Open your eyes, mind and heart to the creative and often unconventional process of welding feelings into art as therapy, through the resilient journey of Rae Ripple. Transforming metal into sculptures became the outlet to her finding purpose in a world of lingering childhood trauma. Traversing the realm of trades as a woman, Ripple acknowledges the challenges with thoughts on how to thrive in the industry. Authentic and proudly disheveled, she shares insights into her daily artistic process, life lessons learned, recently released children’s book, and exciting projects for the future.
RBMA: Looking back at your past, can you provide three words to describe your life before you found art and three words to contrast those which describe where you are today?
Ripple: It’s wild because I reflect a lot in my life and I think about how far I’ve come to get here. ‘Never-Give-Up’ would best represent the past. Rolling on and navigating into what I’m doing now, even though I never gave up, I just constantly felt like I was failing. However, if you think about it, for the present ‘Failures-Aren’t-Failures’, they’re just simply redirections, right? When you fail, it always leads to something else. You just have all these different redirections until you finally get to where you’re going, the whole time subconsciously never giving up and continuing to move forward. I’ve learned to appreciate it’s those failures that have led me to this point.
Rae with her likeness of the Texas Spec’s Liquors’ eyeglass-wearing, rabbit service marker
RBMA: What is unique about the learning process for welding?
Ripple: I think everybody’s way of thinking is different. With me, I never got certifications for welding. I’m all self-taught in everything I learned with help from YouTube. I think some people just learn better in a classroom setting or for someone else it’s hands on teaching that they need, probably because of different types of drive and determination to just get up and do it. It simply depends on the individual, their will and ultimately their eagerness to learn something new. But it’s really not that hard. [laughs]
Rae creating metal magic in Lincoln Electric Viking 3350 Creative Spark Welding Helmet
RBMA: What is a typical day in the life of a metal artist?
Ripple: I’m an early riser, getting up at about six in the morning. I have coffee, answer emails, send invoices, proposals, and then work on sketches until about eight. After that I shower, get dressed and I’m in the shop. I basically build from what’s in my head and it just kind of vomits out of my hands [laughs]. I do have an initial sketch that I send my client, but it’s mainly just to show them what it’s generally going to look like. At the end of the day, when I build something, I’m literally building this thing from scratch — no plans, no architecture, blue prints — nothing. A lot of the time, my day starts in the shop by just sitting and scrolling TikTok trying to find the motivation to get up and go. As I think about my next move, subconsciously closing my eyes, I’m thinking about what would look good here; I’m rummaging the shop, looking through what different stuff I’ve got in my scrap metal piles. I’m also constantly looking at photos of whatever it is that I’m building. For example, the last build was an Armadillo, so I spent a ridiculously long amount of time studying what an Armadillo looked like. Because of the raw nature of these builds, I learn a lot about the subject I’m creating. Another piece was a stingray, so I learned about the way their bodies move and how they flow through water. That’s why plans are never needed because where it all comes from is a combination of researching the subject of the build and rooting around the mixture of things that I have laying around the shop. Then, once I get started, I definitely screw it up two or three times until finally something clicks and it eventually comes together.
TIG welded interpretation of Texas’ Small State Mammal, the Nine-banded Armadillo
Progress on the aluminum stingray sculpture affectionately titled Pancake
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m addicted to work. I know it stems from how I grew up being around addicts; that I’ve shifted my addictions to work and my grind versus other things, which can also be unhealthy. So, I’ve started a whole practice where at six o’clock every day I call it quits, and it doesn’t matter how deep I’m into something. Otherwise, I’d just work until two or three in the morning and then get up and do it again the next day; then I’m not giving my family the things that they need while I’m not getting the things I need to keep going and continue building on into the next day. Once I step out of the shop door, I try to manage as regular of a life as I can with my daughter Chloe and son Kash; we hang out while I cook dinner and listen to them talk about their day.
Rae recognizes the strength in her first-born Chloe, who navigates living with Addison’s Disease
A special bond between Rae and her son Kash, who also shares a passion for two-wheel adventures
RBMA: What advice do you have for women on how to thrive in the trades industry?
Ripple: You have got to have thick skin! I’ve had my share of working in the man’s industry taking jobs such as a tow truck driver and firefighter — it doesn’t matter how talented you are, the ability of the skillset that you have or what you’ve accomplished – many men will overlook all of that and make comments that make you look bad in an effort to satisfy their ego. If you continue to let them run all over you, it will affect your mental health. Remember that every single situation you’re in is temporary and that the people you’re surrounded by are also temporary. Even if it’s a five- or ten-year temporary situation, they’re all temporary. So, whether it’s homeboy over here in the welding booth behind you or a homeboy that’s in the office talking sh*t, eventually one day he’s not going to be there. Eventually, one day you may not be there because you may get a different opportunity which leads you somewhere else. I’ve always believed that your actions are everything. When somebody behaves or says nasty things, you are only accountable for your response. Take action and address the situation but most importantly let your actions speak louder than words – let your accomplishments do all the speaking!
Rae rocking a women-owned brand, hand-painted Della Crew Co. vegan-leather Moto Jacket
RBMA: When you create metal art, where is your mind drawn to for inspiration?
Ripple: Childhood trauma and how that affects what’s going on behind the scenes in my own life, which a lot of people may not know about. Regardless of what Instagram or social media reality portrays, I’m still a human. Of course, it’s about the build which becomes a journey – every single build, even if it’s something as silly as an armadillo, there’s a certain feeling that’s welded into it. So basically, at the time my build would be my ‘therapist’ and all that I’m challenged with at home that feels like it’s something I can’t get through at the time becomes incorporated throughout the piece. There are ups-and-downs. Where the downs come is when I’m challenged by working my own sh*t out. As I get deeper and become more successful within the build, all those little wins within your art also transcribe into your life. I’m building this structure per say, but I’m also trying to build upon this life I’m living and so it’s the perfect therapy.
Rae welds her feelings into every build and utilizes art as her form of therapy
RBMA: What is your favorite metal creation? What is the story behind it and what gives it special meaning?
Ripple: I swear, every single one of them is my favorite and I hate to see them go.
As far as collectively of everything that I do, I think my metal lace work on vehicles is probably my favorite. To create a laced effect throughout the bodywork of a car, I use a plasma cutter – an electric arc is passed through ionized gas, forming a plasma arc that is penetrable, whereby molten metal is expelled from the car’s exterior. It’s the one place that if I overcut or overdo something, it screws up the entire thing. Every time I start one, it’s a constant reminder that every action I take is my responsibility. It’s just a constant flow of my movements and reactions into whatever it is that I’m lacing, which I roll over into my own life. Since art is my life, it’s as if I am continuously riding that thin line between f#cking up and ruining everything or it could be a masterpiece – it’s an adrenaline rush.
Rae Plasma Cutting an entire Chevrolet four-door Deluxe
RBMA: Have you ever been in a motorcycle accident? If so, what happened?
Ripple: I had a box truck pull out right in front of me. At the time, I was still waiting for my mid controls to come in, so I was running the forward controls on my bike from the original owner and I couldn’t reach my rear brake. It was either I mash the front brake and go over the bike or I run into the back of the box trailer. I chose to mash my brake and flew over the handlebars. I immediately remember being grateful that I always ride with a helmet. There were no broken bones but I was wearing gym clothes, so a piece of glass that was on the road went into my legs. I had mild road rash on my elbow and knees, and it bent in one of my handlebars from the tumble. I think the biggest challenge after that came because I was scared to get back on the next day. I was like, ‘Man, I can’t be a wussy. I’m going to have to get back on and do this’. I got back on the bike the next day and just started off slower than I normally do.
Rae’s surfing her ‘07 Harley Davidson Nightster 1200, fondly named “Bonnie”
RBMA: Has participating in projects like the Women’s Motorcycle Show and Metal Shop Masters taught you any valuable life lessons?
Ripple: From the Women’s Motorcycle Show, I’ve learned a lot about the motorcycle community and just how tight nit it is. Everyone is just so accepting of just anybody that has something that’s on two wheels. I had always grown-up riding on dirt but when I transitioned into the world of Harley’s, there really wasn’t a community of that in my area to be involved with, especially the exposure to chicks riding together. It’s as if from that point forward, I had found the family that I had always wanted. I met so many incredible people who from the second we were introduced, we shared this special connection. When it comes time to ride or meet up at all these different events, you can pick up where you left off last and it’s like y’all have been hanging out every single day.
From Metal Shop Masters, I learned a lot about myself, my skills, and what I’m capable of creating. I realized that I had been living in my comfort zone for a very long time. This show pushed me out of that comfort zone and really stretched my abilities and confidence as an artist. From the filming of that show, I apply what I learned and use it every single day in my art.
Rae challenged with competition during reality TV Netflix series Metal Shop Masters
RBMA: When you look back at your life, what major marks do you hope to leave as your legacy?
Ripple: I hope whoever walks up to a sculpture of mine, sees my art, or picks up one of my books, that they think to themselves ‘I can literally do anything’. I deal with a lot of depression, anxiety and I’ve had suicide attempts in my life, and so I get why people give up – it’s not necessarily that they’re just trying to be selfish, but they just want that pain to stop. I just hope that they see my life, who I am, how far I’ve gotten, and just decide not to settle. I hope that my story might give someone the motivation to make that change in their life, never lay down and just let that part of their life blossom rather than become lost. I always just thought of it as this: that you wish by way of what you contribute to the world while you’re here, that you leave it a better place when you came into it for those around you. I think that could be the best legacy I could ever give.
RBMA: What themes are manifesting in your current projects and what is in store for the future?
Ripple: I just released my first book, which I’m super excited about. It was difficult to self-publish and take on writing a children’s book so I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment. I’m creating a full series of children’s books because kids are where my hearts at. There’s a lot of kids that come up in the challenging situations that I’ve come up in and I want them to know that they’re literally limitless and the only person that’s limiting them is theirselves. I feel like creating this series of children’s books creates the ability to show kids that they can be anything they want to be no matter the circumstance, your lifestyle, who’s against you – that you can still do it and have the confidence to do it! I am also in the process of writing my memoir.
Her book “When I Grow Up” highlights an alternative perspective on a career in welding for young girls and the next generation
My next build is for a distillery called Timber Craft Whiskey and I’ll be creating two 12-foot axes to go on the side of their building. I’m super pumped about this project and slightly nervous as well because it will be a difficult install. All in all, we’re just beginning – there’s so much more coming. There’s a lot that’s going on, a lot of stuff I signed non-disclosure agreement’s on, so I can’t even talk about it. Make sure to stay tuned!
Order a copy of Rae’s inspirational Childrens book “When I grow up” here.
View the entire Rae Ripple Photo Album here!
Cover Photo credited to Brandon LaJoie @brandon_lajoie