Creators, Makers, and Doers: Ken McCall
Posted on 1/28/16 by Arts & History
Ken McCall spends his days blending metal, art, and function to create permanent pieces from ideas and natural forms. He credits his courage and success in part to support and influence from his family as well as the community of other local artists. Ken possesses an inherently collaborative and diligent nature that enables him to envision and execute ideas with one foot grounded in feasibility, the other in artistic effect. He has built an expansive career based on his passion, dedication, talent, and thoughtful reflection.
Can you tell us who you are and what you do?
I am Ken McCall and I am a metal sculptor. I do a lot of fabrication and different artistic stuff with metal. I do a lot of different things. It is kind of hard to describe. Most of my career I have been doing metal work. I started when I was pretty young, working with my grandparents. They were both artists. I grew up with a really heavy influence from them and they both attended Boise State just before I did, so all of my professors knew them. Then when I enrolled, I had to fill some decent shoes, but that is really how I got into it. The fun part was going to their house as a kid and making stuff and always having something creative going on. I always, all of my life, have known exactly what I wanted to do.
Do you consider yourself an artist or a fabricator?
I am an artist. But, the fabrication part is nice because I have the ability, with my own work, and with other peoples’, is to get a realistic idea of whether something is doable. I am not very courageous and I would have a really hard time counting on someone else to tell me whether a project will work or not, so I took that on, on my own. In a lot of different instances it is easier to have it all figured out before I go and present so there is no big question mark of whether it can be done or not. It takes a lot of guts to trust someone to get something done for you. I have been doing drawing and sculpture since I was about 8 or 9. I have always been really interested in art. Music was also my minor at Boise State, so art and music are both really important for me. I got a scholarship to Boise State because I play the violin. I have to be careful about keeping all of my digits. This isn’t necessarily the best profession.
What is it that you like about metal? Why are you drawn to it?
It is permanent. It also has the ability to be functional. You can actually use what you make. I do a lot of really tight stuff that is not necessarily all organic, but I can do the organic as well. I like the long lasting aspect of it and the different qualities of the different alloys, stainless and aluminum. You can make it fly, but it is also incredibly robust and heavy and can stay in place.
Where do you draw inspiration for your personal work?
I really like basic and natural forms that I find out in nature. I see cool design in really small things and I try to mimic that or capture that feeling. I like insects and trees and little pods that are encapsulated and create alien like spherical and cylindrical shapes. I also like human form. I like different textures and movement, whether it feels like movement or it is actually moving.
Is this your full time job?
Yeah, it is. It is more than full time. It is getting a little bit overwhelming, but it is what I wanted. Pretty soon you get what you wish for.
How much time do you spend between fabrication and your own personal vision?
There is definitely a separation and it is becoming more and more my own vision. I think I am finally getting across to people that I have the ability to design. I think in a lot of instances, people just took me as the guy to go to, to have it created. But in a lot of different instances, I like to make their idea better or capture it so that it meets what their vision is. When I get to go into my own stuff now, it puts me at a better place because I have already determined these things. When I am designing, I already have an idea of what is possible and not and how to push the envelope and what is financially feasible. There are many different aspects to design that I think my fabrication background has really bolstered. The more people that I work with, the more people that know I am not the ball and chain that you are dragging around. I usually come up with ideas really quick and I have a lot of input into how to make things aesthetically pleasing or appropriate for the location, but that is just being recognized now, which is really cool.
What drives you to pursue your own work outside of the fabrication?
It is always more fun when it is your idea. Taking something from your mind and making it into a solid form that thousands of people will possibly see is almost magic. You are basically taking a thought, thousands of neurons popping around in your head, and it becomes a reality. It is a really amazing process. Also, to see other people recognize the beauty in that, is awesome. I like that.
How much time do you spend working?
Recently, I just hired somebody. Before that I was down here a lot. It wasn’t uncommon to do a thirty eight hour day and try to get the things done that I needed to, but I was quickly burning both ends of the rope and that wasn’t going to work forever. I am growing quickly. There is some pain involved with growing, a lot of change. I am not a huge advocate for that, so it has been difficult, but it is a good change. My family doesn’t know me half the time. It is just about evaluating my time. I am a bit scatter-brained and I have to manage my time as best as I can, especially in the moments when I am being pulled in six different directions in a day. On top of that I have the basic fabrication that I do for other people as well. It is certainly challenging.
Do you plan to get to the point where you phase out fabrication for others?
Probably, and that is my goal. It would be nice to work a hundred percent of the time on my own projects. Someday that may happen, but the whole cash flow cycle of making this a business and being financially viable is very important too. I have a family. I have four kids. I have to support them at the same time as pursuing my dream, so that can be complicated to pay the bills and accomplish what I am doing. I am a little amazed that I am actually doing it. It was something that I wanted to do forever and it just kind of happened. It is actually amazing. I feel really lucky. A lot of serendipitous events came together and all of a sudden this is a working and realistic thing. Another aspect of business that I never realized is that you can be creative at it. When you start a business, you can make it however you want. All of the different avenues of how you do all of the different administrative parts, you can be creative there as well. That is interesting because I never thought about it like that until I did it. I don’t have to follow the nine to five, same old, same old thing.
What are your feelings of the arts community here?
It is really cool. I have a really good group of art friends here. Reham Aarti is just across the parking lot and we have worked on a lot of projects together. I have worked on projects with Anna Webb, Belinda Isley, Ward Hooper, Mark Baltes, and Leslie Dixon. It is a really cool group of people. Mark has kind of mentored me and pushed me into the position that I am in right now and he has been my emotional backup telling me that I can do it. If it weren’t for the local artists, I wouldn’t be close to where I am at now. They have trust in me and have been using me as a resource and that has propelled me forward more than I can ever imagine. I kind of owe everything to the local arts community.
Are there any resources here that are missing here to help you be more successful?
There are never enough resources. You have to be creative though. That is the nice thing about being in fabrication for so long here in the area is that I have a really clear idea of who can do what. There are a lot of different resources here in the valley that you just have to kind of know about. I think we are pretty set here. Garden City is a fantastic incubator for small business and a huge boon to our area. I hope it will stay that way and not become gentrified and that we won’t be losing all of our workspaces to million dollar homes on the river. It will happen, but it is just a matter of when. Hopefully by that time, I will be more established and will own my own section of Garden City. It is scary because it is such a fantastic location here. It is centralized and there are a lot of different people doing different things and they really help me.
Creators, Makers, & Doers highlights the lives and work of Boise artists and creative individuals. Selected profiles focus on individuals whose work has been supported by the Boise City Dept. of Arts & History.