Decorative Metal Wall Art - Finding that Perfect Original

Just as the world around them inspires artists to create their art, bare walls and a passion for beauty motivate patrons, collectors, and art lovers to find art they resonate with to grace their walls.

And no wonder; there can be genuine satisfaction in finding that perfect piece of art to decorate an indoor or outdoor wall or round out your art collection.

That said, quality original metal wall art may be challenging to find amidst the plethora of low-priced reproductions in the big-box online metal decor stores.

If you’re looking for metal art for your walls, the photos on this page will give you an overview of my metal wall art style and a brief history of its evolution. In addition, you can visit my Wall Art Originals page to browse my current inventory of original decorative metal wall art.

I also specialize in custom commission work if you don’t find that perfect piece but resonate with my artistic style.

My metal art portfolio shows a wide selection of metal artworks I’ve made over the last 40-plus years, with links to detail pages that often include process pictures.

Table of Contents

Inspirations for Decorative Metal Wall Art

Along with finding inspiration for their subject matter in their surroundings, artists also find inspiration in the various media and materials available for making their art.

Along with the ubiquitous canvas and paper, they use clay, wood, stone, and various metals to bring their vision to life.

When it comes to making decorative metal wall art, the broad palettes of color, workability and available shapes yield a corresponding diversity of techniques and interpretations in the hands of each artist.

Though it’s not as prolific as drawing, painting, and printmaking, you’ll increasingly find a diverse selection of metal wall art in the world’s museums and on the walls of our homes, offices, and public places.

As a sculptor, my art initially consisted primarily of modeled and carved 3-dimensional works, with a small percentage of wall art.

I’ve gradually shifted the balance over the last thirty years as I continue developing and refining innovative techniques to create metal wall decor from steel and other metal alloys.

My First Experience with Metal Art

I first encountered metal art as a child, accompanying my mother to her art classes at the University of Alaska in the early ’60s. I remember the large metal wall sculptures made by Professor Helmut Van Flien with their branching metal rods terminating in colorfully enameled rectangles.

Twenty years later, not long after returning to Alaska from the Naguib School of Sculpture, I was granted a commission to make my first piece of metal art.

The year was 1984, and I was living high on a hill overlooking Fairbanks in a couple of portable yurts I’d built and insulated appropriately for the cold Alaskan winters. 

The larger one doubled as a kitchen and studio, and it was there I hammered three copper repoussé relief panels using sandbags on the floor to support the emerging forms of an elk family.

It was a decorative piece and functioned as the centerpiece of a tile heat shield for their soapstone wood stove. 

This page outlines my adventure with metal art, which has evolved into my signature medium, which I call heat-colored steel engraving. It’s a metal art process I’ve refined over 36 years to make art for walls with dynamic visual qualities impossible to achieve with other media.

This metal art technique involves using decorative grinding with carefully chosen abrasives to define and model forms and create contrasting grind patterns and textures that catch the light as the viewer walks past.

I work in stages to make these pieces. First, I grind and color areas for the hottest colors. Next, I use a large propane torch to heat the metal and create the oxidation colors in those areas.

I repeat the process for each subsequent color, grinding and heating, grinding and heating, working from hot to cold.

Sometimes I’ll use colors alone in specific areas. Other times, I create color gradients or partially regrind areas before adding a second color to create more subtle effects.

The final grind is for the silver areas, which can be highlights or broader regions.

The Way of the Mammoth in The Dean Gallery
The Way of the Mammoth in The Dean Gallery, Homer, Alaska

My Metal Art Adventure Begins

Hand-forged woodcarving tools on display at the Pratt Museum in Homer, Alaska
A series of hIghlights from Jeff and Rana Deans Pratt Museum exhibit, Heartfelt and Handmade: From creative homesteading to the fine arts.

I’d been fascinated with blacksmithing ever since I’d visited a California blacksmith in 1976 during a weekend break from Pond Farm Pottery School.

That fall, back in Alaska, I found Alexander Weger’s books on sculpture, blacksmithing, and toolmaking and began making wood and stone carving tools using my woodstove as a makeshift forge.

In this way, I learned about temper colors, the heat tints, or oxidation colors blacksmiths use to gauge the hardness of a tool during heat treatment. 

And so, by the time my real metalworking adventure began in 1990, I’d run the colors many times on the chisels and gouges, adze blades, and crooked knives, I used for carving my wood sculptures.

Round Wall Art

All this experience came to bear when my neighbor gave me a 52″ diameter sawmill blade.

I was at home making circular designs after decorating pots and plates for five summers at pottery school.

I drew and engraved a picture on the round saw blade, then, being the sculptor that I was, tried to grind it in shallow relief.

As you can imagine, the tool steel was so hard; it took little time to abandon the idea.

My next failed attempt was to coat specific areas with fused brass.

It may have been possible with the proper flux, an even heat, and enough practice, but at this point, I had none of these.

Nevertheless, in heating the bare metal to get the brass to adhere, the rainbow temper colors appeared.

It didn’t take long for me to put two and two together, and that was the beginning of heat-colored steel engraving for me.

I called that first piece of saw blade art ‘Circle of Fire.’ Though not particularly colorful, it had some nice subtle blues.

 

Heat coloring steel artwork using a torch.

Coloring Metal Art

After engraving that first steel saw blade, which I titled Circle of Fire, I began refining the technique, experimenting with different abrasives, engraving burrs, and torches.

I began to realize I could make colorful metal art using only the colors I could achieve with heat from a large propane torch.

If you are a metal artist who has struggled with getting consistent results with heat coloring, check out my page on heat coloring tips.

The beauty of these colors, as opposed to chemical or pigmented patinas, are as follows:

  1. They are integral to the surface of the metal.
  2. They color the surface without obscuring it.
  3. They maintain the reflective quality of the metal.
  4. They have subtle variations based on the qualities of the metal surface.
  5. They vary with the angle of the grinding patterns and the light source.
  6. It’s possible to create subtle rainbow blends.

 

Some of the challenges I encounter when producing heat tints are:

  1. Achieving an even heat and, therefore, color, over a large area.
  2. Easing the temperature up to just the right color without overheating.
  3. Having to regrind and texture the area all over again if the colors run too far.
  4. Dealing with quickly dissipating heat when working in cold weather.
  5. If I accidentally slip and grind a spot, I have to regrind and color everything with a lower temperature color in the area of the touch-up.

Types of Decorative Metal Artwork I Make

A quick google search reveals myriad kinds of metal wall decor created by historical and contemporary metal artists alike.

Below I go into more detail about the various types of metal art you’ll find throughout my website and that I could make for you.

 Metal and Wood Wall Decor

After years of honing my skills in making engraved steel saw blades, I received a commission to make a sculpture for a Florida interior designer’s Linville Ridge home.

It was to be a freestanding metal wall piece looking down from a high alcove in his foyer.

It was the perfect opportunity to apply what I’d been learning to what would be the first of many multi-layered wall pieces combining wood and metal.

I had a strict deadline for this commission. The owner would return to Florida in two or three weeks. If I was able to complete the piece within this timeframe, I had the job.

I’ve never conceived of a design so quickly. My inspiration for this piece was a remarkable photo of a bear straddling a waterfall. The photographer had captured one of those perfect moments.

It was back in the day before google images, and for reference, I pawed through stacks of animal books littered with bookmarks and thumbprints.

I made the drawing with two uniquely shaped maple slabs in mind, and everything fell quickly into place.

The very next day, he’d approved the concept, commenting on how I’d ‘outdone myself.’ Two weeks later, I’d installed the sculpture in its new home.

Unfortunately, he had yet to light the piece, but you can get a sense of it from the photo.

The sculpture, ‘Fishing Bear with Raven,’ is one of several metal wall pieces I’ve made of black bears over the years. Often, these are made as small limited edition originals.

Sadly, the second version of the design, pictured below, was destroyed along with several of my other pieces, in a house fire during construction and before the owner had a chance to live with them.

A Natural Edge

When I make creative edge metal wall pieces, I typically grind the plasma-cut edges to refine them. In this case, after cutting each layer to shape, I walked around the edges with an oxyacetylene torch to create a more natural-looking flame-melted edge.

I engraved and textured the surface of the metal, then heated it to produce the torch colors.

The whole assembly is supported by a hidden frame of square steel tubing. The waterfall curves over the edge of the wall, enhancing the 3-dimensional effect and drawing the viewer into the story.

The finished piece depicts a black bear straddling boulders in a mountain stream. A fish rises out of the water in a valiant attempt to clear the falls. A raven cavorts overhead in the rhododendron branches in a futile attempt to distract the bear, and we’re left to wonder about the fate of the fish.

Single-layer Metal Wall Art

Making single-layer metal wall pieces is akin to making a picture on a flat canvas, though the nature of metal doesn’t limit me solely to rectangular shapes.

By cutting the metal to match the outlines of my design, I can create a sense of three dimensions while retaining a two-dimensional flatness.

The resulting creative edge adds interest, catches our eye, and allows the piece to integrate with its surroundings.

Multi-Panel Wall Art

As with any medium, size becomes an issue when it comes to handling the work during its creation. 

Both the weight and unwieldiness of large pieces of metal pose challenges for me, as I do the grinding in my studio and the heating outside.

For this reason, I’ll divide larger pieces into multiple panels during the design process. 

‘Seal Moon Rising” is an excellent example. It’s a 12’ wide steel engraving for an Alaskan hospital. I made the piece in four panels, which I mounted adjacent to each other to give the feeling of a single piece. 

Other times such as with a diptych or triptych, leaving space between the metal panels might be appropriate.

Sculptural Metal Reliefs 

Artists cast, carve or fabricate metal to create 3-dimensional pictures called reliefs. 

These reliefs range from low, or bas-relief, to high relief panels modeled fully in-the-round such as Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise

In real bas relief, we see a single view of the subject from every viewing angle.

The artist suggests form through careful modeling and attention to the depth and relationship of shapes, surface planes, and their corresponding angles. 

Achieving a convincing 3-dimensional effect within a shallow depth is one of the significant challenges a relief artist faces. 

The metal bas-relief sculptures found in my online gallery are cast in bronze and colored using dye oxide patinas. In this case, we buff back through on the highlights to let the bronze show through. 

I modeled the originals for the bronzes in clay or carved them in wood.

I was introduced to many relief artists as I browsed the library at sculpture school. 

The harmonious design of many of the wood and stone reliefs carved by Ivan Mestrovic stood out in particular and continues to inspire me.

Functional Art in Metal

Art needn’t be merely decorative, nor functional objects only useful, and artists and craftspeople have incorporated art into functional items from the earliest point in history.

The artist can accomplish this through the shape of the overall form or by applying decoration to certain elements. 

I make my decorative coffee tables, using heat-colored steel engravings that could also have functioned as wall art if hung vertically.

Here’s a list of a few of the ways you could integrate my work into your space as functional items.

  • Decorative Tables
  • Screens and room dividers
  • Door panels
  • Heat shields for wood stoves
  • Sink splash backs
  • Signs

Abstract Metal Wall Art

Just as painting or sculpture can be figurative or abstract, so can metal wall art. 

This little image is from a 2″ square detail of an engraving and heat coloring lesson in my online metal art course, The Art of Heat Colored Steel Engraving.

Decorating with Metal Wall Art

There are many reasons to choose metal art for your decorating projects. The bottom line, though, is whether you resonate with the work of art as a whole. After that, the medium may be of secondary importance.

 

Nonetheless, metal offers unique characteristics that make it desirable for artwork.

 

  • It is durable and provides a sense of permanence. 
  • Its reflective qualities make it very dynamic with different lighting and viewing angles.
  • It provides an excellent substrate for bright and earthy colors alike.
  • When properly sealed and maintained, it is durable in exterior locations.
  • It can be cut into virtually any shape.
  • It provides a pleasing contrast when combined with wood.

A beautifully made piece of artwork never fails to be the source of conversation and admiration.

 

I made this third version of ‘The One That Got Away’ in metal and wood for the new library in Willow, Alaska. The storybook quality of the design makes it perfect for the library setting.

“Liven Up Your Walls: 13 Unique Wall Art Ideas for Your Home”

Don’t miss the recent Redfin article I was featured in:

“Your home is the place where you can express your personality in the decor, furniture, and art that you choose to style with. And one way you can truly let loose with creativity is on your walls. The options can seem endless, whether that’s painting a bright-colored accent wall, curating the perfect gallery wall, or experimenting with a totally new art medium. Whether you’re living in Toronto, CA to Atlanta, GA there are many unique wall art ideas to truly bring your space together.”

I, along with other artists shared our best advice on choosing the right wall art for your home. Check out what we had to say so you can liven up your home’s walls today!

Liven Up Your Walls: 13 Unique Wall Art Ideas for Your Home

Creating Designs for Metal Wall Decor

One of the most critical parts of my metal art is the original design.

Something about the flatness of a sheet of steel leads me to make metal art designs differently than I might for other media. 

Though I’ll suggest the 3-dimensional form within each element, I’ve tended to make the overall design with a 2-dimensional feel rather than implying perspective.

My recent work has begun to include pieces with a more painterly character, which at some point may lead me astray : )

As you browse my portfolio, you’ll find that I’ve included the proposal drawing along with process images and pictures of the finished artwork. This will give you a sense of the evolution of each piece.

Viewing the original drawing beside the finished work will show you the transformation between them and what to expect should you decide to commission a piece of metal wall art from me.

What Different Shapes do I Make?

You’ll find there are many shapes of metal wall art. I’ve gravitated towards the creative edge rather than plain rectangular as I prefer curves to straight lines for the most part. 

I like to cut the edge of the metal to follow the shape of different elements of the design.

The fact I prefer curves is as readily apparent in much of my work as it is in the architecture of our place here in Homer. 

Though working with a rectangle or square can be convenient, it’s not always the most pleasing shape to the eye, though in some cases, the confines of a rectangular may best present our concept. 

How I Make Metal Wall Art

Since making my first metal art on saw blades, I’ve continued to develop a technique unique among metal artists.

It combines steel engraving, decorative surface grinding, and torch coloring in sophisticated and innovative ways. 

I do this by engraving and grinding pictures into metal using specific abrasives to create the effect I’m after.

I then apply the colors to the metal with a large propane torch. These heat tints become integral to the surface of the metal, coloring but not covering the grinding patterns.

I can make intricately colored designs by grinding and heating areas of the picture sequentially, working the colors from hot to cold. 

Using this innovative technique, I make dynamic pieces that change with the light and viewing angle giving them a range of characters not found in art made from other materials. 

I stretch the boundaries in each new piece with the rich layers of color in my recent work bordering on painting with heat.

If you’d like to learn to make this heat-colored steel engravings, download my Free guide and get on the waitlist for my online course.

The course includes EVERYTHING you’ll need to become confident, capable, and innovative, making heat-colored steel engravings in your own artistic style.

Some of the Tools I Use

    • Suhner and Foredom flexible shaft grinders of all sizes
    • A variety of straight and angled hand pieces
    • Suhner pneumatic pencil grinder and engraver
    • 3″ Snap-on pneumatic sander
    • Cutoff wheels
    • sanding discs
    • flap sanding wheels
    • flap sanding discs
    • carbide and high-speed steel burrs
    • rotary wire brushes
    • Cratex rubber abrasives
    • mounted stone points
    • Surface conditioning wheels, flap discs, flap wheels, and bob

Where to Hang Metal Art

Displaying Metal Art Outdoors

Aside from pierced steel saw blade signs for North Carolina sawmills, my first piece of metal wall art for outdoors was Summer Sailing.

It’s a rust-colored abstract design of a sailboat, a fish, and a bird.

I’ve intended for most of my wall art to be displayed indoors. However, my first piece of large metal wall art for outside was also the first percent for the arts commission in an Alaska State Park. 

I designed it for the Kesugi Ken Interpretive Center in Denali State Park. 

This 9.5′ x 13.5′ steel engraving is on the outer wall of the central multi-purpose room in the Interpretive Center, which has a broad overhanging roof but no walls.

It’s titled ‘Through Your Spotting Scope’ and depicts many of the sights and animals you might catch a glimpse of as you enjoy the Kesugi Ken Campground or wander the trails of Denali State Park.

It also depicts Denali, the highest mountain in North America, and though it wasn’t my first rendition of a mountain in metal, but was undoubtedly the largest.

Although this and my other layered metal wall art examples are not fully three-dimensional, they can still be considered metal sculptures for walls.

When I make these exterior pieces, I coat them with a durable protective transparent sealer designed to withstand the elements with minimal maintenance.

The bright diffuse light produced on a cloudy day can show off the heat tint colors most advantageously.

Another example of metal wall art for outdoors is this layered wood and steel relief. It hangs on the gable end of the entryway porch roof. In this case, I used a color stain for the wooden elements, which matches the trim color on the house.

Using Metal Artwork in the Kitchen

When I traded a piece of metal wall art of three salmon for a new washing machine, the store owner had the perfect spot to display it in his kitchen. 

It hangs between the cabinets on the wall above his kitchen sink. With the proper protective clear coat, I can make metal wall decor that functions as the sink back splash.

Focal Point Art for the Dining Room

The proud owners of my third version of At the Breathing Hole were happy to find the layered, wood, and metal wall piece to hang beside their dining room table. 

The adjacent picture window is an excellent light source to show off the colors of the metal and wood in all their glory. In the photo below, you can see how well it matches their preferred color scheme. 

Because of the open layout of their home, you also have excellent views of the piece from the kitchen and living room. 

Large Metal Wall Art for the Living Room

I’ve completed several significant works for my client’s living rooms. Many were commissioned to be hung above the fireplace. 

These pieces have ranged from single-layer engraved saw blades to large metal and wood artwork, to decorative coffee tables with engraved steel tops

I made one of these tables for the great room in a fishing lodge when the owner felt there was no more wall space for art.

Fishing Bear with Sun is an example of rustic metal and wood wall art.

I used remnants of wormy chestnut bark siding shingles to create the texture of the bear’s fur.

This semi-abstract, pierced steel silhouette of mountains and a stream with fish hangs beside the stairway on a living room wall in a Boone, NC home.

Decorating the Walls of Your Business

Focal point art plays a vital role in establishing an atmosphere of quality in both public and private areas of a business. 

Thoughtfully designed metal artwork can convey your brand image instantly, and enhance your client’s first impressions in ways beyond the scope of other means.

Metal Wall Art Decor for Hospitals

Hospitals are another public setting where you’ll find large focal point art. 

It helps to make patients and visitors feel more at home and comfortable in what is often a stressful situation.

In 1993, Caldwell County Hospital in Lenoir, NC, commissioned me to make a sculpture for their foyer. 

Lenoir was a furniture town, so I made a black walnut carving of a seated man carving the shapely leg of a chair.

In 2017 I was commissioned to make a large piece of metal and wood wall art for the foyer of Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, AK. 

The 10′ x 4′ wall sculpture titled ‘Seasons of the Sockeye,’ depicts a salmon stream in engraved and heat tinted steel surrounded by curving cottonwood slab riverbanks.

The long S-curve of the artwork welcomes visitors to River Tower and compliments the shape of the decorative cable-hung ceiling panels.

I mentioned the multi-panel piece, ‘Seal Moon Rising.’ I made the large wood-framed steel wall piece I in 2019 for the Dr. Paul John Calricaraq Project, a new Hospital in Bethel, Alaska.

The hospital worked diligently with the architect and designers to create a space that represented the Yup’ik, Cup’ik, and Athabascan cultures. 

The artwork greets visitors and patients in the Primary Care Waiting area. I was honored to have my design chosen for such a prominent spot in the health center.

I offer several metal photo prints from this piece, including the detail pictured below.

Rusty Metal

The mountains of North Carolina were full of sawmills. For many years my bread and butter came from turning steel sawmill blades into large round metal wall art for sawmill owners. 

I made most of these engraved wall pieces on older rusty saw blades. In one case, my client gave me a like-new saw blade, which I intentionally rusted to produce the dark browns for my design.

Along with using the torch colors, I found ways to create subtle variations from the saw blade’s rusty brown patina. 

When I returned to Alaska in 2000, I managed to find space in the truck for a number of large-diameter sawmill blades.

If you’ve got the perfect place for a piece of round wall art, check out my Commission page and get in touch. I still love making circular designs.

What I Love about Heat Colored Steel Engraving

Wood and metal wall art for the Willow Library in Willow Alaska.
The One That Got Away - Wood and metal wall art in heat-colored steel. Public art commission for the Willow Library in Willow Alaska.

What I love about the art form is no matter how skilled you become at achieving an effect that conveys the character and feel of your subject, there are always variables beyond your control that enhance the work you are doing.

The wind and the weather when heating, the degree of surface cleanliness, imperfections in the steel, variations in surface texture, compensating for hotter and colder spots in contact with the support, and uneven heating are just a few of the things that can influence the way the heat colors ‘take.’

Not to mention variations in lighting the finished piece and your viewing angle.

You can intentionally override some of these; others you cannot.

Nevertheless, there will always be spontaneous decisions to make with torch in hand; when to stop heating; when to risk just a little more; which happy accidents to accept, and when to regrind and begin again.

How to Hang Metal Artwork

Size and weight both influence the choice of methods for hanging metal wall art.

When I design a piece, I’ll consider both of these factors and also the location where it will hang.

Sometimes I’ll choose to mount individual panels with strategically placed screws.

I often use aluminum Z-clips, attaching one piece of the pair to the back of the metal, where it’s ready to hang from the matching extrusion fastened to the wall. Z-clips provide sturdy support and are easy to install.

I’ve also used wire cables fastened securely to the artwork as you would a picture wire on a painting.

My round metal saw blade engravings hang from a bracket attached to the central hole. The bracket hangs on a fastener mounted into the wall surface or framing. These brackets make it possible to rotate the artwork for display in any orientation.

 A Variety of Subject Matter

As with other art forms, the subject matter for my steel engravings is pretty limitless and at the discretion of the artist, and in the case of commissioned works, the client.

As you’ll see, when you browse the photos on this page, many of my pieces depict animals. 

Among others, these include black, brown, and polar bears, salmon, and other fish, whales, eagles, seagulls, foxes, and seals.

I’ve also made designs with rivers, mountains, volcanoes, and various representations of the sun, moon, and stars.

When it comes to people, I’ve used them in designs for sawmill and logging scenes, pictures of blacksmiths, and most recently of a Yupik hunter.

Though most of my metal artwork is representational, I also love to make abstract metal wall art. However, the designs for most of these abstract pieces are rooted in nature, as you can see in my ‘Lower Kuskokwim’ design which was inspired by satellite images of the Lower Kuskokwim Delta region of Alaska.

I mentioned I depict mountains in my work. Growing up in Alaska, I was surrounded by them.

I really enjoy creating the 3-dimensional look of mountain facets using decorative grinding techniques.

You can see the foothills of the Alaska Range and the tallest mountain in North America, Denali, in my piece for Denali State Park.

It’s called ‘Through Your Spotting Scope’ and features many of the animals you. might see during your visit.

You’ll notice the wood frame. I designed it to compliment the timber work of the interpretive center. 

I like the contrast of using wood and metal in my wall art, whether as a frame or as decorative elements of the design.

 Where can you Buy Decorative Metal Wall Art

Though not as prevalent as painters and printmakers, there are many contemporary artists working in metal.

Where you choose to buy metal wall art will depend a lot on what you are wanting. And, to some degree, on your budget.

Many of the larger home decor stores online sell a wide variety of relatively generic-looking, metal wall decor.

If you’re looking for something more unique, and with the artist’s personal touch, seeking out an individual artist, or finding their work through a quality online gallery, may be the better source.

Much depends on your taste, your budget, whether you want original work, and resonate with the artist’s style and technique.

I currently have a variety of original metal wall art for sale in my online gallery. If you’re in the Homer area, you can experience its dynamic qualities in person at The Dean Gallery. 

Many of my designs are available by special order. I can make them in an optimal size to fit your space and as either single or multi-layer wall art.

And, if you don’t have space or the budget for original artwork, I’ve made many of my steel engravings available as metal photo prints in a range of sizes.

In Conclusion

I’ve been making unique large metal wall art for close to 40 years. With each new piece I make, I open up new possibilities. 

I discover and refine techniques for working with metal and creating heat color variations.

I experiment with new decorative grinding patterns using the wide variety of abrasives and grinding tools I have in my toolkit.

then I incorporate them into the online course I’m creating to teach everything I’ve learned in nearly 40 years of practice.

I’m looking forward to the next 30.

If the prospect of creating your artwork using fire, grit, and steel has piqued your interest,

Or you’d like to enrich your metal arts knowledge and practice,

My Free 5-Step Guide ‘How to Make Heat Colored Steel Engravings’ will introduce you to this unique and extraordinary medium.

And provide a framework to follow when you’re ready to give it a try.

Watch This Short Video to Learn More

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