• The Disruptive Designer

Jason Heppenstall

Scrap Metal Artist - Visit 09/01/2019

Via the Mens Shed I was put in contact with Jason Heppenstall who lives in the area and has a studio a short drive away. I arranged with Jason to visit his workshop/studio really just to see his setup and to understand how he operates as a creative working with scrap metal objects, reworking them into more desirable pieces (sculptures).

Jason does not have an art and design background and only studied art at school until about the age of 12, choosing to specialise in Science, Maths and English instead. Jason is trained as a sheet metal worker for a company in Huddersfield and worked as a welder using metals on a daily basis. 10 years ago he started making small metal sculptures as a hobby for family and friends, before he realised his creations were in demand. 6 years ago he took the leap and left his job to set up a workshop, where he turned his hobby into a profession. Jason confided that he does use social media - mainly Instagram, Facebook and his own website, however he has noticed that over the last couple of years more and more people are doing what he is doing, with some of them "copying" his works. As a result Jason has had to move away from the simplier (quicker) pieces of sculptures to larger more exotic pieces. Jason mainly works to order however he does produce pieces specially for exhibitions with the aim of not only raising marketing material, press and interest but also to sell them on location. He found this process works well for him and increases sales. His first exhibition he used recalled "not for sale' pieces, which frustrated visitors.

Jason works from a two room workshop, with one room used for production and the other to store donated, sourced materials. Storing materials is a big issue as he does not always know what he needs, therefore he feels he must save everything "just incase". Space becomes an issue as a result. The production area itself does not have any natural lighting and consists of two workbenches and a series of hand tools and welders. Jason admits he works mainly with minimal essential equipment only: wooden blocks, hammers, grinders, welders and clamps. Everything is made by hand.

Jasons design process is very much intuitive, working directly with the chosen metals and allowing them to inform the sculptures. He does not "design" the sculptures on paper before manufacture as he said it impossible due to the materials he uses and how he works. Only on one occasion pitching for a public sculpture did he have to present to a committee his idea, however he made it clear that the outcome will not look exactly like the concept as his sculptures comes alive during the making process. Jason also does little research and only uses images to refer to if he doesn't know what the subject matter is that he has been asked to make, as seen in the case of the a specific bird for a birdwatcher. Jason confesses that he sees in 3D and can visualise designs in his mind, then allows the materials to govern the direction. Most of Jason's work is either natural forms (animals, people, birds, trees) or scifi themed (Giger, Aliens etc).

The smaller pieces are welded without and framework, however the larger pieces are constructed on top of a metal wire frame with the metal welded or bolted for stabilisation purposes. The larger pieces can take over 3 months to produce which reflects in the price tag.

Speaking to Jason about my work, we both agreed that due to the materials not being able to hold their own form when stood erect, then some form of structure or support would be required if I wanted a moulded/shaped affect. We discussed resins as a possibility to hold the shape allowing the structure to be removed.

Jason always starts his pieces by firstly making the eyes and head and this informs the proportions and form of the rest of the sculpture. Jason believes that the face and eyes are the most important part of the sculpture as it this that draws people in and makes the object believable and thus desirable.

In terms of a tailored jacket, most tailors will agree that the lapel and collar areas (and top of shoulders) are the most important parts of the jacket as it is the area most likely to be seen the most, due the line of sight when talking to the wearer. For this reason, it is why check patterns are matched across the chest and sleeve on a horizontal axis.

In terms of my approach to "Sculpting" a tailored garment, it would be worth me considering this and perhaps thinking more about were the moulded features are within the outcome. i.e. should the moulding be mainly focused to the collar, lapel and shoulder areas?

Jason's self belief is truly admirable, however his process is highly risky and very time consuming. Fortunately Jason has a lot of photos of past commissons and thus a convincing portfolio in order to persuade clients of his skills set and ability to produce pieces of top quality. Jason has admitted he does not earn a lot of money from his work, but is able to pay the bills and he is a lot happier in his current position than working as a sheet metal worker.

Jason's advice:
Love what you do and allow the materials to inform the design.