Scott Elrod looks gruff. His tall, burly frame and full beard seem appropriate for the lifelong diesel mechanic.
Yet, his soft voice and deliberate, thoughtful manner of speaking also fit Elrod. Not Elrod the mechanic, but rather, Elrod the artist.
He’s not comfortable being interviewed, as evidenced by his hands rubbing back and forth on his jeans, because he’s not comfortable looking into his past — a past he’s worked to hard to leave right where it belongs. A past full of broken relationships and empty bottles, guilt and fear.
For Elrod, turning used metal parts into bright, colorful pigs, cows, fish and flowers, isn’t a simple hobby, it’s a constant reminder of how a broken down drunk turned himself into a thriving artist. How a man who hid alone in his apartment turned into a man whose works are proudly displayed in other’s front yards.
How a man who largely avoided others became a man willing to share a sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, life story with a whole community.
Drinking and Repairing
For the first 25 years of his life in Atlanta, Elrod didn’t touch alcohol. Instead, he turned his affinity for tinkering with cars into a profession, following in his brother’s footsteps, and got married at a young age.
But as too many young marriages do, Elrod’s ended into divorce. As too many young people do, he fell into depression. His introduction to alcohol was simple enough. He was a single, lonely man who would go out and drink on the weekends.
However, his loneliness remained and was intensified when he became bored with work, particularly during the later stages of his 11-year tenure working on school buses at the Gwinnett County Board of Education.
"When I had a rough day, I would say, ‘I’m going to have a drink tonight.’ Pretty soon, every day became a rough day," he said. "I became kind of a functioning alcoholic. It was hard work."
When one is frequently drunk, it’s likely they’ll often find themselves driving drunk.
"The first DUI didn’t stop me. I just thought I have to be more careful," he said. The second DUI didn’t stop him either, though the fact he violated probation and broke the law cost him heavily. The third DUI did was a different story.
Not only did Elrod lose his license — three DUIs in five years will cause that — he also had to spend an entire year in a Rockdale County boot camp program. After 12 months of shining boots before 4 a.m. and hours of marching and verbal tongue lashings courtesy of the instructors, Elrod decided he needed a fresh start.
He decided to move with his then girlfriend to be closer to her family in Washington State. About as far away from Atlanta as one could get within the U.S., Elrod hoped it would provide some relief from the temptation of drinking. However, the coastal part of Washington is notorious for its damp, cloudy weather, not the most illuminating place for a man prone to depression.
"The bar scene was unreal. I worked the second shift up there and started drinking again," he said.
Second shift is a different beast from the normal workday. Go to work at 3 p.m., get off at midnight. He would leave work at the prime drinking hour and be able to sleep in as long as he needed — it’s a schedule that fits an alcoholic’s lifestyle nicely. And it took its toll.
"I would wake up feeling like sh--. Sometimes it would even take a drink to get going; it was the only way I would feel comfortable again," Elrod said.
"When you drink daily, you don’t want to communicate. You can’t wait to get home and get a drink."
Large bottles of Bacardi Light were his drink of choice. He drank at home because it was cheaper and drinking made him a loner. He knew his drinking was affecting his work, but no one ever called him out.
"In the back of my mind I was thinking that I knew I wasn’t doing a good job," he said. "Nobody ever said anything, so I sort of carried on.
"Back then I didn’t hang out with my workmates because I didn’t want them to know. I tried to be a closet drinker."
Elrod was playing a dangerous game because if one of the vehicles he was working on would have failed, he could have been personally liable.
But nothing ever happened and he continued in his pattern of drinking and sleeping.
Unlike many addicts, Elrod found the courage within himself to quit cold turkey. His relationship had eroded, he quit his job and he had decided to head back home.
"I just made the decision to quit. I had night sweats. I frequently woke up in the night," he said. For some, not having a job would have lead them back into drinking, but for Elrod it was a welcome change.
He found ways to keep himself busy, working out at the apartment gym, watching TV, cooking, cleaning, anything.
"I thought of my brother a lot. He used to drink heavily on the weekends. But he got himself cleaned up at AA," Elrod said. His brother and mother were both big inspirations. "(My alcoholism) was killing my mom. Her mom was an alcoholic.
"I was so excited to quit when my mom was still alive, so she could see the new me."
One of the first things Elrod did when he came back to the Atlanta area was reapply for his license. His probation was over and he went straight to the DMV. He paid all of his fines and used what little money he had to buy a $500 station wagon. Life was slowly returning to a sober normalcy.
Elrod had turned his life around — reuniting with family, getting a new job and remarrying. But there was something missing that Elrod couldn’t identify.
He had always liked to tinker, to create something out of nothing. Even when he drank he would fool around with things.
Now that he was sober a new avenue caught his eye — orange sparks clashing against a black curtain. He asked the welder at work to teach him.
"He showed me the settings and then made me learn on my own just like he did. I quickly learned if I burned a hole in the metal the welder was too hot. If the pieces of metal clattered to the floor, the welder was too cold," he said. "I had to practice and practice."
The welder at work did abstract work and the idea appealed to Elrod. His first inspiration came when he saw an unfinished flower in the form of a diamond-tipped saw blade.
The first piece he ever sold was a piggy bank made out of an old cylindrical liquid propane tank.
"The first piece I sold, it ticked me to death that it was enough that someone chose to buy it," he said.
His started small, selling some pieces to his artist sister and to an art shop in Dahlonega.
"She was born and raised in the mountains and wanted funky stuff. Snakes made out of chains. Old plows turned upside down to form birds’ wings," he said. Wherever Elrod would look, he would see a new creation waiting to be made.
But it wasn’t until he found the Carol Veliotis’ Van Go Studio that he truly felt at home. His art wasn’t meant for a gallery; it’s "yard art," and the Floyd Street studio offers the perfect venue. Metal mushrooms, dragonflies, flowers and animals of all sorts line the street. Inside, wall clocks, owls and piggy banks happily stay.
Elrod was drawn to Veliotis’ shop because he saw a story about her recycled art.
"He came in accosted me and asked ‘What’s an artist?’ He didn’t believe he was an artist, but he found a place here," Veliotis said.
Now Elrod is her top selling artist. One family, Buddy and Portia Hendricks have purchased nearly 10 of his pieces alone; they’ve created their own Green Acres farm scene in Mansfield. His largest piece is prominently displayed in Chimney Park.
And Elrod has created a new life. In some ways his art has become a new addiction, or rather his therapy. He often welds morning and night. Starting as early as 3:30 a.m. before heading off to work at 7 a.m., and then starting right back up when he gets home.
"Carol told me that being an artist means being 100 percent dedicated. I take that seriously. This is a therapy for me. The pleasure of taking something old and rusty, cleaning it and creating something new," he said.
His home off Salem Road is filled with junk metal of all types and sizes. He works with what he has, waiting for inspiration to strike. The owls are among the easiest piece because he leaves them rusty to add the appropriate color; yet, they’re among the most popular. The cows made from the large LP tanks can sometimes take upwards of 20 hours, especially if he makes the udders.
For him the actual welding process is an art form too. He’s begun experimenting with different metals, discovering the unique properties of each.
"It’s amazing how well you think you’re doing when you’re drinking. You think you know everything. But it’s when you tighten up that you truly realize how amazing you can be," Elrod said.
"It’s hard to pinpoint a lot of things that happened before because in the back of your mind you’re trying not to relate. That period was a downer. Since I’ve been straight everything I’ve tried to do is positive. I have my wife now, my friends and family. I’m very fortunate."