Ask an Artist: Charlene Anderson talks about finding inspiration, translating it into a piece, and sharing it with the world.

Charlene Anderson is an incredible prolific and generous artist. As the 2010 Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry Magazine Artist of the Year, she had a project published in every issue and continues to develop designs for the purpose of sharing them and inspiring chainmaillers, novices and experts alike.

We took this interview as an opportunity to learn more about where this inspiring artist finds her own inspiration.  Her thoughts are sure to have you looking at the world through chainmaille-colored glasses and seeing potential for designs in unexpected places.

Thanks again to all our readers who submitted questions for Charlene.  Stay tuned as we continue bring you closer to chainmaille jewelry artists and experts and find out how you can submit your questions to them.


You mentioned in your artist profile that your traveling has influenced your work, how so?

Travel provides untold opportunities to be inspired. Whether it is paintings by Rembrandt in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg or beadwork by the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania, travel is my number one artistic influence. Photographs, postcards, fabrics, baskets, landscapes, architecture…almost anything can be an inspiration. I have a huge collection of things I have collected in my travels that inspire me every day. The inspiration can come in the form of a shape, a color story, or a technique.

Do you look exclusively to jewelry from other cultures to find inspiration?  What other forms of art inspire your jewelry?

Actually, very little actual jewelry serves as an influence in my work. The only exception is the Maasai beadwork (example shown left) I collected while in Kenya and Tanzania. Most of my inspiration comes from commonplace things…colors people are wearing, landscapes and flowers, architecture, paintings…anything can be an inspiration if you keep your eyes and mind open.

Do you take photos of things you see that could inspire a project or do you have other ways of remembering visual influences?

I take a lot of photos (even in the pre-digital days I took thousands of photographs a year) and also collect postcards, pamphlets, brochures, fabric swatches and all sorts of things. I have them filed by country in a large filing cabinet (such as this photograph of corn taken by Charlene in Togo, in West Africa.) I’ve been to over 100 countries so this is the most logical way for me to file them.

I’m lucky in that I have a really strong color memory…I can see a color once and match it years later…which really comes in handy when shopping for beads, fabric and other artwork supplies.

When you see something that inspires you, how do you translate that into chainmaille?

The first way is with shape…chainmaille weaves are architectural by their very nature and work especially well in translating those inspirations. My favorite way is with color. I have some rather unorthodox color combinations that I love and use often that were inspired by my travels.

The other way I use my travel inspiration is to actually incorporate things I collect on my travels into chainmaille pieces. The Maluaka bracelet from Step by Step Wire Jewelry used beach glass from Hawaii…but don’t limit yourself by including just the obvious like beads…sometimes things that are a little offbeat may be a starting point for a new design. With a Dremel you can make almost anything work like a bead!

Moving from Hawaii to Wyoming must have been a bit of a shock!  Does your living environment affect your designs (i.e. color choices, weaves, weight of the pieces, etc.)?

The biggest change is in my work after my move was in my color choices. The light is very different in Hawaii vs. Wyoming so what worked in the tropical light of Hawaii doesn’t work as well here. My palette moved from clear, intense, saturated colors to a more earthy and muted palette.

I was back in Hawaii recently and made sure I packed my bags with my “tropical” clothing and jewelry because it looks so beautiful there!

Chainmaille continues to grow as a craft but even so, it’s still a pretty small world and I would imagine there isn’t a huge chainmaille community in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (although, correct me if I’m wrong!)  How do you stay connected with the chainmaille community?

Two words: The Internet! The perfect way to connect, stay inspired, and get all the tools and supplies you need!

What are the best ways, in your experience, to get exposure both locally, and outside of your immediate area?

For local exposure, look to your local newspapers, and think outside the box if you want to show your work. Here in Jackson lots of hotels and restaurants have regular shows (and yes, even for jewelry.) Look to your libraries, corporate offices, clothing stores as potential places to have shows.  Offer to talk to schools, groups, clubs and organizations about your work. Think outside the box..anything can be an opportunity to promote your work.

As far as exposure on a larger scale, you need to decide what your goal is. Do you want galleries across the country to carry your work? Do you want to write and publish? Do you want to teach? Each of these requires a different approach, but in the end I subscribe to the “if you don’t ask you don’t get” method. Ask for what you want and you’ll be pleasantly surprised what you get.

How do you balance your time and energies between the different jewelry medias and all the other elements of marketing yourself and your art?  How do you make sure that what “needs” to get done gets done in the presence of wanting to create?

Rule 1: Marketing never ends.

I find that between promoting my own work and managing my online store, where I sell jewelry tools and supplies (I leave the rings to BBB!) I spend more of my time on the business side than I do on the actual creating. If I was an artist focusing on jewelry sales as my primary source of income I know I would have to spend a lot more time creating, but my online store ( provides a large portion of my income so I must focus a lot of time there.

The steep rise in metal prices, especially silver, has had a huge impact on what metals I am now using in my jewelry. I am wondering if other maille artists are feeling the crunch, what alternate metals they are choosing to work with, and how it is influencing overall design of pieces.

A good design is a good design no matter what the metal. For those unable to work in silver, aluminum is a good option. Look at the rise in metal prices as an opportunity to educate your buyers about the beauty of other metals and their suitability for jewelry, as well as a challenge to your design skills. Combining metals, using colors in aluminum and niobium, and rethinking your designs can help maillers deal with the increase in metal prices.

Sometimes I can look at a pattern and get lucky to figure it out, however, I am at a loss when it comes to choosing the correct ring size. Is there any sort of formula to follow?

My suggestion is to learn the basic weaves and learn what ring sizes work for each weave. With that knowledge you have a starting point for figuring out what rings will work. For instance, I know Byzantine works well in BBB Aluminum in size F18. When I look at a weave based on Byzantine I have starting point to help me figure out what size will work. In the end it does come down to trial and error and personal taste…I like fairly firm, unfloppy weaves so that influences my ring choices.

As the Step-by-Step Wire Jewelry Featured Artist of the year in 2010, you had a project in every issue.  Why do you think it’s important to share your projects with your fellow crafters?  Do you have any projects that are your trade secrets (i.e. projects we’ll never see instructions for?)

I love teaching but my rather isolated location limits the number of classes I can teach. I feel that publishing my projects in magazines like Step by Step Wire Jewelry and on the web is just teaching in another format. As far as trade secrets…I have projects in the works that are due to be published and that will be the first time they see the light of day, but as a teacher at heart I love to share my knowledge and hold nothing back. Students pay for my knowledge and I don’t think it fair to hold things back.


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