Arts of the Terrace artist Nathan Hoffman traded his fishing pontoon for his very first welding machine. It was a great trade because he’s been making marine-themed art from scrap metal pieces ever since. His 3-D wall sculptures are so intriguing they’re generating tall tales — and all of them true.
His art keeps selling at Brew, a coffee cafe in Bothell. He also casts his line at Etsy, where his store is called Mindtrickmetaldesign, and now he’s planning to open a booth at the next Edmonds Art Festival, which runs annually in June.
The 27-year-old Hoffman, a 2008 graduate of Mountlake Terrace High School, on Sept. 23 won “best of show” in the 3-D category during the Arts of the Terrace juried art show. His entry, “The Giant Pacific Octopus,” will remain on display — along with other Arts of the Terrace entries — at the Mountlake Terrace Library through Sunday, Oct. 9.
Like all of his work, Hoffman’s winning masterpiece is made from an eclectic pool of scrap metal parts that he welded together. The Octopus has eight bicycle-chain legs, a bulbous metal head with back-lighting, and metal cogs around the neck. Supported by a sturdy frame, the ocean-themed backdrop is made of flat metal and looks like seaweed floating in watery waves.
“I look for things that catch my eye,” Hoffman said of his work. These days, to collect his art supplies, he skips the supply stores in favor of Lynnwood Recycling Center, off Highway 99. There, he fishes around the yard for metal treasures that will inspire him.
Hoffman said he might be galvanized by tools or other odd shapes that he discovers in the scrap yard. He said sometimes he’ll find one piece of metal and base the whole art project off of it.
He first heard about the Arts of the Terrace competition from a variety of sources, one being his grandmother, Sally Smelter. She had entered her paintings in that same art show three years ago. While other family members also show artistic inclinations, none of them have won any competitions — until Hoffman reeled in both first place in the 3-D category and Best of Show honors for the MLT show.
“Being so close to the Puget Sound I’ve always had a fascination for marine life,” explained Hoffman, who patterns most of his artistic creations after vertebrates and cephalopods.
As a fly fisherman, he’s had many sports fishing experiences and has hunted for squid. Yet Hoffman said he is also inspired from watching National Geographic on TV when he was a child. Only later in life did he learn to appreciate working with metal.
In his spare time, Hoffman works on cars but when he enrolled in a machine program at Sno-Isle Tech in Mukilteo, that’s when everything began to click for him artistically. He taught himself how to weld by watching YouTube videos. He then polished his metal fabrication craft with technical advice he received from welder friends.
For his very first project, he made a small rectangular frame out of square steel tubing. Then used screws to create little fishes.
“I found parts in my garage that I thought I could make into something real cool,” he said. “So I made this little thing with a couple little fish and brought it into my roommates and they said ‘wow, that’s really cool!'”
Hoffman lives with two roommates in a three-bedroom house in Edmonds. The three hung Hoffman’s first welded creation in their bathroom.
Now that his scrap metal creations are rewarding Hoffman with more and more popularity in the larger art community, he would like to inspire others to find their own artistic niche as well.
“Find something that works for you,” he said. “I’m not good at drawing. I’m not good at painting but I can put scrap metal together and make it look like cool animals.”
While he’s showing early success as an artist, Hoffman still works as a groomer at Petco, in Lynnwood, off 196th Street Southwest.
“There is definitely an artistic element to grooming. But the art is quite unrelated to working with metal,” said Hoffman, adding that he finds designing three-dimensional works with metal much more pleasurable.
— By Tami Jackson
Tami Jackson is a freelance writer who lives in Mountlake Terrace