We’re excited to introduce you to Bill Howard. Art metal artist—and raconteur of the first order—Bill has worked in metal for more than 50 years and has the portfolio and stories to show for it. Bill loves art metal projects of all sizes from the microscopic to the multi-ton. He just discovered CraftOptics, thanks to his fellow art metal artist and daughter Missy Howard, and proclaimed them the “best set of cheaters” he’s ever found.
What do you love best about creating?
There are several parts to the creative process.
First, you have the concepts running inside your head between the right brain and the left brain. Eventually the left brain picks something out and you think: Hey, this is useful! That’s your inspiration.
You transfer it to a sketch or similar and then you come to the perspiration part where you actually make the piece.
While I’m making something, I find that time disappears for me. I’ve always told the ladies in my life not to expect me home for dinner.
Tell us a little about your history in creating
I’ve been working in metals since I was 15 and I’m 72 now.
I grew up on a farm and we did a little blacksmithing to fix stuff, to shoe the horses. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started to work in art metal. I had a class and I loved it.
I loved it so much that I started doing the other students’ projects for $10 a clip! The teacher caught me, knew I’d already spent the money—so I couldn’t give it back—and said that if my work was good enough, he’d pass the kids. Otherwise, I’d be busted. They passed.
Later he got me a job at a dental lab making false teeth of all things. Some were metal—caps and crowns. Some were porcelain with rubber gums. I learned a great deal about precision and casting, but I did get sick of all the smiles with no heads wrapped around them!
The boss let me use the facilities after hours to make jewelry and I found I liked jewelry better than teeth.
A lot of what I know was self-taught. Any time I found someone who would open up about what they knew, I picked their brains clean. Otherwise, I was on my own.
I remember studying treatises from old masters to learn. Some of it was meaningful but a lot of it was silly PR. A little bit misleading and a lot of self-aggrandizements.
I’ve worked on a variety of types of projects from pieces that were so small I had to use a microscope to see what I was doing to large iron work.
I taught my two kids (Missy and Aaron) how to goldsmith, so they’d always have something to fall back on. I also told them not to be an artist for their living because you’ll starve. It looks great in the movies, but not in reality. They both ignored me, and we’ve all managed to earn a living doing what we love.
Please share a favorite project—or something you’re working on now
My favorite is an architectural piece I worked on with my son Aaron in Chicago, on Lakeshore Drive. It’s a huge awning, that’s 30-40 feet from the sidewalk to the building entrance. There’s also a iron swinging gate in the rear of the building.
The awning used tons of metal and the roof was in copper. It was very challenging to work on—working on site in Chicago is sort of a nightmare between logistics and renting equipment among other things. Aaron did the majority of the welding and it’s a beautiful piece of work that I’m incredibly proud of.
It’s a really nice piece that won an award from the City of Chicago.
When did you start using CraftOptics glasses?
I just got them a couple months ago. My daughter had a pair and thought I’d like them for the work that’s small, but not microscopic. They’re great for that. And I also use it for torch work—it lets me see tiny joints when I have the torch on.
Tell us why you love CraftOptics.
Before CraftOptics, I’d tried lots of other “cheaters” I call them. These are the best I’ve ever found.
Do you have the DreamBeam light?
I do. And what I love about that light is that it allows me to see again!
I also use it when I’m doing lathe work. It’s typically impossible to get a light at the right angle when you’re using the lathe. But with CraftOptics, you just turn your head and the light is right where you want it to be.
Anything else you’d like to add?
About mid-summer (2021), I was working on a project and realized I needed help to see. I tried to resurrect some of my old cheaters, but nothing worked. This is when my daughter suggested CraftOptics.
I’ve had cataract surgery and no longer need glasses so I didn’t need a prescription in my lenses, but I needed the magnification. I contacted CraftOptics and they helped me out right away. But then I realized the long range, which I’d ordered, wasn’t what I needed. CraftOptics came through again and quickly redid my lenses with short-range. And that was perfect.
Where can people see more of your work?
My Facebook page is a good place to look. It also has information about classes at my academy. I still teach about three days a week.