Right before I graduated, I decided to give each of my shop instructors welded portraits to thank them for all the help they had given me over the years. I made these two portraits on the TIG welder in our shop while their backs were turned.
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Step 1: Image Transfer Process
Trace the major lines of the image in oil pastel. These are the lines that will be transferred onto the metal plate, so make sure they aren't too thick or close together, or else you will have trouble with heat distortion.
Clean the metal well to prepare it for welding. I usually use a sandblaster, but sandpaper will work as well. The metal I have used here is 1/8" low carbon steel (though try not to go any thinner, or you will probably end up with distortion problems), but the sky is the limit. I know that stainless steel gets some pretty beautiful color gradients when heated!
Flip over the paper and rub the back of it onto the metal using sandpaper, scotchbrite, your fingernail, etc. It's not too hard to get an image transfer like this. Trace the whole thing over in sharpie (if you make any mistakes at this point, nail polish remover works well to correct them). With a welding shade lens #8, you should have no problem seeing these lines.
Step 2: TIG Welding
Unfortunately, I can't get any good pictures of the welding process since I no longer have access to the TIG welder at school, but I will try my best to give as many helpful details as I can.
As a quick overview to TIG welding for those who don’t know, TIG welding offers a lot of control to the welder, which is why I chose it to make these portraits using this process. The welder takes the torch in one hand, and using this, can control the amount of heat and the area over which it is spread out by changing the angle and distance. The foot pedal offers further control of the amperage of the torch depending on how far it is pressed. In the other hand, the welder holds a rod of metal, which he/she feeds onto the work piece. There are many other variable to TIG welding, but these are just a few basic ones and are a good place to start for beginners.
Here's also some quick points on achieving some desired effects.
During the welding process, the TIG welding naturally adds a neat discoloration to the portrait along where it is heated. You can also intentionally use this to add shading effects the photo by holding the torch further above the portrait, about 3 inches. This heats the base metal without melting it.
In the main picture on this listing, the details are done mainly with added filler metal, but you can also do background details like teeth and dimples without filler to make them subtler. The bead length can be altered by increasing the heat and adding more filler in order to fill in larger details, such as hair.
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