Chain Mail Inlay Artisan From Georgia
I’m happy to revive our Meet the Artist series, in which Blue Buddha Boutique chats with chainmaille artists to find out more about their process, inspiration and goals. We also try to uncover one or two things you might not know about the artist, even if you’re already familiar with their work.
In this edition, you’ll meet Tony Moeller of Conyers, Georgia. I was excited to chat with him because for a long time, way in the back of my head, I’d envisioned making a chainmaille portrait inlay since it wasn’t something I’d often seen. But I always got overwhelmed just thinking about it. And right when I started to seriously think about tackling such a project, I came across Tony’s work. My jaw dropped and I threw in the towel–literally: I had a hand towel hanging over my shoulder and I threw it to the floor in amazement! Here was someone who was prolifically making portrait inlays, and impressive ones at that. So, maybe someday I’ll follow the tips he outlines below and will tackle my own inlay…but for now, I’m content to drool over his amazing work, and I hope you like it too. 😊
Enjoy, and please post your comments below!
Thanks for taking some time to chat with us, Tony! Please tell us: what inspires you?
For the most part, I love everything pop culture related so a lot of my pieces have something to do with that, but recently I’ve been wanting to explore more things from nature. I love colors, all of them so I love finding an image that takes advantage of that.
What has been your biggest accomplishment?
The fact that someone living on another continent, whom I’ve never met in person, owns one of my portraits is just staggering to me. When I first started I was just hoping people would like them, I never expected anyone to really want to buy any of my pieces and to then sell one overseas… wow! I was not really prepared for that.
Speaking of when you first started — when and why did you start making chainmaille?
It’s sort of a long story. A couple of years ago I was in the dealer’s room at Dragon*Con (a huge sci-fi/pop culture convention in Atlanta) and I came upon a vendor that was selling these incredibly beautiful rings and was even making them into jewelry and I knew I wanted to do something with that! I was going to originally make full sized cosplay outfits using chainmaille and sell them but then I remembered I had no clue what I was doing…
I couldn’t get the idea of the cosplay outfit out of my head but it was going to be too much of an investment without a real guarantee that I would even have any way of selling them at all. A coworker suggested making something small, like a pendant for a necklace and I loved this idea! I asked what his favorite character was and he immediately said Sonic the Hedgehog. I figured I’d just make Sonic to start and give it to him as a thank you for the idea. Boom! Easy! Done! Well, first I had to learn how to … you know… make chainmaille. Anyway, I studied Sonic and realized that there weren’t that many colors so I could order only what I needed and go from there. I’ve always been pretty good with using Perler Beads so I made a quick pattern and honestly just assumed it work as an analogue for the rings on a one to one ratio. I started with Euro 4 in 1 and while you can see the image, it wasn’t really what I was hoping for. After that I changed to E6-1 and haven’t done anything else since.
Now that you’ve been making chainmaille for a while, what is one tool that you cannot live without?
Here is a picture of my pliers… I just get the cheapest ones available from TRL. Since I only use 18swg 1/4″ aluminum rings, I don’t need any of the heavier duty pliers. But I did try to open and close them by hand and after about the 15th or 16th ring life sort of sucked. Not recommended…
Wait, tell me about the cat!
That is Calliope. She doesn’t always come in and sit with me while I’m working but she is just gorgeous and will happily help my legs fall asleep anytime I’m willing to let her sit on them.
How do you get all the different variations of color for your work? I’m assuming you are using anodized aluminum, but if not, what metal are you using?
This is one of the biggest challenges with using the rings as a medium for art. I have 22 colors. I can’t mix them to create different shades. Want to make a portrait? There are only 3 shades of brown. Most of my portraits use only 5 colors: silver (bright aluminum), champagne, light brown (saw cut bronze from The Ring Lord, aka TRL), dark brown (machine cut bronze from TRL, there is a difference in color), and black. That’s it. I’ve just learned some tricks about utilizing some light pink or pale yellow (my FAVORITE color from TRL) and blending them in with the browns to create what appears to be a new color. It has to do with how close they are to each other and your brain interpreting the image. I got lucky when I made the Johnny Depp portrait and found out that it works since that one had a lot of already blended sections in the pattern I was using (I pixelated an image in Microsoft Paint and it just worked out that way). While it isn’t necessarily a secret, I don’t tend to showcase what I’m doing so that I can keep it all for myself for as long possible. 😉
How do you decide how many colors to use? For example, if you take a picture and zoom in to see the pixels, there will be way more colors than are available in rings. So how do you narrow down how many colors to use?
I try to stick to the original as much as I can, but I will make some color change decisions on the fly. Most of the time I only work it out as I go because I don’t always know if I’ll want it to be a lighter color or a darker color until I see it next to the area I’m working on. It just comes down to what I think of as my artistic license. There are definitely times when I have a ton of colors out and I’m using almost all of them. Just use your best judgement. There really doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong to it, just do what you like.
Any particular suppliers you like because of the large selection of colors?
The Ring Lord is where I get the bulk of my various colors but I do use Chainmail Joe for my red, black, and silver (bright aluminum). I tend to use more of those colors and he has them in half pound sizes for an amazing price. But I will buy from any supplier if it’s a new color to add to my extremely limited palette.
What has been the toughest hurdle and how did you overcome it?
I struggled for the longest time with circles. They seem like they shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but every time I made something circular, it came out egg shaped when hanging. It took about a year for me to find the right formula because I ran across a Batman logo shirt that was made to look pixelated. I thought that it might be pretty close to what I needed and used that as a guide and it worked! Perfect circle! I only had to make a small tweak to it to make it look just right but without that I might still be struggling with it.
What is your current goal?
I would love to do this for a living. Buy more stuff! 😃
Think in 8-bit! It’s basically an 8-bit imagery system so use that. Perler beads, pixelated images, cross-stitch patterns all work perfectly for this. I’m always available for questions as well. I’ve had many people ask for my advice or even specific questions and I’ve tried to do my best at helping them. I love seeing the final inlays when I was able to help out a little bit. It inspires me to want to do more as well.
OK, onto some quick questions: What do you do when you aren’t making chainmaille?
I am the warehouse manager at Starbase Atlanta, a geeky online store. I’m also a “father” of 4 dogs, 5 cats, and 5 rabbits (plus 2 rescue rabbits currently) and a husband.
OMG, so many animals! 🐶🐶🐶🐶🐱🐱🐱🐱🐱🐰🐰🐰🐰🐰🐇🐇 I loooove it! 😍
Do you listen to music/podcasts/tv/etc while mailling? If so, what are your favorites?
Mostly I will watch something on Netflix since I do all of my mailling at my computer desk. When I do listen to music instead it will almost always be something by either Pearl Jam, Snow Patrol, or Barenaked Ladies.
Chainmaille: August Grappin has made some beautiful pieces, anything by Steampunk Garage, and I am generally in awe of anyone that does micromaille in any form.Non maille: Jasmine Becket-Griffith is the most talented painter I have ever seen!
I would want it to be instant teleportation so I don’t have to drive everywhere. Or, 30 more minutes of sleep everyday? Sign me up!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t give up on your dreams. They may not seem attainable right now, but if you work towards them everyday, one day they will be.
What’s one thing Blue Buddha readers might be surprised to know about you?
Um… I dunno. I can sing? I guess that can be a surprise? I was in choir from 2nd grade on through all of high school. Also, I clearly am not good with ad-libs?
Before we let you go, please tell us where we can find your work!
Most of my work can be bought from:
Etsy page: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TonysRingArt
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Tonys-Ring-Art-1526837590897431/
Patreon Page: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=2405242
Or you can contact me directly through Facebook.
Thanks so much for the questions!
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Tony! We wish you much continued success.
While you’re here, be sure to check out previous “Meet an Artist” posts: http://www.bluebuddhaboutique.com/blog/category/ask-an-artist-series/