is to see a balance of community residents with the artists. . . .

NS: People who are already interested.

LM: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a slippery . . . yeah, exactly. That’s the right way to say it – people who already have access to art culture.

NS: Is it set up to bring people back, to be recurring?

LM: We did just do that. We started out with a weekend in May – the weekend of Mother’s Day – and we just did our third annual performance there. And that’s a pretty good model, to do something on a fairly predictable schedule, year by year. So we’re going to look at repeating these two shows we’ve added to the calendar. One of them is going to be Simons Park around the start of the school year, and then there’s another one at Mozart Park around the middle of November, a little bit after Halloween. And again, trying to have that be at the same time every year, so people can look forward to it, and know that it’s going to happen.

NS: I’m not sure if I’m conflating this with something else, but do these involve, like, flag making and parades and such?

LM: Yeah! Yeah, that’s Opera-Matic. Last year, when the 606 Bloomingdale Trail opened, we were commissioned to do the whole day-long series of workshops where we set up these sewing stations along the trail, and had people who were coming to see the trail for the first time sew a flag. So they made a flag, we gave them a bamboo pole, and we asked them to come back for the opening ceremony at dusk, and we had hundreds of people waving their handmade flags. We had choreographers teaching people how to do dances with the flags, how to do these different choreographed moves. It was really amazing, and really fun. That gets to the very interdisciplinary nature of things, where it’s like, okay – it’s about class, and sewing and dancing and movement and visual art – it’s all those things put together.

NS: It’s complicated, and that’s probably what makes it interesting. Flags in particular, thinking about making your own flag is very interesting to me.

LM: Likewise.

. . .

LM: For Opera-Matic, the drive to do the project for the 606 thing came out of two very particular sets of concerns. Whenever you do public art, you need to have something that’s visual that can be seen over the tops of the heads of crowds of people.

NS: So it’s pretty practical.

LM: Yeah. So it was very much like, okay, here’s your design challenge . . . you have to do something that people can see, of course. And then, we talked a lot about movement, and how compelling things flying in the wind can be. And a big part of Opera-Matic goal is that the crowds of people are the spectacle. So now you have the potential for a hundred people, a thousand people to all be waving flags. That becomes really visually compelling. There is this ongoing question in spectacle theatre about how to maximize the amount of money you put into something. If you’re going to spend like $5,000 to make one massive object – is that going to get you the same visual impact as creating 5,000 flags? So it’s just a different way of exploring visual impact basically.

NS: And so you have more going on too, obviously?

LM: Yes, I manage the woodworking department . . . and there are probably other things I’m forgetting. But that’s most of what I’ve been up to this spring.

NS: Did you teach in the Evanston Art Center?

LM: I did not. I didn’t get to know [Matt Runfola, CIADC founder] until after he had already identified this location [for the Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center].

NS: So, coming into the new space is very similar to any open design solution – you’re looking at this blank space and deciding how to best serve as a woodworking shop?

LM: Yeah, when I entered the picture we knew there would be a woodworking department on the second floor, and the goal was that it be a flexible and meet a variety of needs, but to have enough depth to it for people to be able to go into a process and latch onto that. So, with those parameters, in a lot of ways the design was more or less spelled out, because of course there’s going to be a table saw, a bandsaw, a jointer planer, a drill press . . . I don’t really think there was any question whether those were the pieces of equipment that would be the foundation for the shop. There’s all kinds of subtleties in those things.

NS: What is up there right now that you are the most enthused about – that people might not be aware of?

LM: Well, we just set up our steam bender, which is very exciting. And so we’re bending wood, heating it up to 220 degrees and the steam softens the wood and makes it easier to form. That’s a whole exciting world.

NS: Was the equipment a donation?

LM: No, we just honestly did internet research and built it. There’s a few different ways of building a steam box and they are all basically variations on a theme.

Steam bender

Steam bender

NS: I had no idea . . . yeah, I assume way too many things are prefabricated, but you guys built this.

LM: Yeah, we put it together is really the way to say it. It’s a tube and a steamer, a source for steam. One of the things that’s really exciting about that is we’ll be doing some collaborative thinking between the technology department and the woodshop. It’s possible to envision and design forms with CAD, but then to go into the woodshop and actually try to create those forms with a process that has it’s own limitations, it’s going to be a really interesting and productive pursuit.

. . .

NS: Do you have sculpture ideas, that are unrealized, or on the backburner?

LM: I do, of course.

NS: Are some on the backburner because they aren’t possible at this moment, or just because you haven’t gotten to them, or?

LM: Yeah, both.

NS: What would be an ideal – unlimited resources – what would you make as a sculptor?

LM: The truth is I’d be here – at a place where I could work between different materials with different approaches, because I think it is clear that I’m not someone who’s going to ever be focused on just one material or one line of thinking. The thing that I’m really interested in exploring in my own artwork is this idea of interaction. I’m not a sculptor that would create a thing that people need to stand back and look at. I’m very much about being able to interact and handle a thing, and to feel the weight of it, to feel the surface of it. . . .

Interactive sculpture

Interactive sculpture

LM: Along the same lines with what I talked about with the tools and having a particular support for a tool gives you an indication about what it’s there for – there’s something that’s very interesting about how form can drive your understanding of purpose. I’m really interested in book forms – pages and unfolding and folding. I’m really interested in things fitting inside of other things because I feel like those forms give you clues about what you’re supposed to do, and in this weird way kind of drives the action of the viewer or the person interacting with it, and that gets really interesting to me.

NS: You wouldn’t be making monuments, you would be making intimate things that people can directly engage.

LM: Exactly . . . That’s the thread that goes through all these things. I even have a hard time making it out sometimes, but design and interaction – form driving purpose is thread that connects the different worlds.

For more info about Laura's various projects, please visit lauramiracle.com.

Shop Conversations: Dan O'Brien

Nathan Smith: You have [a metalworking] business, right?

Dan O'Brien: I do – Outlier Metal Arts.

NS: Do you see a divide between your background . . . going from making something for yourself or for aesthetic reasons, to being a business?

DO: So I am relatively new to the art world. I was a business man, and I was a teacher, and all kinds of other things for a long time. So when I started working, doing metalwork, I first imagined I would just do it as a hobby, but then I was between jobs anyway, and with my wife’s encouraging support – and encouragement from other people in the art field as well – I decided to do it full time, and do it as a business. That led to me wanting to figure out what would sell, and what you can make money selling in the metal art field.

I know something of the art world, and I knew that it would be very hard to make it as a fine artist, because I don’t have the training, and I don’t have the life-long experience and connections, and I’m just too old for that. [Laughter] I didn’t feel like starting afresh in that type of field, where it would take a long time to get a foot in the door. And also, I wanted my work to be more accessible and exposed.

I’ve always been a very artistic person, and I’ve always incorporated into my own daily life, so that led naturally to my wanting to create artistic functional objects, and that also is married well with the idea of creating a business. So that was really how I came about creating Outlier Metal Arts, and spending much more time, and getting much more involved with the art center here, and leading to trying to do it as an actual business.

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      Wrought Iron Wall Sculpture with Orthoceras Fossil

Wrought Iron Wall Sculpture with Orthoceras Fossil

NS: Did you have a history of making things previous to metalworking?

DO: Yeah, I’ve always been mechanically inclined. When I was an undergraduate in writing, I was a computer technician for a while and I did a lot of hardware maintenance and things like that. I toyed around with mechanics and robotics when I was a kid, and even throughout my career as an English teacher – in fields that weren’t mechanically inclined – I’ve always been very interested in and done a lot of car repair, and I’ve owned a home, so I’ve done a lot of home improvements – both repairs and improvement and modifications and things on that end. A lot of that background comes from my family. My dad taught me a lot of home improvement stuff, so I've always been very hands on.

NS: What projects are you working on now? Commission, or otherwise. . . .

DO: I recently completed commission with the owner of Chicago Glass Collective, Leslie Speicher, and that went very well. I was doing aluminum backing for one of her glass sculptures. Now, I am working on fleshing out my inventory for Outlier. I’ve sold pieces, and my inventory is getting low.

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      Wall Sculpture in Rusted Wrought Iron and Hand-Knitted Merino Wool

Wall Sculpture in Rusted Wrought Iron and Hand-Knitted Merino Wool

NS: How long was the period between when you started metal and when you started thinking and being encouraged to make that your full time gig?

DO: Yeah – it wasn’t long! Actually, I took a class from Matt Runfola up at the Evanston Art Center, and it was probably towards the end of the first 10-week class.

NS: Wow, that’s quick, yeah. . . .

DO: My first project there was making a wrought iron bed frame for my wife. When I was finishing that up, she said: You know, you love doing this, and you’re good at it, and other people seem to think you’re good at it. . . .

NS: And you had just started, too?

DO: Yeah, I had just started. I did actually study sculpture a little in Junior College, when I was first out of high school, and enjoyed it a lot, but I definitely don’t think I would have encouraged myself even at that point to go into it as a job. I enjoyed it, and I did some cool stuff, but I didn’t have the mechanical experience to do the stuff I’m doing now, and just kind of did it all on the side. So, I did have a little experience with sculpture.

NS: What was your favorite commission you have worked on?

DO: The one I did recently for Chicago Glass Collective was definitely the most challenging, but also I learned the most from it – it was aluminum, which I was not familiar with, and it also included creating backing to hold flat glass sculptures, and then the backing had to be set away from the wall, and then the glass had to be set away from the backing by an inch. So I had to figure out a way to suspend her glass sculpture – which was nerve-wracking . . .

NS: Sure, yeah. [Laughs]

DO: . . . away from the thing in a way that was feasible, but also be put together, and for that I had to learn a lot about the mechanics of creating brackets that were moveable, and TIG welding aluminum, and a lot of experimentation with finishing. So I learned a lot from that process, and she just installed it last week, and it looks great in the client’s space in their home. That was one of the most satisfying pieces I’ve done. That was probably my favorite.

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      Wrought Iron Candleholder

Wrought Iron Candleholder

NS: Once you started working with metal . . . I’m guessing, maybe, when you’re out in the world and seeing things constructed, you’re sort of already puzzling out how they work . . .

DO: Um-huh.

NS: Did it change at all when you started working with metal in particular?

DO: Yeah. I learned some things. I knew a fair bit about – just sort of doing mechanical work before – I knew a fair bit about metal and engineering and things like that, not having studied engineering, just kind of learning from a layman’s perspective – building things, you know? But, once I started working in metal, I got some experience with it, I learned a lot more about properties of metal and how it contributes to how something is constructed, and the details of the methods and processes that have to go into creating something. Also the order of operations when you’re building something, what’s feasible with welding versus what’s feasible with mechanical connections, and things like that, how to build things that are hollow that don’t look hollow. So my eye has changed a lot in how I see metal structures, all metal structures, and in particular sculpture, and I have a greater appreciation for what it takes.

NS: When you started as a business . . . could you anticipate commissions you would want in the future from this point? Like if something came your way that would sort of be an idealized project. . . ?

DO: I would love to be able to do architectural sculptural work – ornamental railings and things like that and to do something that’s in a very open space, in a public building or a park, that would be awesome. I would like it to be a significant piece that’s in a place that’s going to be around a long time, you know? Also, I have a dream of working – of building playgrounds.

NS: Oh, wow. That’s very interesting. . . .

DO: I’m a big fan of the City Museum in St. Louis.

City Museum

City Museum

NS: Yeah, yeah! It’s awesome.

DO: Fantastic place. And so I would love to be able to create something along the lines of – my dream would be to work at the City Museum. And to build. . . .

NS: You’d be hacking up new stuff! Rooms people haven’t dreamed up yet?

DO: Yeah! Other than doing that I’d love to be able to create sculptural backyard playground pieces, or for public parks. That would be something I would really be excited about.

NS: Of the limited scope of things I thought about sculpturally, playgrounds certainly aren’t in there.

DO: Yeah, I’d love to see art integrated into children’s lives. I have two kids of my own, and I used to spend a lot of time at playgrounds.

NS: Sure.

DO: I was a stay-at-home dad for six years with my daughter.

NS: So you’re staring at these things anyway. . . .

DO: Yeah, I’m staring at these things all the time, going: This could be so much cooler, you know? And it’s just so limited what they do with them. But it’s a lot better than when we were kids. It’s not just straight slides where you burn your butt on the thing. They are a lot cooler these days, but it would be great to see more done with them.

NS: You helped set stuff up here?

DO: I helped set up everything . . . helping build tables and things like that. And yeah, I’m pretty solidly in metal. I do a lot of shop upgrades, I do a lot of work streamlining things, and upgrading our equipment, and trying to make things easier and safer. We have some tools down there that I think people are unsure really how to use, so we really want to try and make those more accessible, for new students in particular.

NS: If you’re going to recommend one underused tool down there to people, what would it be?

DO: The ironworker!

NS: Okay. Which one is that?

DO: The one that has the two large bars on top.

NS: Yeah, okay.

DO: You can use it both as a punch, and to cut bar stock and flat stock. The great thing about the ironworker is that it does both those things – it does what a drill press does, and it does what a chop saw does for bar stock, cleanly and safely, and quietly.

NS: Yeah, I’m into quiet work!

DO: So, it’s a great way for cutting bar stock. The only problem with ours is that it is very difficult to measure the way it’s set up now, so I’m building a mechanism for it, to be able to easily measure pieces.

NS: Nice.

DO: Yeah, it’s a great tool, once people learn to use it!

Shop Conversations: Sarah Lu

Nathan Smith: I guess the main question I have for you is how do you find yourself here in woodworking? How do you find woodworking? How does it fit into your life?

Sarah Lu: I like making useful objects, and I like using objects that I’ve made myself. So for me it starts from a utilitarian place, though it’s more than just function, it’s pleasure, too. Wood is also beautiful to look at and feels good to touch. The grain patterns, colors, and textures that nature makes are interesting, and unique. Ever piece of wood is different, so there’s discovery built in to the process of working wood—there are surprises, it can be exciting.  And, I like the smell of sawdust, too. Well, I think that woodworking, because it is tactile, really adds something to my life that I wouldn’t get otherwise because I work a day job, like a desk job behind a computer kind of job. And I like physically making things, and I can get kind of, sort of like lost in the grain of the wood while I am working on it. Yesterday I sanded a tabletop I was working for two hours. Tracing the grain pattern and feeling the surface get more smooth and even after the passes with the sander was kind of flowy, kind of hypnotic. So, you know, I just kind of got lost. It’s work that doesn’t feel hard or annoying or anything like that because it is something I’m creating or making for people I like.

NS: Maybe this isn’t accurate, but maybe it seems like you actively found this as an adult rather than just as a continuum of you making things always. . . .

SL: Yeah, yeah! Like, I really never took any art classes . . . pretty much ever, except the normal required ones.

NS: Which is pretty small.

SL: Which is pretty small, and I’m a shitty drawer, so I always kind of thought that I didn’t have a lot to say visually, or I didn’t think of myself as somebody who wants to make stuff. I came at it through a practical way of rehabbing a house, and also at certain times in my life wanting to have furniture, and things like that, without a lot of resources.

NS: So was that in your own house, the initial—when you really started doing it?

SL: I think I started refinishing thrift store furniture when I was still in college, and in my first apartment off campus. It was a way to make my first independent space my own, to make it feel homey as opposed to an industrial feeling dorm. But yeah, when I rehabbed my house, I hired a carpenter who taught me how to do some of the stuff he was doing. . . .

NS: Ah, awesome! Handing out trade secrets. . . .

SL: When this carpenter met me for an estimate, I was pulling staples out of the stairs. (We ripped off this gross carpet to find great old pine stair treads, and I had hundreds of carpet staples to pull out.)  So when he started working on our house, and I was curious about aspects of the work, he taught me a lot of stuff about trim carpentry, so that I could work with him. One day, we were sitting on buckets taking a break from trimming out doors and windows on the second floor and eating pizza, and I was like: do you do this with all your clients? And he said, no, but because when I met you you were happily pulling out hundreds of staples from your stairs, it seemed like working on your house would be fun for you, so why not. He’s right, it was fun, and it’s deeply satisfying to be in a space that I helped shape and bring to form.

NS: Was it like, additive? Or rehabbing stuff that was already there?

SL: The house ended up being a total gut rehab. So we had to literally strip all the trim and moulding, in the process and had to do it over in a way that tied together. So, yeah—[the trim] actually looks a lot like that tapered rectangle shape [motions toward CIADC trim around the entry to the woodworking finishing room]. That’s a good way of doing . . . that headboard is a good way of covering up the gaps between a door and a wall in a way that looks nice, but it’s still really simple. And we did that in our house where there were additions from different time periods, and different things going on with weird-sized openings. So, something like that, you can customize to every door, but then it all ties in because it’s the same shape.

CIADC door trim

CIADC door trim

NS: When you started getting into your house—but also just like, putting your hands on the grain I guess—did you start looking at things in the world differently? Or was it closer, in your immediate environment of interior space and projects?

SL: I guess if there is a theme that ties those two things together it’s working with things that have flaws, and either fixing those flaws so you wouldn’t even know, or working with those flaws, and presenting them, and they are [part of] the visual history of the object. If you walk into my house there are some things that you can see that are unintentional flaws that I don’t really want there to still be . . . I kind of want it to be better than that. I have some holes in the wall to patch, for example. Don’t look in my laundry room.

Fixing the trim was one of the last things we did after correcting the house’s other major problems: burst pipes, a busted furnace, outdated electrical system, water damaged and buckled drywall and floorboards.  The trim is simple, and it looks good. The design is a nod to the original trim profile we found still intact in some spots.  To me, the trim represents the rehab more than anything. When it was done, it made the house feel whole, after a really long time of dealing with component parts that needed work. It’s all new, it ties the whole space together, and visually, it takes things back to where the house began. Back when it was first built and cared for, back before people messed it up and the house was damaged, foreclosed on, and abandoned.  When you see the inside of my house now, you wouldn’t know what it’s been through unless I told you, you might just be like: pleasant trim.

On the other side of working with things that have flaws, the bench I’m working on right now in the wood shop is full of flaws that are right out in front. The material is a reclaimed 2 x 12 douglas fir board from the ReBuilding Exchange. It was probably a rafter, holding up a roof in its former life.  There are markers of it’s history like screw holes and nail holes, and the wood surrounding these holes is stained black. There are knots that pop out. It’s not the material a traditional, fine wood worker would use to make a bench, because pine is soft.

There are also flaws in the bench that are my mistakes, and I’m keeping them right out in the open. I wanted to challenge myself to learn joinery, and this bench has my first attempts at mortise and tenon joints. There are gaps between the bench top and the legs, which is a joinery flaw. But those inexact, rough looking mortise and tenon joints tell part of the story of the bench, and are part of my story as a woodworker/woodlearner.  I learned so much in the process that I’ll take with me on the next project, and when I see those joints I’ll think of those lessons. And also, the gaps don’t get in the way of the bench’s benchiness. It’s a useful object. It’s sturdy, it’s a good spot to park it while you untie your shoes after you get in the door. The bench will function perfectly well as a bench, flaws included.

Sarah sharpening up!

Sarah sharpening up!

NS: Yeah, I like the . . . I don’t know. I’ve talked to you a couple times sort of like about the flaws or fault lines and using them as an enhancement—or enhancing them so that they become the identity of each thing.

SL: Totally.

NS: It seems to me, like the purpose of doing it yourself . . . if it were just flawless—you could do that, but why would you do that?

SL: Right, yeah. I think it is fun to explore this like, this-isn’t-perfect, or that there’s something that catches your eye about this that visually you’re like–That’s not right! But then you’re like–Oh, but I like it! Because I have a job were people make things that aren’t real, like content, you know. . .

NS: You work. . . .

SL: I work at a radio station, yeah. So, there’s a lot of planning that goes into something that may or may not be what you intended or be any good. [Laughs] And flaws on the radio are bad. We’re not supposed to have dead air, or you know, when there’s a mistake, then I have to go investigate what broke down and why. And there are certain things like, someone with a gravelly voice or an interesting voice—that plays well on the radio.

NS: You’re not auto-tuning them or anything. . . .

SL: Right, but those are things where it’s like, we don’t want everyone to sound the same, or we don’t ever want to sound like a stereotypical perfect voice, but there are mistakes that are not good. [Laughter] And then, that’s a bummer. So this is a kind of . . . working with reclaimed materials, or just in general learning woodworking is humbling because you’re going to mess some stuff up, and you’re going to make some mistakes, and so—then what do you do with that? For me, it’s never been like—Ah! Dealbreaker! It’s like—well, how do we work with that? Or what’s the next move?

NS: I have no idea how many things you’ve constructed in . . . how long have you been woodworking?

SL: Well, this is my . . . I started at CIADC in December, or maybe Thanksgiving. I don’t know—let’s say November. But before that, I’ve been building furniture and stuff for a couple years. Probably like, three or four years, but none of it super well, but it got the job done I guess.

NS: Okay, yeah. So I was just wondering, is there something, is there a project you’ve done, or a kind of project that is an ideal of yours, or have you done things that are way out of your comfort zone? Or where that might be, I guess?

SL: Since I started being involved here, this is the first time where I’ve been like, I want to devote time to developing skills, and also exploring ideas visually and physically. Before, the first piece of furniture I made out of nothing was a set of two benches when I was hosting Christmas dinner and didn’t have enough seating. Necessity as the mother of invention kind of thing. And they did the job and they were perfectly fine, but they weren’t—they were more utilitarian than they were anything else. And they were still pretty good looking, they were reclaimed two by twelves. Before coming here, it was like, I need a thing, how do I make that thing to do the job and not a lot of focusing on designing, you know, for a certain aesthetic or with a goal, or any aesthetic.

Sarah with repurposed fence post

Sarah with repurposed fence post

NS: So, when you’re using reclaimed materials, like these candle holders you’re making right now, they’re from your fence post?

SL: Yeah, it’s right over there. [Pointing, laughing] It’s four by four cedar fence post.

NS: I think maybe I’ve asked you this on a different day, but how . . . reusing materials, do the meaning of the materials themselves inform what you do with them at all? Or is it a sort of a . . . ultimately you just reuse something because it is useful and on hand?

SL: Yeah, I guess I think there is a trifecta of good reasons for me to use reclaimed materials. One, they’re around, and it’s good to give things another life instead of throwing things out. And so there’s a sustainability and environmental ethos there. But on a purely utilitarian front, my rotted fence falls down, and it’s material for me to use. It’s easier for me to go in the backyard and rough cut the four by four that fell down than to go to the lumberyard. And the third thing is: reclaimed materials are beautiful to me. They can be interesting to look at, and the history of the material can add value to the thing you’re making, like a story.

NS: So there’s not really any strict sentimental value for you. It’s there, it’s just part of all of the things that are there.

SL: Right. I mean I think there’s some sentimental value to it too, because I do associate the old fence post with my house and my home, and the history of it. And so I’m making these little tea light things for a friend. They’re sort of a personal connection as well. And also it is just beautiful and interesting to look at—there’s little voids in the wood. I think one of these actually still has a bug, like a dead bug in it.

NS: Nice! I mean, maybe not everyone would like that, but I like that!

SL: Yeah, I might take it out before but, I think it was over here. . . . I mean I think, it looks like it was, like there’s . . . yeah, you see that white fuzzy white part? It makes me think that there’s a spider that laid eggs in there or something.

NS: Exciting.

SL: Yeah. Which I didn’t know until I cut into it. I couldn’t tell because these voids weren’t really visible. This one was, but most of the holes were not visible from the sides.

NS: So did your whole fence collapse?

SL: On one side, yeah. The wood rotted at the post and then it got really windy and it fell down in my back yard. It was an old fence, they don’t last forever.

NS: Are you going to make a new fence out of wood?

SL: Well, this goes back to the recycling stuff. I have this idea—we broke up a lot of concrete in our backyard so that we could let the rain go back into the soil.

NS: Sure, yeah.

SL: So we have all this busted up concrete, and I kind of want to make a gabion fence, which is wire mesh and you can make baskets or panels of it and fill it with loose material. So then I could recycle the concrete chunks.

NS: So it’s like, there’s wire in parallel?

SL: Yeah, there’s two wire mesh panels, and then based steel posts every six feet or so that the mesh panels are welded to or anchored to, and then you fill it with loose materials. And you can make like planters, or retaining walls out of it. . . .

NS: So it could include like, soil?

SL: Yeah, it could make planter box out of that and grow things in it.

NS: Do you know how to weld?

SL: No, but there’s a metal shop downstairs! Maybe that can be the next thing I’ll learn. Or, I could make a buddy. . . .

NS: You can probably do both those things, yeah?

SL: Yeah, probably both those things, yeah!

Tea lights made by Sarah Lu – with occasional bugs (no flaws)

Tea lights made by Sarah Lu – with occasional bugs (no flaws)

Shop Conversations: Julia Paloma

Nathan Smith: Do you have a moment when you are like, ‘This is when I started making things.’ Or have you made things your entire life?

Julia Paloma: I think that it was when I was little, four years old—the early 70s—my mom was a budding feminist, and had just gotten divorced. So I think she purposely bought me this car that came with tools, it was wooden and the nuts and bolts were plastic, but I understood that you could use these tools to take it apart. And I definitely had the feel of—I liked the feeling of taking it apart. And even the sensation of when I had made it too tight, and how hard it was to loosen—there was something about that physical feeling. That was one of the first times. . . . And tinkertoys, I remember working with a lot when I was little. But after that there was a little bit of . . . well, you know, it was all kind of making. Cooking early on, and sewing, and embroidery for my stepmom, and you know, partly knowing to pay attention to how things were made. I was no good at paying attention to it, but I understood you could. And the more attention you pay, the better it looked. But probably, not really until . . . I mean, Ghost Ranch in New Mexico is the main focus for me of this kind of thing. I went—let’s see, it would have been almost sixteen years ago. I learned etching, and  I wasn’t really deep into it, but it was just kind of interesting listening to the artist who was teaching us talk about how she did it. It didn’t sink in very far, it was just a little week-long class, you know, that gave us this new experience.

Ghost Ranch

Ghost Ranch

NS: Was your family there, or how did you end up going there?

JP: My folks are Presbyterian ministers, and it was run by the Presbyterian Church. I believe it’s still owned by them, but it’s its own thing now. So they used to go there for retreats and so on. And maybe around, it must have been the early 90s, they started going fairly regularly, and now go every year. So in the year 2000 they said, Come on everybody—it’s a big year! It’s the year 2000, we got a couple new grandbabies, I think my mom was turning. . . . I don’t know, they even wrapped their birthdays in there.

NS: So this place is not just an art space, it’s like you can do . . . there are many things going on there?

JP: It’s a real working ranch first of all, and they have space for hosting meetings or conferences or retreats and those kinds of things, and you could have several simultaneous gatherings. And in the summer they have several weeks that are dedicated to making art. So, the next time I went to Ghost Ranch a few years later, I did basket weaving, which was also very interesting. Why we picked these two classes you could never ever really do on your own—because it was so relaxing to do the basket weaving in particular—but you can’t really get the stuff at Michaels, and you have to special order miles of it. . . .

NS: Yeah, you have like an industrial amount?

JP: Yeah! Well, you know, for a little house in Chicago. . . .

NS: Baskets inside of baskets?

JP: Right. A few years after that, my mom, who had been doing welding all along, said: Just try the welding. You know don’t—I know it’s a little. . . .

Ghost Ranch welding space - washed away in a Spring 2015 flood

Ghost Ranch welding space - washed away in a Spring 2015 flood

NS: She had been doing welding every year?

JP: Pretty much, yeah. She used to go often for two weeks, and do it for two weeks of the year, and then put it to the side. So that would have been probably almost ten years ago now, when I tried it for the first time. And I had no idea what I was doing, I was just melting stuff together, mostly just anything I made that year has by now fallen apart. And then the next year I learned a little bit more, and tried it again. You know, ever year I went back, and then it came to pass that my ex-husband and I divorced. So then it became the thing I looked forward to—it shaped the whole rest of the year. Just get to Ghost Ranch. You got to just get to Ghost Ranch. And then it got to be where I started thinking well, what I would do? And I would make plans—and all contingent upon what would the junk pile have, because we used all scrap metal. So that little scrap table there [motioning to CIADC metalworking department scraps], picture it about fifty times bigger. That’s what we would weld with, and pick through, and you know, chase the spiders and snakes out of the stuff. And then, I guess a year or so ago I said, you know, maybe I could do this more than just Ghost Ranch. I had actually seen the classes at the Evanston Art Center a few years before, and I thought, oh—that sounds way too structured, I don’t want to do that. Because Ghost Ranch is not, you know. . . .

NS: They just want to keep you safe and let you go?

JP: Safe enough, actually, because, you know, it’s guests coming for a week. So, they say: Natural fibers, closed toed shoes, long sleeves . . .

NS: Go!

JP: . . . if you have gloves, bring them. But we have gloves. Some of the other techniques they would teach us promoted more safety. We quenched the stuff every time we finished a weld, and so on. And there was a lot of close supervision, of course, but not strict teachers. But anyway, last year I said, let me just try this class. If I hate it, I’ll never do it again. And I almost didn’t take it. I went to visit the class in Evanston, and I met Dominic, and I watched the people working. And it smelled just right, it looked familiar, felt familiar. But the thought of sheet metal and bar stock and all that, just intimidated the heck out of me. I don’t think I can take a class, I won’t know what to do with that stuff, and I don’t have enough scrap, it’s hard for me to collect scrap in my daily life.

NS: Sure. [General laughter]

Ghost Ranch scrap pile

Ghost Ranch scrap pile

JP: I do though, but—you know, if it turns up. I have some, you know, but I don’t really have the . . . I haven’t figured out a system to go find it, systematically. But I decided to—I should stay. There was something about the way Dominic talked about even his own art, just in that brief time that made me think: Well, I have something to learn here. And the people looked like interesting people to be around, and so it was. And so the one class happened, and that shop closed. I do remember thinking—aw, Dominic’s not going to be teaching welding at [CIADC]. He’s going to be teaching casting. Now what am I going to do?

NS: So have you taken welding here, or just casting?

JP: I said, well, I’m going to stick with the teacher!

NS: Nice, yeah. . . .

JP: So I don’t know, I wouldn’t say that, in the welding at Ghost Ranch, when I started to feel like, when I put pieces of scrap together in a certain arrangement, that it meant something to me. Like it started out making things that represented other things, you know, here’s a figure of um . . . you know the storyteller figure, it’s usually a woman covered with little kids?

NS: Yeah!

Storyteller  by Julia Paloma

Storyteller by Julia Paloma

JP: So that kind of figure, I made one. It’s really clunky and full of brazing rod and looks like a beginner made them, and they were.

NS: But you were making things that were somewhat universal in figuration?

JP: Maybe, yeah. You know, a figure has these kinds of components, but then I started over the years, between visits to Ghost Ranch . . . I remember one year my daughter was studying mythology, and she had—I think she actually copied it, but it was a really sweet drawing of Aphrodite. And so I knew kind of what I might want. So when I got to the junk pile I could look for the shapes I had thought I would need. And they had a series of steel circles I would use for things. . . . So I think it was around that time that I thought, oh—now, now I know what I’m making. I feel like I’m saying something. I don’t know if says anything to anyone else, but I felt like I was saying something while I put these things together.

NS: And so that emerged when every step was intentional?

JP: Uh-huh. I knew enough about how it was working. In the beginning it was partly just the thrill of turning on the torch and melting the metal. Now I understand—or the way I do it, it’s a lot less about how the metal’s going to act with the flame. It’s more—where’s the connection going to be and how do I get it to stick together? How do I need to prop it? How do I need to balance it? And then when it falls apart—okay, let’s make it a different way!

NS: [Laughs for a bit.] So. The transition to learning casting, it seems to an outsider like a totally different thing.

JP: It’s very, very different.

NS: You couldn’t have started casting the way you started welding, right? You have to be very intentional the whole time. . . .

Casting Department whiteboard

Casting Department whiteboard

JP: Yeah, yeah. You know, when I had the scraps of metal especially—and I guess when people using the sheet metal and so on, they have to have an idea of what they want the shape to look like before they ever cut it, they don’t have it already. So, when you’re casting, you have your pattern that you’re going to make a mold out of, but if you’re trying to change it, you have nothing. You’re trying to figure out to get—how do I get a mold made of this object that it can turn into the thing I’m looking for. And so it is all in your imagination, and you know, I think, when the class first started, Dominic didn’t use the whiteboard all that much, but now he’s using it more and more and more, because you have to draw it to see how it might work. And he’s using it to explain it to the rest of us too, about what his thinking is. But it’s inside out and upside down and backwards all at the same time and . . . what you’re doing will let you wind up with the thing you are imagining, but it feels so indirect, at least to me. And so I feel like I’m back in the beginning again.

Hollyhocks  by Julia Paloma

Hollyhocks by Julia Paloma