Interview: Jim McCoin – Metal Sculptor
It’s not often that we find automotive art that commands a second or third look. Jim McCoin’s metal sculpture not only captured our attention, it made us lean forward and study in total appreciation. Our curiosity about his motorcycle sculptures led to questions that Jim politely answered. Read on for insight about how his craft evolved into what you see today.
GSG: Is your background in art? What was the journey like to go from your first interest in metal sculpture to your current level of craftsmanship?
JM: The craftsmanship you see today is the same as I have done in Silicon Valley for forty years. I spent two years doing certified welding on .012 stainless steel for Boeing. I don’t think of my self as an artist but as a skilled craftsman. The difference being now my work looks like cars and motorcycles instead of vacuum quality manifolds for wafer manufacturing.
GSG: What materials do you work with and what are the main tools you rely on?
JM: I love .045 cold-rolled sheet metal; its thin enough to form and thick enough to sand and file. I use various diameters of cold-rolled rod and welding wire .035 to .125. I started the Harley using washers from the hardware store as the flanges on the hubs, the problem is the plating its hard to weld to, I bought a sheetmetal punch and now punch my own flanges. I couldn’t do these projects with out my 25″ bench shear and Tig welder, all the rest are common hand tools, pliers, files and various hammers.
GSG: We’ve read that you’re committed to using hand tools. Why the allegiance?
JM: My original plan was to be self-sufficient. I could move to a cabin in the woods and need only 120 volt outlets. It would be nice to have a mill and a lathe, but I wouldn’t get that much use out them.
The petrol tank on the Brough Alpine is made up of eight pieces of sheet metal. No power tool of any kind would have been of any use. All I needed was a few hammers and a block of hardwood to use as a form.
GSG: When you begin a sculpture, is the finished piece usually in your mind, on paper, or does it sometimes evolve on the fly?
JM: All of the above. When I start a project, I begin on the internet. I find every photo I can of what I’m going to build. Unfortunately, most people photograph the “good side,” the right side, the side with the exposed gear train or the exposed push rods, so it takes a lot of time to find the left side. I normally scale the project with the wheel diameters. Most motorcycles are three wheel diameters long and one and a half diameters high. I usually do the same thing with cars, the Rolls Royce and Bentley are large (24″ long) so I did do a set of rough drawings for them.
GSG: How were you introduced to motorcycling?
JM: I started riding bicycles in my early teens; it was a sense of freedom to go where I wanted, when I wanted. At 15, I started racing, mostly on the road and some at the Hellyer Park Velodrome in Santa Clara. The progression to motorcycles was natural. My first one, a 750CC BMW, was a wonderful bike. My wife and I would go on long rides in Marin and Sonoma.
GSG: When people see your work, what’s the most common reaction?
JM: The simple answer is they either “get it” or they don’t.
GSG: Do you take on commissioned work?
JM: I will do a commission if the project is interesting. Right now, I’m trying to get the Rolls Royce to a certain point where I can set it aside for a while. There is a four-cylinder Henderson and two board track racers in my head that want to get out. I have refined my work quite a bit since the first Rolls Royce armored car and Harley board track racer. I’ve also increased the scale to include more detail.
I’m sure we’ll see more of Jim McCoin and his work in the near future. He plans to attend more car and motorcycle events this year and beyond, so keep an eye out for his unique auto and motorcycle masterpieces. If you want to keep track of what he’s up to, check out Exotic Fabrications – Automotive Impressions in Metal Sculpture at www.ExoticFabrications.com.