Creative Sparks: Van Doren Metal Art Workshop Review — Mexico with Kids

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Sparks really fly at Van Doren Metal Art Studio. Literally. Lots of them. We had an incredible time in this class, and this Van Doren Metal Art Workshop review should tell you all you need to know.

van doren metal art workshop review sparks circular cutter

Van Doren Metal Art Workshop Review

One of our favorite things to do as a family is to make something together. Sometimes that means wood carving, ceramics, and silversmithing in Bali. Other times it’s been cooking lessons in Vietnam and Thailand. Regardless of the final product, there’s something special about using tools to make something new.

There are so many things to do with kids in San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico. One of our favorites was trying out a new creative medium: metalsmithing. I took a welding class in college, like 25 years ago. Aside from that, my son and I had zero experience. That said, we had an incredible day at Van Doren Metal Art. And we walked out with a large finished work that could be proud of.

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Van Doren Metal Art Workshop

The duo behind Van Doren Metal Art is father-son team Lane and Alex Van Doren. Long-time San Miguel de Allende residents, Lane and Alex live just outside the city. There they work on projects for their gallery and for private and corporate clients.

The boy and I hopped in a taxi from downtown San Miguel de Allende. It usually takes about 15 minutes to reach the Van Doren Metal Art studio, but our driver made a wrong turn. Alex gave us instructions in English and Spanish. That said, if your taxi doesn’t clearly know where he’s going, simply call Alex and he’ll guide your car in.

Getting Started

We were greeted at the door by Alex and Lane and escorted to the studio in the basement. There we sipped coffee and munched on the pastries provided while introducing ourselves to a mother and son pair who were also taking the class. Sunlight poured in the windows and Funkadelic rocked the sound system. This was going to be fun.

The lesson started with a quick introduction to Lane and Alex. Then they handed out our safety gear: aprons, gloves, and safety glasses. The other boy was wearing sandals, but he brought a pair of socks and put them on now. You can get away with wearing shorts at Van Doren Metal Art, but your feet really should be covered.

Learning the Tools

van doren metal art workshop review metalworking equipment

We then spent the entire morning learning about the metalsmithing tools. After each machine was introduced, we all got a chance to use it. The Van Doren studio is full of metalworking apparatus. There were lathes, drill presses, grinders and plasma cutters. There were many more machines— much more than I can name (or remember) here.

Some of the machines were new, while others were over 70 years old. Some used electricity. Others were hand operated. Many had names like “Big Betty.” Alex and Lane took turns explaining each machine and what it did. Then we each had a turn using the machine. This approach ensured that we all had hands-on experience with everything before we started our own project.

van doren metal art workshop review plasma cutter

van doren metal art workshop review sparks safety

With each machine, Alex and Lane explained how to use it and any specific safety requirements. They also helped assure us that if we followed their instructions, we wouldn’t blast our fingers off.

In truth, you really have to be careful working in a place like this, but not everything is as dangerous as it seems. For example, see the picture above: that’s Lane’s arm directly in the sparks. No burn, no pain.

Lunch (Included)

van doren metal art workshop review lunch

By the time we had all used and reviewed all the metalworking machines, it was time for lunch. We went upstairs where a delicious light lunch waited for us. Our carrot soup, organic salad, and flaky bread were devoured with relish.

I also enjoyed the glass of white wine prepared for each of the adults. Everything was delicious, but it wasn’t enough for the boy. If you have a growing teen like I do, then you might want to pack something extra.

Creation & Execution

van doren metal art workshop review grinder tool

van doren metal art workshop review arc welding

Then it was back to work. We had the rest of the afternoon to create our own project. Sonny boy and I worked together, although it was mostly him doing the welding. The other mother and son pursued their own projects.

Alex and Lane patrolled the studio, popping in to help here or answer a question there.

After mulling over a few ideas, we decided to make a sculpture of a whale shark. It was really the boy’s idea. It comes from scuba diving. After trying scuba diving in Lanzarote, Spain,  he went earlier this year to earn his PADI junior scuba diving license in Lombok. He went diving again in Borneo soon after.

Now that we’re in Mexico, he wants to dive near the whale sharks off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. That’s where the idea of a whale shark came from.

van doren metal art workshop review sketch and tools

First, we sketched out a design on paper and then used a specialized chalk to draw it onto sheet metal. Using a plasma cutter, we cut out the main shape and then used a grinder to dull the edges.

Alex helped us run it through a roller so that it had a slightly rounded dimensionality to it. Then it was all a matter of cutting and welding on the fins and eye. For a final touch, the boy decided to grind the area of the underbelly to give it a different color.

And viola! Our masterpiece was complete! Two hours flew by. If we could do something like this in that time, then what could we accomplish if we had several days or more? We want to find out.

van doren metal art workshop review final project

Conclusion: Van Doren Metal Art Workshop Review

This class is a great opportunity for teens and parents to explore a new creative outlet. Sure, the sparks and power of the tools are exhilarating. But so is the sense of pride when looking at your completed work. It’s hard. It’s heavy. What’s more, it will stand the test of time in ways that a canvas or a clay cup may not.

Lane and Alex were fun and professional. They cracked us up while teaching us and making sure we stayed safe and used the equipment properly.

Still unsure about it? Read what others say about Van Doren Metal Art Workshop

Tips: Van Doren Metal Workshop Experience

Leave Early & Have Directions Ready: Their home and studio is not far from town, but some taxi drivers may not be familiar with their area. Alex would give you his address and directions in both English and Spanish, as well as his phone number if you need to call.

Wear Shoes (Or Bring Socks): Feet should be covered when using things like a plasma cutter. Protect your toes!

Be Safe / Pay Attention: Listen to the instructors and heed their words. This class was incredibly fun, but if you’re careless, you could cut yourself, blind yourself, or worse. Alex & Lane are there to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Consider Bringing Extra Food: Lunch, coffee, and breakfast pastries are provided. But it wasn’t enough for my ravenous teen. Pack a sandwich, some bananas or whatever you use as your go-to hunger-ender in your pack.

One Project, or Two? For the Van Doren’s family projects, a parent-child team can work together on one project. That’s what we did, and it cut the cost in half.

Further Reading

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