Zen and the Art of Metal Sculpture with Joanie Butler


We recently had the chance to sit down with Joanie Butler, Arc-Zone’s resident metal sculptor, to discuss how we could encourage you, our lovely readers, to get started in metal sculpture. Let us begin by saying it does not matter how many creative, artistic bones are in your body, metal art is about having fun, welding, and creating something. Don’t worry about being the next Michelangelo of metal sculpture. Allow yourself to enjoy the creative process; you may surprise yourself.

Here are Joanie’s steps to getting started in Metal Sculpture Welding:

1) Start with Zen

Joanie gets into her creative zone through various breathing exercises and stretches, but you can go for a walk, relax near a lake, or sit and reflect. Do your best to be in the moment when your mind is clear of any type of stressful thought or emotion. Your thoughts, positive or negative, will impact your art.

2) Find Your Muse

Your muse, or inspiration, can come from a variety of sources.  Spend time looking around your surroundings and the things that interest you. For Joanie, it’s the coast and the sea. Inspiration can even come from that small scrap on the back corner of the shop floor.  A castaway from the earlier exhaust job.  The ah-ha moment. Here are a list of things Joanie uses to find her muse:

  • Beauty you see in the world – a hot rod, a fish, or even Star Wars.
  • A piece of scrap metal you can use in a sculpture
  • Anything with a good balance of positive and negative space.  Think of what you cut out with those Halloween pumpkin carving stencils as your positive space, what’s left on the pumpkin is negative space.

Joanie's Artwork3) Commit to a Design

Once you’ve been inspired, decide on the subject, design, or idea that you would like to fabricate.

4) Transfer Your Vision to Paper

Draw sketches to help bring more form to the project. The sketches do not have to be perfect, but they allow quick trial and error until you find a form that works.

Joanie's Artwork5) Go Hunting

Pick your pieces and spend some time laying them out. It’s always nice to have a bucket of spare scrap.  You never know how a piece looks until you try it!

6) Ready, Set

Gather the right tools, equipment, and attitude for the project. It is important to have the right tools on hand to work with metal. Joanie uses mostly MIG welding and plasma cutting when creating her artwork. Your attitude is a critical tool. Remember that almost all metal art, especially scrap metal sculpture, is art from mistakes, miscalculations, and castaways. Prepare to make beautiful mistakes!

7) Create Your Masterpiece!

The operative word in that title is YOUR.  All art, especially for beginners, should be made for the creative experience of the artist. The harshest critic will always be you, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Priority #1 is to enjoy the creation process, and if you want your art to get attention or make you a little money, share that art with others.

Metal sculpture is not for wimps! Take the plunge and go make some art. Show us your homemade metal art!  Post images on our Facebook wall or comment below.

Be sure to check out some of Joanie’s artwork on her website. Joanie has been creating metal sculpture masterpieces and welding for several years now, and her artwork is truly remarkable.




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