When Alisa Burnette took a basic “Principles of Welding” class she immediately recognized there was a lot of potential there to create beautiful art.
But while she loved the look of metal and was intrigued with the idea of being able to create fine details, she still longed for color. . . so after a little brainstorming she came up with a winning combination, blending metal, handcrafted papers, and resin into her final pieces.
Today, she shares a bit more about her art.
Alyice: You create stunning mixed media sculptures using steel, handmade paper, and resin. How did you come up with this idea?
Alisa: I have worked with metal for over 13 years but have also experimented with many other creative materials, like bookmaking with decorative paper.
I worked at an art supply store that sold a large selection of handmade and imported paper; paper that catered to book makers. I also worked for a company that used resin on counter tops and tables so I became familiar with that medium as well.
I have always been a purist and only use one medium at a time. I never even really cared for mixed media art. But I reached a point where I didn’t feel very creative. Having experimented with almost every art medium available from paint to clay to wood to glass to metal. . . I felt like I had hit a creative block.
That’s when I started combining metal and glass.
The combination was beautiful but not very durable and many pieces broke. I wanted the glass to be durable like resin. . . but resin is clear and I wanted it to have color. I remembered the vibrant beauty and texture of the paper I worked with and still had some left over from my last project so I began to experiment with combining these materials to see if I could produce a product that would be both beautiful and durable.
The result was much better than I expected. It really felt divinely inspired. I almost feel like the art I make has an energy of its own and I am just the conduit that brings it into this reality.
Alyice: What is the most challenging part about working with metal?
Alisa: To me, working with metal is not challenging. It is exciting and fun. I get lost in the moment when I am working on a project that I am inspired by.
The only challenging part is not having the up-to-date and advanced equipment I want. Metal working equipment is expensive and I make due with a very basic shop.
The only irritation of working with metal is having to wear a welding hood and respirator. It is cumbersome and hot. It is also common to get tiny burns from the sparks that are produced. I have gotten used to them, but it was rough at first.
Photographing my highly reflective transparent art is also a real challenge. I have still not mastered the skill of making the photo look like the art.
Alyice: I hear resin can be really tricky to work with, do you have any tips for making the process easier?
Alisa: Yes resin is very tricky. It is like working with honey. With the 2 part epoxy resin I use it is imperative the two parts are measured exactly equal and 100% mixed. Both parts are clear so it is very difficult to tell when it is mixed.
I pour it in several thin layers because I add paper to each layer to create depth. The thinner the layer the more consistent it sets up.
Also if you try to mix it in a large quantity it tends to get really hot and will set while it is being mixed. I don’t know why that happens but I have ruined whole batches before because it set in the mixing container.
When the layer sets it produces bubbles. I get rid of the bubbles by using a blowtorch to pop all the bubbles while it is setting. If the layer is too thick the bubbles won’t be able to rise to the surface and be popped by the heat of the blowtorch. In many of my pieces, if it is a water scene, I leave the bubbles.
Alyice: Can you share your creative process with us?
Alisa: Sometimes I dream about a piece and see the finished product. I see it so clearly that I can see the fine details. I then deconstruct the image in my mind to see how it was made so that I can reconstruct it in real life.
If I’m making a piece for a customer, as they describe what they want, I envision the final product down to where and how it should hang. When a client can’t give me details about what they really want, it is very difficult for me to make it. When they give me a broad guideline about what they want, I see billions of options and can’t focus on any one finished piece.
Sometimes clients want me to do a drawing of the piece before I make it. I had one client tell me that she wanted something with the feel of Tuscany but that she likes oriental looking things, too. That was really hard. I’ve never been to Tuscany so I don’t know what it feels like and she couldn’t give me a look or image she liked. I was totally stuck for months. But, since my client was a friend of the family, I tried to establish an energetic connection with my client through deep meditation. In the end, she said the final piece looked exactly like she envisioned.
Alyice: How long did it take you to start earning a regular income from your art, after that first sale?
Alisa: I don’t earn a “regular” income. I never know when something will sell. I can’t make a budget or plan for the future. I just have to make as many pieces as I can and market and have them for sale in as many places as I can.
But I am not driven by money at all. If I were, I could probably have a regular income. Instead I am motivated by the client and joy of making the piece.
In the beginning, I didn’t even want to sell my work because I put so much of myself into it. It was like selling part of the family. And I would only sell to people I really like or who I thought would give the art a good home. But the more I make art, the easier it is to sell my work. In the end, my market is people who want very special, one of a kind, unique collector’s items.
Alyice: Can you share how you gained the confidence in your skills to start offering custom art to your clients?
Alisa: If I like the way it turns out, that’s all that matters to me. I am my harshest critic.
I have been selling my art since I was very young. I have sold my art to my parent’s friends and in their art circle. I was always told my art was good enough to sell and people wanted it. I have never had to do a hard sell or try to convince someone they should buy my work so I don’t struggle with confidence in that area.
That being said, when I get a commission I often lack confidence and worry they won’t like what they have already put a down payment on. Luckily, I have never had any complaints or had to remake a piece.
Alyice: If there was one bit of advice you could pass on to new or struggling artists, what would it be?
Alisa: Follow your heart and make what you want. Stay true to your style even if your style is a million different looks. Remember that your art is still your expression.
Also, take good pictures. Make sure your marketing material represents your work in the best possible way. That has been one of the hardest things for me to deal with.