Welding, wildlife shape Nikiski metal artist

By Brian Smith

Peninsula Clarion

Published: Thursday, March 15 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this March 10, 2012, photo, an example of Pat Teakell's metal art is displayed at his Nikiski, Alaska, home. Teakell uses grinding tools and heat to form art from steel.

Peninsula Clarion, M. Scott Moon) MAGS OUT; NO SALES, Associated Press

KENAI, Alaska — No pencil.

Not a paintbrush.

Never an eraser.

When Pat Teakell taps the right side of his brain, his most effective artistic instruments are the ones he's always known.

The 35-year-old oil field pipe welder's hands are best suited for his DeWalt 4-and-a-half inch angle grinder and his torch.

His canvas? Steel covered in mill scale.

His medium? Friction and flame.

His art? Truly unique.

Standing in his Nikiski garage, Teakell peers through his safety glasses at the project in front of him — a close up sketch of a wolf's gaze. He flips the switch bringing the grinder buzzing to life and leans in toward the rectangular piece of steel in front of him.

"You've got to use what you already know," he said.

Teakell's art is what he knows — wildlife and welding.

When he touches the grinder to the steel, he removes the dark covering called mill scale exposing the shiny, vulnerable, untreated steel below. Instead of shading in shadows, he is carving out highlights.

Each stroke of the grinder is forever. There's no way to take it back. No eraser. It's the frustration and the thrill, he said.

It's about feel.

"It's a one shot deal," he said.

Sparks fly as he steadies the electric yellow instrument in hand. The strokes aren't perfect — the grinder is always changing and on closer look, lines are composed of smaller individual scratches and nicks made by whatever texture the interchangeable head holds.

Some smooth, some rough and there's mostly always a degree of uncontrollability, he said.

Details are tough. It's like "planting flowers with a back hoe," or "doing surgery with a butcher knife," he said.

His grinder skips and bounces along the steel. His whole body moves with the motion of the stroke.

"It's trial and error — there's no right way to do this because no one else is doing it," he said.

The New Mexico native started welding and working with metal in high school. In shop class he took easily to ornamental iron work and fell in love.

He soon started his own side business where he worked through a lot of metal shaping arts, creating cut outs and silhouettes of cowboys, Native Americans and western symbols like Kokopelli.

Art and industry were tied together from the start with Teakell.

While the majority of people live in either society's technical camp or its artistic camp — are right brained or left brained, classical or romantic — Teakell contends he's both.

He's learned to look for the shapes and lines instead of the object of the art. He can slip into a different state of mind — live wholly in the right brain's creativity while still operating equipment meant for the left brain's technical, logistical strengths.

"When the two collide and you have structure in the creativity, it's a really nice mix," he said.

But the right side of the brain is a muscle, he said, and the more he flexes it the stronger it gets.

Many years ago at Clovis Community College in eastern New Mexico, Teakell found a mentor in local art instructor Bruce Defoor who still gives him advice on his work.

It was under Defoor's guidance Teakell started to think about the way he sketches — drawing only what he sees and not what he thinks is there.

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