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A few years ago Kevin Stone, decided to combine years of welding experience with his inherent artistic skill to create large-scale stainless steel sculptures. He first gained notoriety in 2006 with the unveiling of “Power and Authority”, a massive 20-foot-tall eagle poised to pounce on its prey. Such was the impact of the sculpture that people began making the journey to Stone’s yard in Chilliwack, British Columbia to see his second piece—an even larger and more detailed bald eagle called the “Power of Flight”.
However, by that time Stone was already working on his next project, the 35-foot-long “Chinese Imperial Water Dragon”. The artist worked seven days a week for almost two years to fashion approximately 3,500 square feet of 16-gauge, 304 stainless steel material into one of the largest and most impressive welded sculptures in the world.
Since then, Stone has gone on to create a variety of welded pieces, from small hummingbirds to large totem poles. You will notice, however, that the eagle is a recurring theme in Stone’s repertoire. This is not surprising given Stone’s upbringing in British Columbia. As a youth he developed an appreciation and fascination with the region’s wildlife, especially the bald eagle. “I have always found the bald eagle to be an inspiration to me both artistically and spiritually. They signify incredible power and dominance in their environment, and yet at the same time are the most graceful, beautiful, and elegant species of bird I have observed,” said Stone.
Stone trained as a TIG welder at Camosun College in Victoria, BC, Canada. He refined his skills by welding everything from structural steel to pharmaceutical equipment, and eventually became a senior fabricator. That’s when he got a special offer. Having heard that Stone had practiced drawing since he was a kid, his employers asked him to create a rooftop gargoyle sculpture to advertise their welders’ skills. That experience spurred him to become an independent artist in 2005. The positive media coverage at the unveiling of “Power and Authority” in 2006 got him the financial backing to buy new equipment and weld the “Power of Flight.” Today, he continues to create one-of-a-kind, stainless steel works of art at his Metal Animation Studio.
It may sound like Kevin Stone lucked into his dream job, but that would be ignoring almost two decades of professional welding and an even longer period of time honing his skills as an artist. The artist notes that practice is key if you want to take advantage of an opportunity like the one he received. “Practice your trade skills,” says Stone. “I have 18 years of welding experience, which allows me to weld stainless. It’s not easy and takes a lot of practice. If you’re doing any artwork, practice drawing. It helps you visualize. Drawing can actually help sculpting dramatically because it helps lock in and define our vision.”
That combination of welding acumen and artistic vision is manifested in Stone’s process. When he begins a new sculpture, Stone takes photos and does some preliminary research and design. However, his creations are largely built from his imagination. “I have a blueprint in my head that I follow,” he says. “I visualize five to ten steps ahead of what I’m working on. I picture what the overall shape will be and try to think of something that will fit inside that shape, yet be structurally strong.” To help with fit up, and save both time and material, he works out the details on paper. After he finishes one piece of stainless, he’ll cut a piece of paper to represent the next piece and ensure it fits perfectly before transferring it to another piece of stainless.
Stone cuts each piece by hand using a power shear or a grinder with a cutoff wheel. Then, he carefully fits and tack welds them into place with a TIG welding machine. His first tack welds are several inches apart. When he’s satisfied with the fit-up, he adds more tack welds between the first ones until there are welds about every half inch along the joint. He finishes welding about 10 inches of material before moving on to a separate section. This ensures a good fit and avoids the overheating of thin stainless steel parts. After all the welding is complete, Stone grinds down the welds and starts polishing the metal with progressively finer grit polishing pads until he gets a mirror finish.
Stone notes that thin stainless can be tricky to weld. Since stainless steel is a much better insulator than carbon steel, keeping a low heat input is crucial if you want to avoid bluing the surface or burning through. The polishing required to bring out the metal’s beauty can also be very labor intensive. However, for Stone, the majesty and permanence of the finished product makes it all worth the effort. “Once it’s polished, it can be out in the elements and it won’t corrode, rust, or lose its mirror-like quality,” says Stone. “My sculptures are designed to attract attention, create emotion, invite contemplation and conversation, state boldly, add beauty and style to their environment, and become a fabulous focal point. I enjoy the challenge of each client’s needs, and bringing my clients visions to life. I build each piece to be enjoyed for many generations to come.”
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