Why Artists are Working with Art Fabricators

Artwork Archive | December 17, 2019

Woven Light by Catherine Widgery. Fabricated by Public Art Services. Photo credit: Eve Chayes Lyman

Looking to realize your artistic vision on a larger scale? Art fabricators can be helpful partners in bringing your monumental ideas to reality. 

The concept of artists not making their final product is not new. During the Renaissance, master artists had studios full of assistants helping them produce their works. And throughout the centuries, sculptors have collaborated with foundries to interpret their forms into cast bronze sculptures. 

Today, many of the large-scale pieces we see in our public and private realm have been made with the help of fabricators. Here’s why:

Artists can push beyond the limits of their space and expertise with the help of fabricators.

Equipment and space are costly. If you’re looking to explore a new process or material, you do not have to be limited by your means. Fabricators can help you expand your ideas into new media. You don’t have to spend the next decade learning how to blow glass, weld metal or build holograms. Fabricators can help you conceptualize your concept; they are builders at heart.

Plus, material science is rapidly evolving. It’s the job of fabricators to stay up-to-date on techniques and materials, so you have access to their expertise during your creative process. 

“Artists have a limited amount of time in a lifetime to conceive and create work. If you are conceiving, creating AND fabricating, you are creating less projects. Working with a fabricator frees up time to do more projects.” Roberta Bloom, ceramic artist and public art administrator for the city of Aurora

Fabricators are translators.

Roberta shares that fabricators can translate concepts into reality; they are invested in honoring the intent of the artist. But it’s important to ask yourself, can you trust someone to interpret your intent? 

Your creativity can be limitless with the help of fabricators. “If you can think of it, we can build it. We’ll figure out together how to get as close to your intent as possible,” shares John Grant, founder of Public Art Services.

“It’s your artwork, your concept, the fabricator becomes another tool for you to use, another color in your palette. Find someone that is as excited about your ideas as you are and work together in partnership.” John Grant

Fabricators are experts in problem-solving.

Most conversations between artists and fabricators start out asking, “how are we going to do this?” Kevin Manning of JunoWorks loves saying, “we’ll figure it out!” For many fabricators working through the creative process with the artist is the most gratifying. Kevin shares, “it’s why we do it and love it.” 

Fabricators’ creative problem-solving abilities are especially helpful in public art when art-making is usually governed by process and there are a lot of unexpected challenges throughout. Their engineering experience is paramount, especially if you don’t want to be bogged down with structural engineering and questions like how deep to pour the concrete.

SPOT! by Donald Lipski. A 2 1/2 story dalmation with a taxi balancing on its nose. Fabricated by Public Art Services. Photo courtesy of Public Art Services.

Fabricators bring diverse expertise.

Fabricators have a deep knowledge base. For instance, the JunoWorks team has an average of 22 years of experience. They employ fabricators and welders from all sorts of backgrounds to bring different expertise and material knowledge to projects. One teammate came from high-end furniture design, another has “stairs and rails” expertise, another is an aerospace fabricator. “They all bring different perspectives,” shares Kevin. 

John recruits multiple fabricators for creating a piece. Why? People cannot be experts across the board; everyone has their own specialty. “You may need to find three fabricators to work together to make sure all skill sets are at their highest level,” asserts John. “I know who to call when I need a perfectly crafted fish and another person for a lifelike bird.” Need to construct a 35-foot dog? John has someone. 

Fabricators are project managers. 

If you’re pursuing public art, fabricators can be a big help. Public art projects are complex. You may have 20-30 different professionals working on a project—metal processors, hardware supplies, lighting, shipping, cranes, etc. “If you don’t have project management in your blood, you really are at risk of the wheels coming off,” asserts Kevin.

Fabricators are there every step of the way; they are partners in the process. For instance, John provides help with RFP proposals, contracting, budgeting etc. even before the actual implementation of the project. Fabricators can provide guidance on material selection, budget, and most importantly, feasibility.

And once you’re running with a project, art fabricators help keep the project running smoothly. 

Work in progress images of SPOT! by Donald Lipski. Fabricated by Public Art Services. Photos courtesy of Public Art Services.

Identify risks before it’s too late.

Kevin asserts that his team adds the most value upfront because they identify risks. Every artist should be contemplating the risks of their project. What could go wrong? It’s helpful to have an expert help navigate those waters. 

Spend money to save money.

Art fabricators can help you get the most out of your budget. They help you get your money to go farther via material selection, construction methodology, and avoid making mistakes that may set you back. 

Fabricators also help you stay within your budget. JunoWorks worked with an artist that had been shortlisted for a project; his first large-scale project. According to Kevin, “his first idea was a great one but WAY over the budget. No matter how we tried to make it work, it wouldn’t work. He came back with an idea within budget but later realized that he didn’t like it. He came back with another idea that worked with the budget. He got the commission, but we had to work through three different ideas to get there.” 

This all sounds great, but is there a downside to working with fabricators?

“It’s a question of whether we are losing the imprint of the human hand if everything is being machined,” offers Roberta. She continues, “My background is in ceramics so I think of the potter’s fingerprint that is embedded in the clay and the subtleties of mark-making tools, and how each tool is different.”

“As an administrator, I appreciate the understanding of skills, materials and process that fabricators have to offer. I also hope that we can preserve the human element in the final product.” Roberta Bloom

When prompted for an example of a project that maintains the artist’s hand, Roberta shared Aurora’s Aspire—a design team integrated project at Central Recreation Center. Artists Scott Parsons and David Griggs worked with Derix Glass Studios in Germany to fabricate large panels of glass. Why Derix? They have skilled artisans, technical expertise, and large enough kilns to accomplish the work. The glass surfaces are layered and very painterly and gestural. They represent the motion of the human hand. 

Aspire, a design team integrated project produced by artists Scott Parsons and David Griggs with the help of Derix Glass Studios in Germany. Image courtesy of the City of Aurora.

Fabricators keep the living legacy of public artworks. 

Most artists want to make new works and not conserve old ones. It is a time-consuming endeavor. Thus, fabricators are playing a role in restoring public art. 

The artist may no longer be alive, and if the artist’s intent is not saved in a collection management system like Artwork Archive, then the materials and methodology are lost. Fabricators must be detectives alongside conservators, and use their knowledge of material science to come up with good restoration solutions. For instance, paint typically lasts for 15-20 years so if you don’t have the original paint, or it has been discontinued, a replacement has to be found.

To help preserve the legacy of your work, we highly recommend including maintenance information with your artworks. The owner can save it with your artwork record in an online collection management system like Artwork Archive. You’ll also be an art administrator’s dream if you keep this information as well so that you can provide it to a fabricator or conservator down the road. 

Interested in working with a fabricator?

John offers advice for finding a fabricator: “what you are starting is a relationship with someone. Find a group of individuals that speak your language and have enthusiasm for your work.”

Looking to expand your art practice? Manage your art business with Artwork Archive. Start your free trial here.

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