Monday, February 4, 2013

more than meets the eye: 13 steps to making a mobile

"redblack vanilla"

Recently, I've been asked what goes into making one of my mobiles.

Since the truth - a lil' black magic, a teaspoon of cumin, and three molars from a feral boar - probably wouldn't be too believable, I figured I might as well make up something to appease those inquiring minds.

Actually, despite how simple they may appear, every mobile has no less than 13 unique and time-rich steps.

Shall we take a look at them? 

Step 1: Hand draw blade shapes on sheet metal. I trace out a design on sheets of 4' x 3' thin-gauged sheet metal. 

Step 2: Rough cut blades with 16” metal shearers. This is where I cut out around the shapes to remove them from the larger piece of metal. 

Step 3: Fine cut blades with 14” Wiss snub-nosed drop-forged shearers. This is where I actually cut them as close the final shape as possible by hand. 

Step 4: Drill dual arm holes in blades (where the arms attach). 

Step 5: Shape sand blades on belt sander (to smooth out any edge imperfections). Using a standard belt sander, I work to create the most eye-pleasing shapes as possible. Whatever the shape is that emerges from here is the final one, so it's got to be the best I can make it. 

Step 6: Hand sand blade surfaces (to create appropriate surface for paint to adhere). I use an orbital sander with 150-grit sandpaper to get the right surface and to sand out any burrs that were created during Step 5. 

Step 7: Make it!!! No two mobiles are the same. Then, I create the mobile. The blades have been made, but now it's time to actualize the design. I create each mobile using a set of six pliers - each having a different, vital role in how the mobile comes together, including three needlenose (straight small, straight large, and a 45 degree), a flat head, and a tongue-and-groove

Then, I also use a rasping file to grind the edges of the metal wire (for the arms), wire snips, and a Phillips screwdriver (to make my connector rings). The wire I use is between 14- and 20-gauge. Everything is done by eye, trial and error and experience. There are no templates, pre-cut wires, or guides to show me the way. 

That's why each mobile is unique. The time it takes to make the mobile ranges based on the complexity of the design. 

Step 8: Disassemble, wash and dry blades (to remove any metal dust and hand oils). Once the mobile has been created, I take it apart to wash it. I use a degreaser and water and basic no-lint paper towels to dry. 

Step 9: Tape blades (to prevent overspray of the paint). Then, I use painters tape to cover the place where the arm of the mobile meets the blade. This allows me to paint over the edges of the blades without worrying that I'll have to clean up a ton of overspray. 

Step 10: Prime blades. I apply one coat of a durable double-strength primer in either gray or white depending on the color palette of the mobile. I use a 3M full face ventilator mask and a homemade paint booth that is powered by a massive tumbler fan which draws the excess paint spray into a heavy-duty filtration pad.  

Step 11: Paint blades with Belton MolotowPremium paints (two coats) and dry in heated curing room. This paint is the BOMB. It's made in Germany and is designed for graffiti artists. This means extraordinary durability, color fastness and precision. It's a low-pressure paint that applies like butter and is just so uber-juicy and rich. The colors are phenomenal ( In my curing room, I use radiant heat to bake the paint on. In the winter, it's the warmest room in the house! 

Step 12: Detail blades (sandpaper and razor blade to remove any overspray). After the blades have cured for approximately 48 hours, I remove the tape and use a razor blade and low-grit sandpaper to remove any excess paint and to make sure the edge where the blade and the arm meet are pristine and exact. Okay, "pristine" might be a bit of a stretch. 

Step 13: Reassemble and final balance. Then comes my favorite part: putting 'em back together! I reassemble the mobile, hang it, and fine-tune to make sure it "sits" pretty and spins right.
Then, of course, there's packaging which is about 13 more steps and takes almost as long as the whole mobile process (not really, but it sure feels like it). 

Each step of every mobile offers me a chance to hone and perfect my craft. I feel pretty lucky to have had the opportunity to be wholly self taught (although my Dad is a raucously cool and extremely talented woodworker and my Mom is almighty fine with her weaving, pottery, painting and poetry, and I have four super-gifted and creative brothers and sisters, so I don't think I came about this on my own by any means).

For those of you who have asked, I hope this gives you a better understanding of how this seemingly simple piece of art comes into being. There is most definitely much more than meets the eye ... and that's exactly what I dig about them: deceptively simple. 


PS - Oh, and thanks to my best friend and brother-from-another-mother Devin for revamping the logo! Awesome!  

PPS - The Bpositiv 9 Charity Art Auction was a huge success. Together, we raised thousands for the organization's super important work. You can donate to the cause any time at: As for me, in addition to my donated mobile (which has gone to a fantastic new home), I also won "Hello Lover ... I Mean Lumberjack" by Sarah McMurray ( He's the suave chap hanging out to the left of the window in the photo below)!