Art of the Steel
You never know where welding might take you
Welder Josh Welton, Brown Dog Welding, has found success far beyond the work he does in his shop. Through social media, Josh has created a brand in demand by an ever-increasing following. The latest venture in the shop’s evolutionary process is Art of the Steel, a book that features Josh’s metal art and more.
If ever a metal fabricator embodied the term "Renaissance man," it's Josh Welton. An accomplished welder, artist, and enthusiastic social media participant, Josh, owner of Brown Dog Welding, Mount Clemons, Mich., possesses communications skills often found lacking in technically oriented individuals. Combining his many talents, he has published a book, Art of the Steel, that features photos of his metal sculptures accompanied by quotes and stories that speak to him.
The book, currently in its third printing, is flying out of Josh's shop almost as fast as the welding sparks on one of his projects. Josh recently participated in a Q&A about his book with thefabricator.com.
Q: What made you decide to write the book?
A: My wife, Darla, and I had discussed it for a while. Given the timing with my surgeries (wrist and hand), it gave me another thing to focus on—a creative outlet while my arms were in casts.
When I started Brown Dog Welding, there was no Instagram, and Facebook was in its infancy. The majority of metal artists had template-based websites, and the photography was typically subpar. I already had a vision for what I wanted my "brand" to look like, and how it needed to be styled to stand out from the crowd. A big part of that was going to be how I presented my sculptures via pictures.
I'm not a photographer per se; I have friends that are, and my knowledge of that trade is very limited. What I do have is enough of an eye for composition and perspective to make an image visually appealing. It has been a learning process, and as much as my metalwork has evolved since 2008, the photography has as well. Sometimes I think I get more questions and comments on that aspect of my work than I do on the welding!
Looking around the current landscape of welders and metal artists, I'd like to think the way I shoot my welds and my sculptures has had something of a positive influence on others. And the act of shooting has helped my progress as a sculptor. When you create a 3-D piece, it can't just look good from one angle. You have to be able to walk around it, look down on it, and it has to look "right" no matter how you view it. I realized that if I needed to get overly creative and careful with how I captured it with a camera, maybe it's not that good. Now I look at my works in progress with a different eye.
I like to think my work has personality, so this book indulges that idea a bit. The written words and what they mean to me are related to the pieces they accompany. In this social media age, quotes and the context in which they originally were used are important. The people I reference, I've studied and read. With my own words, I try not to make them throwaway lines. When we post to Twitter, it's disposable. It's just tossed out into cyberspace. In a book there's some sense of permanence
I actually included a poem I wrote well over a decade ago to Darla; it was more of a "coming of age" piece than a love poem. It was part of a collection Darla held onto of my older writings, whether I sent them to her via snail mail or e-mail, which she put into a book as a gift to me many years ago. Kept online, they'd get lost in the shuffle; kept in an envelope in a box, they might be forgotten; but published in a book, they remain accessible.
The book and the art prints we now offer have made my work affordable. I truly appreciate the collectors who think enough of what I do to spend their hard-earned money on a sculpture, but I also get that not everyone has that kind of disposable income. I've already received a lot of positive feedback from not only longtime fans that can add a book or a print to their collection, but also those that couldn't otherwise afford an original piece.
Q: What does the book represent to you personally, and what do you hope others take from it?
A: The book is me. It portrays both the ends and the means. It's an insight into my thought process and how I look at art and trade. One of my favorite ideas is that substance without style is boring, and I think that encapsulates this book. Obviously, substance is paramount, but a lot of people can do a thing well. Can you put your mark on it?
It's also dedicated to our boy Woodson, the Brown Dog. It was already dedicated to him, but shortly after it was published, he passed away. We adopted him from Home Furever in 2002--he was literally born the same week (maybe even the same day) that I first struck an arc. One of my best friends messaged me after reading it, and said even though he knew it was not necessarily the intent, the book was a "fitting tribute" to Woodson. I'd like to think so as well.
I hope it inspires creative souls. If someone flips through it purely for the pictures, that's cool too. Not everyone is an artist, not everyone is a craftsmen, but maybe you'll read Art of the Steel and question some assumptions about yourself and what you're capable of. Or maybe you'll just dig the imagery. Either way, I think it's got a little something for everyone.
And the title is kind of a play on words from two different angles: the obvious (and more important) being that I create art out of steel. But it's also a sort of a tongue-in-cheek reference to all the people that have ripped off my work, either by copy/pasting pictures and claiming them as their own (an odd phenomenon on both Facebook and Instagram), or literally poaching a design.
Q: What has the reaction been?
A: Very positive. Everyone who has reached out to me after getting their copy has loved it.
Q: How are you promoting it?
A: Originally, we were going to publish 50 books, but those sold out almost immediately. I've pushed it through the usual suspects: Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, and Facebook. There's no budget for advertising, but I have great fans that help me spread the word. We've now made two additional runs to keep the book in stock.
Q: Brown Dog Welding has a large following, and you've been successful in launching various BDW items. Was this your vision when you first opened shop, or was this an evolutionary development? What have been your keys to success?
A: The extent of my vision was my idea for how Brown Dog Welding would be styled, both artistically and as a brand. I knew that I wanted a cool and unique logo, nothing cookie-cutter. Maybe one day people would want to wear it, but if they didn't, I'd still be proud of it, it would still be part of me. Then over the last few years I've commissioned art for the shirts and hats from some of my favorite artists like Max Grundy, David Lozeau, and Keven Carter. All BDW shirts are American-made, which is important to me. Being on medical leave for the last year, I've tried to focus on what I could do to build my brand aside from the metal. While the book was part of that, so were new shirts, hats, stickers, and even a limited number of signed 11x17 prints of several of my sculptures—again, in an effort to make the art accessible and affordable to more people.
I don't know how successful I've been, but I enjoy what I do. I've never been too goal oriented. I just work hard, let my imagination loose, and let the chips fall where they may.
To see more of Josh's work, visit www.browndogwelding.bigcartel.com.