#WhyWeWeld: Barbie The Welder
Barbie Parsons is a welder based in Erin, New York, who has captivated social media audiences with stunning welding art and sculptures. Barbie, who started welding in 2007, was originally motivated to enter the world of welding after watching a woman weld angel wings in the 2007 Tom Hanks film Cast Away.
Years later, Barbie is a business owner, and has amassed thousands of followers online -- 65,000 followers on Instagram, and more than 76,000 followers on TikTok, where she shares videos of her work.
We interviewed Barbie to find out more about her work, her story, and her social media popularity.
What process did you go through in becoming a professional welder?
I first started at BOCES taking an adult welding course that was a 6 months long --- 104 hours. I then took a welding test at a local custom fabrication shop and passed, and was hired. I worked there for almost 6 years learning everything people would teach me and practicing to improve my skills daily. I earned my Journeyman in iron plate and sheet metal while I was there.
Of course, welders experience challenges in the trade, just as in other fields. What is the biggest challenge in working as a welder? Why is it important for you to keep going?
My biggest challenge was learning to weld. The shop I was hired at, Cameron Manufacturing and Design, has very high standards and it was deeply humbling trying to work to those standards at first. I ground out many welds and had to reweld them. It’s so important to not give up or get frustrated as you’re learning something new. We all suck at walking when we first learn but we don’t give up and eventually get great at it! I worked to improve myself each day over my previous day's work.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a welder, or a young person who is interested in learning more?
Don’t judge your day one against someone else’s day 100! Look to others for where you want to be and then work to improve yourself each day. Practice, practice, practice!
How did you reach that point in your career where you knew you were ready to start your own business? I'd love to know how your work evolved to the point where it is today.
I knew from the moment I saw the woman welding angel wings that I was going to be a full time artist. After being at my job for about five and a half years, I started saving up money to have a financial foundation, and then when it was time to quit I cashed in my 401k and took out a personal loan.
It was difficult walking away from such a great paycheck and the medical benefits -- artists don’t get those -- but my heart wanted what my heart wanted. Looking back it was crazy because I had no idea how to run a business, knew nothing about sales, marketing, or anything else it takes to be successful!
My dad told me I was making the biggest mistake of my life and my mom cried and begged me not to do it. I failed magnificently the first few years -- you read that correctly -- but I couldn’t quit, art pulled me so hard that through each failure I learned a little and kept moving forward. I started studying how to run a business, how to grow my social media organically, how to do better videos and pictures, and a lot of self improvement and slowly started making progress.
Can you tell me about the impact of social media on your work? It's definitely interesting -- and pretty cool -- to see how welders have adapted to social media, especially on newer platforms, such as TikTok.
My social media adventures started before I went full time as an artist. I had a personal Facebook page and started posting there as I was making stuff part time in my shop after work and on weekends. I was super scary to put my art out for the world to see at first. I cried before I put my first ever sculpture (a three tier chandelier) on Facebook. It felt raw to have a dream for so long and then put everything on the line with that piece. Feedback was phenomenal and it grew from there as did my self esteem! Social media is the backbone of my business today. All my clients find me through my many channels and with the incredible reach of social media, I’ve sold art to clients in 15 countries!
What made you decide to take your work to TikTok and Instagram?
Instagram is visual so that was an easy choice! My videos have been wildly popular so when I learned about TikTok that was also a no brainer for me! Each platform has a different vibe and I can appeal to different clients on each one. LinkedIn is where my clients who want custom sculptures find me and the other platforms bring welders who want to learn art from my kits, books, and videos. I love the social aspect of social media and the ability to connect with amazing people from all over the world!
We're grateful to Barbie for sharing this small part of her story as a welder and business owner with us. She told us that she hadn't thought of herself as artistic before she began welding, and today she owns a business that produces magnificent artwork. Her story is one of perseverance and hard work, and it was great to learn more from her.
Find Barbie The Welder @barbiethewelder on Instagram.