We had the good fortune of connecting with Butch Lee and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Butch, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I was initially assessed by a colleague as having ” more guts than a whale”. While I would say that is overstated, the inclination to take on a challenge and assess the risk and reward from a personal and entrepreneurial business perspective is key to not only succeeding, but driving you to excel. If you don’t like trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone – “dancing on the wire” – don’t! I know that personally I take a measured and analytic, ( sometimes cautious), approach at the beginning of each project when I have the initial contact with a prospective client. I try to follow my instincts – do I feel comfortable with the client – the scope of work – timelines? As a creative person – (which we all are to varying degrees) – the end result of my efforts and how they satisfy my vision and attain the desired outcome for my client are to a large extent dictated by these initial assessments.
If the work is doable- (more to follow on that) – the client has reasonable expectations from both a functional /timeline and design perspective – and the money is right for both parties – then in my case I generate a quotation and any requisite sketches / samples and do a submission. That is the point of initial risk. I always ask for a certain amount of artistic license so that if the process moves forward, I can create on the fly so to speak. Many times – actually most of the time – I find the process generates new methodologies and abilities if I approach it from an open and curious position. Don’t get stuck in the rut of ” that worked and so that’s how I will always do that ” mindset! Your skills and thought process are always building on your existing abilities and should continue to improve – take a chance to try new concepts or ways of manipulating the process – that is the risk and reward part of the endeavor. Be cognizant that straying too far off the path may lead to a clients dissatisfaction and always keep them in the loop on larger design changes you might like to incorporate. Minimize the risk for them – not you. Not everyone appreciates the ebb and flows of creativity and what results from your vision!
My dictate to the client is always that the work I do is done for them in the end – they will view it much more than I – it needs to make them happy . I always ask for their input or references at the initial design phase and try to incorporate as much as possible of their desires – as long as it does not impact the functionality of the piece. The liability from the functional standpoint is mine on a project and must be integrated into the design, even over the clients or their representatives input. If you as the creator / builder do not feel comfortable that functionality is present then redesign until it is. Mitigation of risk is not risk aversion – it is digging deeper to find the workable solution that allows you to achieve the desired outcome that works for all participants in the process. In my case that could be the owner – an architect – a designer – a builder – a tradesman – a construction site supervisor. I’ve dealt with all of these entities and know that they all come from a different perspective and have varying outlooks on things!
To sum up – risk for me is the ability to envision an end result in the creative process and manage the expectations to attain that result. I have to give the client more that they anticipated and in the end have them thank me for working with them – then I have received the reward that is the result of the risk!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I grew up in a farm setting in rural Illinois which dictated to a large extent who I would be personally and professionally. Art was not part of my initial life journey, but hard work, creativity, an appreciation of nature and a willingness to think outside the box were all in that initial mix that would contribute to my final path.
I became intrigued and involved in blacksmithing – from a woodworking perspective!
I did custom wood projects and the ability to make my own tools and hardware for my works seems to be a good idea. Long story short – wood and fire don’t play together well in the same small shop and I ended up focusing on metal. I became what is now referred to as an Artist – Blacksmith since I decided in the very beginning to do unique and hot forged works of my own design. My focus has always been on larger works of an architectural nature – I like the bigger pallet of railings / gates / furniture / hardware, that allow me to incorporate more of nature into the designs. Coincidentally, much of blacksmithing as regards functional pieces, has its basis in nature. Scrolls , twists, joinery, and many other parts of architectural works, are organic in form and are derived from vines and other plant based imagery. If done correctly – these design elements appeal to us because they have the symmetry we relate to in our natural environs.
The ability to take the plasticity of 2000 degree metal and form it into something that endures and has intrinsic beauty is a source of never ending wonder to me.
I ‘m pretty basic in my approach to life and my work process. Stay down to earth and worry about the results – not the message.
An open mind, work ethic , and helpful approach is what makes my interactions with others productive – everything I create is a collaborative effort!
I learned from some of the best what the basic tenets of my craft are and got exposure to a number of different approaches to technique and methodologies , and have been fortunate to stay in the game long enough to have evolved and created my own processes and path. Nothing is easy about self employment – your works – your abilities – your drive – your late nights and early mornings – putting design on a blank sheet of paper – worrying about enough money to finish a project – paying yourself last- meeting timelines while still exceeding a clients and your own expectations – what is easy is usually the worst path – ( you either didn’t over achieve or you didn’t learn anything new) – the ability to overcome challenges – these processes are what pushes us to get better and create more effectively. The process drives you – thinking about doing something is not productive – doing is- while you are creating the solution to a problem or a new methodology will usually occur – not in your head at a desk but when you are hands on.
I do my best to create unique, perceptive, functional , and artistic works that improve my clients lives and that have the potential to last for generations.
Stay humble and curious!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Garden of the Gods – Rock Ledge Ranch Historical Site – Pikes Peak – La Casa Fiesta in Monument for margs and great mexican food – Roman Villa for pizza – Ride the Harleys out to wherever!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
In the beginning of my journey I was fortunate to study with and be exposed some incredible teachers, ( in what at the time was a hobby) – Robb Gunter – Francis Whitaker – Nahum Hersom – Fred Crist – Andy Morris and more. I have learned from everyone in the craft that I have been exposed to including those I have taught – those with no preconfigured parameters are sometimes the best at getting you out of your own box!
Without my wife and family and their support it would never have happened – we all need not only a professional support group to exceed – we absolutely must have people who care about us personally during the inevitable ups and downs of life itself to make it worthwhile.
With a sound base of knowledge, input, and caring from these folks and others, I have been able to craft a career with accomplishments and physical works that are far above what I could have envisioned or attained on my own.