Fabtech 2023 with Jen Phillips – Dusty Jobs Podcast – S4 E4

Sep 25, 2023

We were able to sit down with Jen Phillips a metal artist at the Fabtech Convention for metal fabrication. Jen was able to share about how she got started in welding and sculptures. She also was able to talk about this pieces she had for viewing at the Imperial Systems booth. She also talked about an exciting new commission with Black Rifle Coffee Company.





Narrator: Welcome to the Dusty Jobs podcast from Imperial Systems. Industry knowledge to make your job easier and safer.

Donovan: Hello and welcome to another Dusty Jobs podcast. We’re live at Fabtech this year. This year we have Jen Phillips as our resident artist, I guess, this year at Fabtech. We have a couple of your pieces in the booth. Thanks for coming and helping us out.

Jen: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Donovan: It’s been an exciting show. So if you hear some noise or you see some people in the background, it’s ’cause we’re live. We’re live here at the show. But Jen, tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get in touch with Imperial Systems? Did we reach out to you? Is that right?

Jen: Yeah so I believe it was Erin who found me on social media maybe. Instagram or TikTok kind of maybe seen one of my videos and found it interesting I guess. She’d probably seen that I was in the archery too. I know Jeremiah, owner of Imperial, is a big bow hunter so maybe that you know helped her get a hold of me.

Donovan: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So we had you make a piece for us, right?

Jen: That’s right, yeah. So the eagle, it’s in the booth today, actually.

Donovan: So you’re watching the video, it’s a little picture of it there, but I’m sure we have some pictures.

Jen: Yeah, there’s some pictures online for sure.

Donovan: It looks awesome. It’s great.

Jen: Thank you so much. It’s cool to have a few pieces here at Fabtech for people to see in person, right? ‘Cause it’s so different than seeing a picture online versus real life.

Donovan: But you haven’t always been like a sculptor, right? You started out welding in a totally different field. Am I right on that?

Jen: Yeah, yeah, most of my welding career. So I actually just got into like art sculpture of like four years ago, three and a half years ago. So it’s fairly new to me. Yeah, I started out oil field fabrication in high school. I got a job at a fab shop. So yeah, stick welding, mig welding, lots of structural steel.

Donovan: Okay, so you’re in high school.  You’re there. Did you have a family connection or was this just something you were interested in on your own? Did you go to trade school? How did that happen?

Jen: So my stepdad worked oil field my entire life. Yeah, my parents got remarried when I was three, so my dad, I guess, called him. But yeah, so I mean, I think there always has to be a little bit of a connection, ’cause right for a young girl to get into welding and stuff. So yeah, I think just watching his success in the industry kind of persuaded me to want to get into a trade. I didn’t really know either what I wanted to do. I wasn’t ready to choose a career. I know a lot of girls, they know they want to be a nurse or a teacher and I just didn’t really know, so I figured the trade would be a good route, make some money. The schooling is a lot shorter, so it’s kind of less of a commitment, I guess. So yeah, I got a job at the fab shop and fell in love with welding. Like the first time I tried it, I loved it.

Donovan: So what were you guys building at that fab shop?

Jen: So it was a lot of pipe fabrication. So like tacking and welding pipe modules together to send to the compressor stations. I did a lot of structural seal. So pipe saddles and supports, repads. So kind of a little bit of everything in the shop.

Donovan: Yeah, that’s great. Now were you the, I’m gonna ask this, were you the only lady in the shop or were there other ladies?

Jen: Yeah, I was the only lady welder. I know they did get a few over the years, like pipefitters, but as far as women welders, yeah. Lucky me, hey, you’re the only one.

Donovan: Well, I’m gonna ask for the other ladies that are out there thinking about getting into trade. Tell me about that experience. What was it like being a lady welder with a bunch of other guys?

Jen: So obviously very intimidating. I think my age too, right? You’re 16, 17 years old, and most of the men are like quite a bit older than you. Yeah, so it’s very intimidating, but I mean the biggest advice I have would just be like hard work. I think men or women, everyone appreciates good work ethic. So, I mean, you might have to prove yourself a little more than the guys, but once you do, the payoff is worth it.

Donovan: Do you feel like you got to a point where you were just another welder, it didn’t feel like you were–

Jen: One of the boys?

Donovan: Or did you always feel like, I don’t know.

Jen: Absolutely, yeah, I think, I mean, it took a little bit. I was very lucky though, because my brother was also, he was a pipe fitter. So like a lot of that, when I did go work in the field, I was like working with my brother on a job. And my dad was probably up there. I had an uncle. So our family was very involved, you know, oil field. So I was very fortunate to have, you know, my brother looking out for me to learn from him.

Donovan: Well, that’s good. Sometimes working with family can be a nightmare. It’s great to know.

Jen: Yeah, I mean, it can go either way for sure.

Donovan: Yeah, I think if I was working with a lot of white siblings, they’d probably be kicking me in the ditch or something.

Jen: It wouldn’t go very well.

Donovan: That’s good, that’s good. So okay, so then you’re working in that. What caused you to, what was the catalyst to this transition from doing that work? Did you just make a shift or was it like a gradual, like you started dabbling into it? How did you go from one to the other? –

Jen: Yeah, so kind of by fluke, it’s not like I woke up one day and was like, I’m an artist, yeah. It didn’t go like that. I got pregnant, had my daughter, Ellie, and you know, working out of town wasn’t a very good option. There wasn’t a ton of work in town. And I mean, for like a new mom and, you know, a lot of jobs aren’t accommodating of a family life.

Donovan: So when you say in town, I didn’t even ask, where are you from?

Jen: Okay, so I’m originally from Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta. Yeah, so, I mean, there was some jobs, just 10 hour days, six days a week is very tough for a new mom. So that’s kind of when the idea sparked in my head, like maybe, you know, I could start my own thing. My original plan was nothing to do with art. I was going to do like table legs, tables, benches, shelving, like stuff like that out of my garage.

Donovan: Like a very functional piece.

Jen: Yeah, but at the same time I was very undecided. I had Ellie and then four months after that I went and got my B Pressure, like pipe welding ticket actually. So I’m like certified to be pipe welder, but then I fell into the art thing. So yeah, I started welding like again, table bases, benches in the garage, making some money on the side. And then I got had a couple requests to do like small pieces of art and I had no art experience.

Donovan: What was the first thing you did?

Jen: The very first thing I did was a little bird made out of like utensils so I just yeah super random. I made it for my grandpa actually so it came together and I’m like oh that’s kind of fun. Posted online and then got like quite a few more requests so I think it was just gradual I would get requests I didn’t turn anything down ever. Like I took on every single job that came in and I didn’t know who I could do it. Right. I’ve never done it before. I have no art background. So completely winging it to that.

Donovan: Which is probably great because it’s helped you, I would imagine, develop your own style, your own technique, the way you do it as opposed to being taught a way to do it. You kind of have your way of doing it.

Jen: Yeah, I think if I did go to school at this point, like art school, it might even like mess me up a little bit just because I do things how I do them. So yeah, I think commissions kept coming in and more and more of them and then they were just getting bigger and bigger and like even now this past year has been crazy as far as growth and learning because I take on these jobs that are like way over my head. I just kind of have to figure it out along the way.

Donovan: But like you said you just you just work hard.

Jen: Yeah. Yeah. It’s trial and error but lots of hard work and long hours, but it’s worth it when you pull something off, right? You’re like, “Holy shit, how did I do that?”

Donovan: So what’s your favorite piece you’ve done so far?

Jen: Ooh, that’s a tough one. That alien was the hardest thing I’ve done so far, so that might have to be my favorite.

Donovan: So you’re talking about this alien. So everyone who’s just listening, describe this alien. And they could go see it on what? What’s your social media?

Jen: @officialjenphillips is my Instagram and then Metal Monkey Design Co is my website, which has all…

Donovan: Metal Monkey Design?

Jen: Metal Monkey Design Co, CO.

Donovan: CO? just CO? Not dot com, just CO.

Jen: MetalMonkeyDesignCo.com, sorry.

Donovan: Oh, it is dot com?

Jen: It is dot com.

Donovan: Metal Monkey Design Co…

Jen: Dot com.

Donovan: Dot com.

Jen: You got it.

Donovan: Got it.

Jen: So… That was tough.

Donovan: Yeah. I’m a little slow. I got to say things a couple times.

Jen: I wasn’t getting that but now.

Donovan: Okay so this alien, I mean this is big, this is like a four foot statue. It’s an alien busting out of the top of a spaceship. He’s got a mic in his hand. He kind of has this kind of a snarky look on his face.

Jen: Yeah, a smirk.

Donovan: Yeah, yeah, like he’s getting ready to tell a joke.

Jen: Right. Yeah and I think that’s like the hardest part about doing this kind of thing and why that What was so hard is the animals, like you need to give them an expression, but this is like, I really was going for a certain look. So it’s one thing to like build something, but to give it life and give it a look on its face.

Donovan: Or an expression or a feeling.

Jen: Yeah, that’s the hard part. I mean, it’s people are like, how did you do that? It’s just welding for me, ’cause I’m just a simple welder. I just weld and grind and weld and grind, and I keep doing that until it turns out. It’s really not that hard.

Donovan: Don’t tell anybody that. –

Jen: It’s not that complicated. Yeah, anyone can do it.

Donovan: So you’re saying it’s not that complicated. So if someone else is looking at your stuff and says, “Man, I’d like to give this a try.” What would be some tips you would give to anybody who is out there and saying, “Man, I just wanna start trying something like this.”

Jen: My advice would just be to go for it, right? I mean, of course there’s some doubts. I’ll get a commission opportunity and there’s some doubt in my mind, can I do this? I think just go for it. You won’t know. And I can think about a project and try and plan it out, ‘How am I going to do it’ for a week. But it’s really just getting in the shop and trying it out. And if it doesn’t work, try again, right? Yeah, I think just go for it.

Donovan: So just go to Harbor Freight, buy a welder, get some metal.

Jen: I mean, OK. So when I say easy, I guess I already have the welding. Because that’s the huge part. I’ve had over 10 years of welding experience.

Donovan: That’s true.

Jen: Okay, for me, maybe it’s not that easy. I take it. First you need to go to welding school, learn how to weld.

Donovan: Go to welding, it’s easy. Just go to welding school, be a pipe fitter, get certified.

Jen: 10 years of experience.

Donovan: 10 years of experience.

Jen: Honestly, yeah, I think for what I do, I use my knowledge of what I’ve learned in the oil field industry. And a lot of my, as a welding apprentice, I did a ton of grinding on metal, right? And that’s half of my stuff, is learning how to work metal, form metal. So it’s, even though I don’t have art background, I guess, like for me, it’s learning about how to work with metal and polished metal. So, okay, it’s not anybody to do it.

Donovan: Yeah, I mean, metal, it’s its own medium. It’s its own piece. And knowing how something’s gonna react when you put it together, how it’s gonna react when you start grinding on it.

Jen: Yeah, I think too, like essentially for me, it’s a bit challenging, ’cause you’re trying to do with metal like what you would do with clay. Really, essentially, right? Like, it’s, yeah, it’s except harder because clay, you already have the big piece and you’re taking off. This is like you’re adding metal.

Donovan: Put your thumbs into it and make it do what you want. You gotta like–

Jen: You can’t just wipe off your mistakes.

Donovan: Right, you gotta like get in there.

Jen: Hours and hours of grinding and rewelding. But I love it. Yeah.

Donovan: So what do you think– what’s coming up? Do you have anything you’re excited about? Do you have something in your mind that you just are going to be making?

Jen: Yeah. I have a couple of really cool jobs coming up this year, this year, next year. Have you guys heard of Black Rifle Coffee Company?

Donovan: Yes. Yeah. I know.

Jen: I’m going to be doing like Tactisquatch, so the big Sasquatch. Yeah, so I’m really excited for that. Again, it’s going to be very challenging for me. But those are the ones where you learn the most and you grow the most when you’re challenging yourself. So yeah, I’m really excited to take that on.

Donovan: So if anybody out there is listening and they want to see that, get on your Instagram, start following you.

Jen: Yeah, start following me. I’m pretty good about uploading the process because I think– I mean, people can look at that, but it’s really interesting for people to see how it came together, right?

Donovan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s it.

Jen: 100%. Right. Pretty interesting.

Donovan: That’s awesome. And we’ll put some links in this video, in this podcast to your stuff. So anybody who’s interested can go. And then, yeah, just metal. I’m going to read it off the card so I don’t mess it up. It’s on MetalMonkeyDesignCo.com. That’s you. So you can go there and see everything you got going on. And you’re still open to people want to commission work.

Jen: Absolutely. Yeah, I got some commissions open for next year. So hit me up a few you want something done

Donovan: Get in on this level because it’s only going to get more expensive from here?

Jen: Yeah, we hope so.

Donovan: We gotta get those Christmas gifts. We gotta take care of take care of the kids get the college funds.

Jen: That’s right

Donovan: Well, hey, thanks for coming out we really appreciate having you at the show everybody. Thanks for listening You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat… no, not Snapchat. Sorry. TikTok.

Jen: What is a dust collection company upload on a Snapchat?

Donovan: I don’t think we do. I think we do TikTok. We have a TikTok now.

Jen: Okay.

Donovan: So, but yeah, follow us on all those. And until the next time we get to talk, stay healthy and stay safe.

Narrator: Thanks for listening to the Dusty Jobs podcast. Breathe better, work safer.