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Conversations with Cynthia Phillips

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Phillips of Hot Steel Welding.

Hi Cynthia, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I started welding in 2005 while attending Alfred University School of Art and Design in western New York State. After receiving my BFA, I got a job with an artist/ sculptor near where I grew up in New York building custom furniture and assisting in the office applying for public art grants. There was a Blacksmith next door who I worked with whenever possible learning about his craft and all the different tools I had never used.

After working there for three years I got a union job building sets for theaters in NYC and newsrooms like the Daily Show and Colbert Report.

In 2013 I moved to LA because I wanted to explore the west coast and knew I could land a job building sets for the entertainment business. Immediately after my road trip cross country I started welding in set shops and special effect shops. I’ve built sets, props and stages for names like Brittany Spears, Katy Perry and most famously Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” stage for Coachella.

In 2015 I worked in Las Vegas for a month building a 100 foot entry way sign completely made out of aluminum leading to one of the stages for EDC.

In 2016 I flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where I worked for 3 months installing the Olympic coverage/ interview rooms.

In 2018 I left the entertainment business and traded in busy city streets for a slower way of life. Moving to Yucca Valley, located in the Mojave Desert neighboring Joshua Tree has allowed me to focus more on my creative side. I wanted to start welding for myself and building creations I have dreamt up in my head but never had the time or place to do.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It has definitely not been a smooth road. I had a hard time when I first moved to Los Angeles. A majority of the men I worked with in my early LA days were not happy about my presence in the shop. I was harassed by my coworkers and supervisors to the point of quitting. I’ve been spit at, yelled at, called names, sexually harassed, even had my tire slashed. I stayed in that shop for almost two years before I found the courage to quit without a job lined up- which is a scary thought when you need to pay rent. And also a tiring thought while thinking about finding another shop where this abuse might happen all over again.

Luckily some of the guys were supportive and noticed the trouble I was dealing with. One of them connected me with a different shop where my co workers respected me and from there everything became a little easier.

Learning how to weld aluminum was another feat. It’s a hard metal to work with and takes a lot of finesse but I got it down and became an aluminum TIG welder. I’m extremely proud of that!

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
After leaving the set business for good, I have started my own shop. Building what I want and finally letting my creative side come through. I went from reading blueprints to building from my imagination.

My work specializes in custom metal sculpture and furniture with a common space age atomic theme. I’m very influenced by mid-century design and older science fiction/ horror movies.

In March of 2020, during the initial lockdown I built my first big sculpture since college called “The Quarantine Machine”. It’s a life-size UFO you can sit in. There’s a custom dashboard, control panel, pedals and even a stick shift with a crystal topper. The two back panels are removable exposing a bar top. I designed it to come apart for transportation and have brought it all over the High Desert and Arizona. It’s great for parties!

When I started my own shop, I knew I wanted to teach welding. I put up fliers around town advertising and received a ton of feedback. This area is in need of a welding school and the closest one is well over an hour away with no traffic!

In the last year, I’ve taught over 50 workshops and continue to share the welding stoke while providing a fun and safe environment.

Welding is predominantly male-dominated making it an intimidating job/ craft to get involved with. I hope my workshops make it a little easier for other women who are interested in learning. And men too, I’ve taught everyone from age 10-65! Everyone should learn how to weld.

In 2019 I started an Etsy page where I sell my original stickers, shirts, bandanas and smaller pieces of artwork. There isn’t much out there for female welders so I wanted to offer fun designs for our toolboxes and welding helmets. Every design I’ve drawn by hand and scanned into illustrator.

Last year my boyfriend and I bought a 1983 Lazy Daze Motorhome we named The Merry Mushroom RV. We set up in Quartzsite, AZ this past January for 2 weeks selling my welded creations and already signed up for double the time next year. We plan on traveling and setting up at different shows wherever the road may take us.

Are there any books, apps, podcasts or blogs that help you do your best?
I honestly get most of my inspiration from my imagination and old school fairytale books and horror/ science fiction movies from the 1950/60s. Alice in Wonderland is my favorite book and the imagery has always inspired me.

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