Thursday, December 23, 2021

Artistic Jumpstart, with safety goggles

2021 brought me several instances of fierce creative elation, and I will write more about that. All physical art things, not writing. Mainly instances of sharing art/creativity with other people. (I did not get into the DCAC Sparkplug thing, but that feels fine to me because I am at a creative juncture and might not be cranking out a lot of finished pieces right away. I just want to play with materials -- including hot metal!)

Crudely welded unicorn pig, nose missing, interior on fire

Step 55: "aim flame into pig's nose to burn out excess oil"

Donna Reinsel teaches welding at the Art League in Alexandria, VA. (Her portfolio features, in addition to jewelry and furniture, some of her amazing lamps and chandeliers. If you have ever had the misfortune of hearing me go on and on about the fantastic lighting fixtures that used to hang at Perry's in Adams Morgan, and now presumably hang in the owner's house, which is so unfair to the rest of us, then you may have some small inkling of the elation I felt when I realized that my impending instructor was in fact the creator of the Vanished Chandelier I Was Obsessed With.)

I took Donna's "Jumpstart in Welding" workshop on Dec. 4-5 (two 6-hour days). It was a well-structured class for beginners; we learned all the steps and had just about enough time to make one welded steel object (pig) that we could take home. We started with a strip of 2" wide steel, a few pieces of steel she had cut in advance with a plasma cutter (the trapezoidal body sides and the ears), and a length of pipe to cut the feet from. I added the horn: a found-object drill bit.

There were 11 of us in the class. We each had a separate worktable with a little buffer zone around it, and we wore our covid masks as well as our welding goggles. (Audibility was sometimes a challenge, especially when there were machines running, so I would not recommend this particular class if you have hearing issues.)

Before we began to weld, Donna taught us to use the chop saw and the bench grinder, as we cut and shaped our strips of steel. I also learned to use an angle grinder, vise grips, and the drill press*. Everyone got plenty of personal attention, and we all got to take our time with the different machines.

Each student had our own torch, with an oxygen tank and an acetylene tank, and Donna taught us the safety procedures and the sequence for adjusting the fuels and lighting the torch, until by day 2 I felt surprisingly comfortable with it.

Welding was SO MUCH FUN.

Yes, it made me feel powerful. And exhilarated. And yes, it is One Of Those Activities that is just challenging and scary enough that I could not be thinking about anything else while I was doing it; I had to stay present in the moment. That always makes me feel refreshed and invigorated. All the background chatter in my mind goes away, because hello, we are MELTING STEEL until it merges!

The UniPig*** may look as if he's been chewed on, but I am well pleased. Starting in January, I will be taking one of Donna Reinsel's longer courses and will be able to take my time, improve my welds, and smooth down the rough edges. But I like my initial project in all its sharp and clunky glory.

the unipig and its mirror view

* I may have used a drill press in... 1984, '85? Around the same time Reinsel was learning to weld. Imagine if my shop class had been anything other than a toxic melee of male bullying and harassment. Sometime I hope to ask Reinsel how she got her start. What inspired her, who encouraged her, and what did she have to work around? Our weekend workshop was very gender-balanced, and had a good structure for avoiding the "guy who tries to grab your project and 'help' you whether you want help or not." We took turns at the grinders**, drill press, and chop saw, but she made sure we had enough varied tasks that if someone else was busy on a machine, there were other parts of the project we could be working on.

** The workshop had one bench grinder and two hand-held angle grinders. The handles on the angle grinders could be unscrewed and reattached to make them left-handed. I was the only southpaw in the room, but I obstinately left one of the grinders in lefty mode -- let a right-handed person have to change the setup for once! They all unconsciously avoided "my" grinder and I got to use it anytime I wanted.

*** ...Pigicorn? I looked up "narwhal" and found the uncharming etymological speculation that "nar-" meant "corpse," for the whale's splotchy gray color that may have resembled a drowning victim's skin. This in no way relates to my Unipig, whose unfinished steel flanks are burnished with rainbow arcs of color, thanks to my uneven beginnerly torch-wielding. Rainbow pig. VULCAN pig! Hephaestus was "club-footed"****. Toward the end of day two, I chose to weld the horn onto my pig rather than take time to smooth out his uneven pipe-section feet.

**** One of Vulcan / Hephaestus' other names is Kyllopodion, of dragging feet. And he is Polymetis (shrewd, crafty, of many devices). Best name of all, though, comes from an Australian freshwater fish named after Hephaestus: the SOOTY GRUNTER. 


Aimee said...

We have talked about that chandelier. Was it like the Medusa ones on her site?

I love your unicorn pig. Happy for you!

flightless said...

@Aimee - yes!