HER | The Art of the Arc: Jill Yates shows her mettle working with metal

Jill Yates, who teaches functional welding for Texarkana College, says though the field can be intimidating, female welders "are typically known for having a higher level of skill."
Jill Yates, who teaches functional welding for Texarkana College, says though the field can be intimidating, female welders "are typically known for having a higher level of skill."

One local woman is cutting her way through a male-dominated industry one sheet of carbon steel at a time.

Jill Yates, the program coordinator and instructor for Texarkana College's welding department, has led the school's program at TexAmericas Center for the past two years. She said it was a little 'weird' when she first began to teach welding, but that she hasn't let that slow her down one bit.

"It can be a little intimidating. It definitely takes a special breed to be able to come into this kind of environment and do well," Jill said. "You definitely have to have a thick skin. So it can be very challenging, but women welders are typically known for having a higher level of skill. So they (some men) may talk crap at first, but once they see what you can do, they shut up pretty quick."

She said she had one issue about 10 years ago, but not much since then.

"The more years pass, the more people know who you are, they know your background, they've seen your work, they've seen the product you put out and it gets a little easier," she said. "But that is one thing I have to tell the females before they get out into the work industry. I tell them to have confidence in yourself. Just because somebody comes over to your booth and says try it this way, try it that way, don't take that as a slap. You keep doing your job. They will accept you when they see you work just as hard, just as fast and just as good."

Although Jill teaches functional welding, she comes from a background on the art side of the craft.

"That's what I was initially interested in all through high school. Everything was all art-related," Jill said. "Mrs. Olson was my art teacher at Pleasant Grove and I had a key to the art department. That's how into it I was.

"As I grew up in that, I started doing clay and things like that, I wanted to get into metal. I had no idea how to make that happen."

She said she started looking at pictures and videos of various types of metal working.

"I just really took it from there. My family helped out a ton, because as soon as they found out I wanted to go to welding school, they all chipped in and bought me a hood and gloves and paid my tuition and here we are," she said. "I got into the clay through art class and then metal. So I just kind of climbed up the ladder from beginner to metalwork."

Jill's first project was an outdoor lamp that looked like a tree.

"I had a sketch of an old dead-looking tree with holes in it and I wanted to put a light bulb in the bottom of it," she said. She cut some scrap metal, bent it, tacked it all together and went to Lowe's to buy an outdoor light kit for the lamp.

"And boom. It was done," she said.

Jill gave the lamp away, but she said the initial sketch got her interested in welding.

"I wanted to see it made out of metal and see it rust over time and blend into the natural elements, but light up at night," she said.

Since then, she's created projects for Susan G. Komen, the Twice as Nice Wine Festival, the Masons and the Boy Scouts. She also made crosses for local churches. Jill said she has handcrafted dozens of metal roses and that she teaches her students how to make them for Valentines Day, Christmas and Mother's Day.

A sculpture featuring metal flowers that she and her class created together was recently installed at the Bringle Lake Art Project. She said her work is nature-based and that most of the time, that's where she draws her inspiration.

"Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and usually that's when I'm sitting in the backyard just listening to the bugs and the birds and feeding the chickens and the horses and I'll just get an idea," she said. "Sometimes I see something somebody else did and that sparks an idea for how I can make it better or how I could change it. Use their idea and mine at the same time. A lot of times it just comes out of necessity. Somebody comes in and says they need a way to make something work, so we just stand around and look at it for a little while and try to visualize things that we could do. Sometimes we get our best ideas out of those."

Jill said she doesn't sell a lot of her work because many of the projects she works on are done on TC hours.

"I don't charge personal labor for stuff like that," she said. "If I make it at home on my own time, then I can charge regular prices, which I have done a few times. But I don't have everything I need at home yet."

She said she has found strength in her art and that she encourages her female students, which she has seen more and more of in recent years, to hold their ground and keep on welding.

"There's a lot of money in it and there's a lot more women out there now that are bringing home the bacon, and they want to step up their game," she said. "They don't want to sit in an office. They don't want a menial job. They want something that is different day-to-day where anything could happen and they feel like they made a difference at the end of the day. They've built something, they've fixed something, they created something. Not just want to help their boyfriend or husband in the garage. They want to be better than their boyfriend or their husband, their friend or their boss."

Jill said she recommends that people interested in learning how to weld look up videos on YouTube and research the different types of welding.

"Look them up just to get an idea of what you're in for. Those videos are great," she said. "Learn as much as you can about the different process and go from there."

Jill also said that despite the challenges, the field is wide-open for women who want to blaze a trail and cut a path with a welding torch.

"Do it. Don't give up," she said. "Don't give up. Do it."

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