A common thread among many women welders is that they were first introduced to welding by a man in their lives. Laura Knight is no exception. “I started welding copper water lines with a plumber and then married an air conditioning technician who welds steel…. and I learned wire feed welding from him,” she says.
Rather than welding as a trade, Laura moved into a more creative endeavor with her new found skill, working with metal to create “paintings” and sculptures. With a painter for a father and a mother who works in jewelry, it was a natural move. “Artistic welding is my career now,” she says, and with over 300 paintings sold has chosen her career well.
She first tried to learn welding when she was in her twenties but found the process frustrating and the helmets uncomfortable. She couldn’t do the designs that she wanted and soon gave up. “I had to wait until the technology caught up with me,” she says, referring to the auto-darkening helmets.
Ideas come to Laura as full-scale, full-color, three-dimensional pictures in her head. She then draws her idea, “Then it’s out to my outdoors-under-the-awning-workshop to put it all together.”
Heavily influenced by her environment, her current work reflects not only her Southern California roots, but other places she has lived as well as her love of music. “When I lived in Arizona I did lots of southwest art. If I lived in Texas, I would do cowboy art. If I lived in Montana, I would do wildlife art.”
Even though she has returned to Southern California, she is still inspired by her time in Arizona. In her gallery you’ll find bold waves and dolphins alongside bighorn sheep, horses, guitars and an intricate, colorful Native American, “Thunder Foot Indian.”
MIG welding is Laura’s process of choice—a light duty machine. “I work with the lightest gauge stuff around; which melts in a flash,” she says. Laura cleans and polishes each weld, manually grinding steel sheets so the metal catches the light, applying heat and patinas to create a dynamic effect. She then applies an industrial grade clear coat to add intensity and color.
The only discrimination Laura has experienced is at art shows when people will come up to her display. “They turn to my husband thinking he’s the one who has done all this work,” she says. And when her husband points them in her direction they are usually stunned. Laura’s attitude about discrimination may have something to do with her experience as well, “…it’s confusion pure and simple. Unresolved confusion—and guys hate being confused. Most people do, so it may make it easier to understand.”
The fact that Laura has a passion for what she does is evident in her work, and in the advice she offers other women interested in welding. “Find what metal can do. Metal is magical. It stretches, bends, melts, corrodes, shines…goodness…it’s worth it to explore the stuff!”
Laura herself finds great satisfaction in working with metal. “There is some weird mysteriousness about metal because it transforms; it can be transformed and [the welder] controls that. Controlling metal is very satisfying… and when things are going well and when the result is just right, the feeling is one of such deep contentment.”
When asked what advice she would give her 15-year-old self Laura says, “Whatever instinct you have about something, follow it.” She pauses, then adds, “I must have told myself that in a dream, since that is exactly what I’ve done and that instinct has always been right on.”
“Welding is what I love. I know it’s dirty, smelly and hot, but I love the delicacy one has to have to work with it in an artistic fashion. And it’s also heavy duty hard work, requiring muscle and intention. Good combination for an outdoors gal like myself.”
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