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Discovering passion for welding sculpture helps CLC student find new career path

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Oct 26, 2021

Not only is College of Lake County (CLC) a place for students to follow their career and passions, it can also be a place where students discover what those things might be for them. For Moises Mercado, it was a combination of the two, turning his interest in welding into a budding career in welding sculpture.

Moises Mercado and his state-winning owl sculptureMercado won the state championship this year in the SkillsUSA Welding Sculptures competition and finished tenth place in the national competition out of about 50 participants.

Photo: Moises Mercado and his state-winning owl sculpture.

Competing in the competition was recommended to him by Karsten Illg, welding instructor and department chair, after seeing the sculptures Mercado had made.

“I liked being part of the community,” Mercado said. “Competing was awesome, but so was seeing all of the people around the state and even the country who do it. When you see what other contestants make, it makes you confident, especially if you’re able to win.”

Mercado is currently finishing up his associate degree in welding this December, though he’s hoping to make art his career.

Mercado’s interest in art started before he got into welding, and it came from his parents. His mother used to be a painter and his father was a graffiti artist. He’s always enjoyed drawing, but it wasn’t until he was taking classes at CLC that he started 3D art.

“I took a fabrication class, and I did really well,” Mercado said. “One of the final projects was to make something, and I made a sunflower and a dragonfly. I was surprised by how well they came out, and it took off from there.”

In the class, Mercado learned how to do things like manipulate and shape metal, which he uses all the time in his art.

“Having Moises in the welding program was quite enjoyable. It was obvious early on his artistic abilities could be applied to metal working,” Illg said. “As he learned different welding and metal fabrication techniques, Moises quickly conjoined those skills to his personal work. Each project demonstrated a new level of complexity and creativity as he went through the program. Our shared success came when he won the SkillsUSA contest with his owl sculpture. Needless to say, we are all very proud of him and look forward to seeing more from him in the future.”

When Mercado first started at CLC after high school, he enrolled in the fire science technology program, but soon discovered it wasn’t his passion.

“I was burned out after a year,” he said. “I took a year off, and that’s when I started working in shops. I wanted to help people, but I wasn’t cut out for the crazy conditions. I liked working with my hands more.”

Once he discovered a passion for welding, Mercado chose to attend CLC because, not only was it close to home, but because of the program’s reputation.

“I heard a lot of good things about it around the community and especially in high school,” he said. “I heard about the opportunities it had to offer.”

Like his love for art, Mercado’s drive to be in the trades also came from his parents who were mechanics. In body shops, he would work on welding quarter panels, and his interest took off from there.

Mercado does his art in his garage now, gathering materials from scrap yards and thrift stores where he can get things like forks and knives for cheap. He said he’s lucky to have a space at home to do his art, because welding and fabricating take up a lot of space, which can be a barrier for others to get into the craft.

While he’s trying to become an artist full-time, Mercado currently works as a fabricator. For his job, he’s supplied blueprints and materials to create things like railings and ladders. He uses the skills he learned in his fabrication class to do this.

Mercado said that the biggest thing CLC helped him with was improving his welding skill, which in turn led him down the current path he’s on.

“The trade skills made me more confident in what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s not only helped me learn more skills, but it’s made me want to keep learning new things. The first couple of sculptures I made didn’t look nearly as good as what I make now. I know I can do ten times better on the first flower I made, but the process of failing and getting better takes a long time.”

If not for his time at CLC, Mercado said he may not be doing what he is now.

“The fabrication class was the precursor to it all,” Mercado said. “If in 30 years I’m famous for my art, it’s going to be that class that started it all and my teachers that supported me. The instructors here are awesome and helped to build my confidence. They really pushed me to be creative and do my own thing.”

To see what kinds of projects Mercado is working on, you can check out his Instagram @mos_ezz or his website

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.