Darrell Olsen is a welder based in West Yorkshire, England. As someone who specializes in metal art, Darrell is familiar with the ups and downs of both the welding trade and the creative art world. We interviewed him to discuss his background, the nature of commissioned work, and the tools of his trade.
Here's our discussion:
As a UK based welder, can you tell us about how you learned to weld? Were you self-taught, or did you go through a particular qualification process which our non-UK readers may not be familiar with?
After leaving school at 16 I did a coach building apprenticeship for 4 years and during that time I got a very basic certificate in MIG welding and from there I've taught myself but always passed the MIG welding test every year throughout my working career. I'm purely self taught at TIG welding with help from the Instagram welding community and YouTube videos.
Olsen was at the Makers Market in Pontefract on December 7, 2021.
You specialize in metal art now, but I read that you previously worked as a fabricator in the transport sector. Can you tell us about what convinced you to make the change to this more creative line of work?
In 2015 I bought a MIG welder for my home workshop with the intention to make some gates for myself and friends, however, my wife Vicky asked me to make her a junkyard style metal dog for the garden first and I accepted the challenge.
Junkyard style metal dog that Olsen made.
I found that I really enjoyed using the scrap metal items I had around home to create something from nothing. My passion for metal art was ignited and I was hungry to learn more welding techniques. The gates still haven't been made...
Olsen and his wife were at Bakewell on Sunday.
From a technical aspect, how do these two lines of work differ? Do you use different metals and welding processes, for instance?
In both metal art and vehicles my work has to be structurally sound and outlast me. I think of my builds as a monocoque chassis or an integral chassis like the vehicles I used to work on. My preferred material to use now is stainless steel but I also use mild steel and have been experimenting with copper. My work now is more intricate which requires more precise tig welding rather than long runs of structural mig welding.
Olsen was tig welding the material.
You now take commissions, and have produced some stunning work. Nevertheless, this line of work can be competitive. Can you give us some insight into how you ensure that clients choose you to produce commissioned work?
I'm purely in competition with myself and although I'm aware of other metal artists work, I have my own style and have been lucky enough to attract customers that genuinely like what I do.
What are some of the challenges that come with running your own business, in comparison to working for a firm as you previously did?
The biggest challenge that comes with being a self employed metal artist is regular cashflow. There is more pressure now than ever before to succeed when I'm self reliant to keep paying the bills, etc. I have many overheads and need to keep a close eye on welding supplies, raw materials and a wide range of consumables.
Welding supplies and raw materials for metal art.
With not having the safety net of working for a company the pressure of sick days is increased due to not having any income and taking holidays is rare. Having said that, the job satisfaction I get and the creative buzz is second to none! Being my own boss is the best move I've made, perhaps for now not financially but 100% mentally. I'm in a much more positive frame of mind now in my work life and receiving positive feedback from customers gives me true job satisfaction.
These are a few progress pictures of the sparkplug planes, Olsen has been making these for quite a few years, always used sparkplugs and various knives.
Beyond a welding machine, what items and tools do you consider essential to your trade?
I have a huge range of tools that I've learnt to use over the years including: drills, grinders, rotary tools, sanding pads and polishing compounds along with normal workshop hand tools, the list goes on and on! I use all of these every day so they are all essential to get the high quality finish that I strive for.
Olsen’ s workshop
What advice would you offer to a young person looking to join the welding trade, as a metal artist in particular?
Try to find your own style whilst being inspired by others and always stay humble. Practice at every opportunity to refine your craft and don't be afraid to ask what you may think are stupid questions. Every day is a school day!
Olsen' s metal art works
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