March 2011

Class is in Session

As promised – a step-by-step photo tutorial of the process behind tooling.

This is by no means a comprehensive look – more for interest’s sake. If you really want to learn to do this, it’s best to have a pro looking over your shoulder ahem Tundra. There are so many individualized mistakes you can make (how hard you’re tracing, how hard you’re striking the tools, the angle you’re cutting on) that a talking head or a how-to video won’t address and you’ll just end up falling hard into bad habits.

So. A lot of people assume tooled leather goods are made by impressing or branding leather with giant metal stamps. The mass-marketed stuff is made that way, but hand-tooled leather is a little more work than that.

I’ve used images from two different projects (a belt and a cuff) to give you a couple reference points for what the pieces look like at various stages.

Step 1 – Design your image or pick up a pattern book. There are a ton of master crafters out there who sell books full of step-by-step instructions on completing specific motifs or designs. These are fantastic resources, especially when you’re starting out, because they remind you exactly when and where to use which tools.

Once you’ve chosen or come up with your own design, trace it on to transfer paper – a static-y acetate sheet that takes pencil marks well.

Step 2) You must use tooling leather for this type of leatherwork. Not all leather is good for tooling – some hides are treated and won’t take impressions no matter how much you hack and hammer. Vegetable-tanned tooling leather is a creamy skin colour that takes cuts and impressions well when it’s wet. It comes in all kinds of weights/thicknesses. In these pictures, I’m using a 7/8 oz for the cuff and a 9/10 oz for the belt.

So. You want to trace your image from the transfer paper on to the leather. To do this, wet the leather (don’t soak it, but make sure it’s nice and damp) with a sponge, set the transfer paper down and trace your image with a stylus or pen. You don’t need to press hard.

Step 3) I like to trace onto a swatch of leather larger than the finished piece is going to be, then cut the excess away with a head knife. It’s more forgiving than cutting the leather and then fitting the image to it.

These knives are sharp as anything. Please take care not to cut your head clear off with one.

Step 4) Once you’ve finished tracing your image onto the leather, you’ll have a nice dark outline of what you’re going to carve. The swivel knife is what you use to do this. It has a pivoting saddle on top of the body of the blade. Your index finger sits in the saddle and steers the show. Again – you need to keep the leather wet while you’re doing this or you’ll end up wrestling with and mangling your project. When the leather is wet, the knife slides like butter.

You can also use the knife much later on to add flourishes or simple lines wherever you like. You’ll see this in the final photos.

Step 5) There’s a specific order in which you use the various tools so things end up looking sharp. For the belt, I only used four – two bevellers, a pear shader and a backgrounder. For the cuff, I used six – same as the belt plus a seeder and a similar floral tool.

Each tool is about half the size of your baby fingernail or smaller. You make impressions by using one hand to guide the textured surface of the tool on the (again – wet) leather and the other hand to tap-tap-tap the end of the tool with a mallet.

Step 6) The pear shader is used to create shadow on any part of the leather. It’s key for giving depth to flowers, or in this case – a bit of shine to the edge of a bubble.

Step 7) Bevellers come next. You use them to raise and flatten all the cuts you made with your swivel knife. This is why a sharp swivel is your best friend. It’s sooooo much easier to keep the (slightly angled) tool in the cuts if the cuts are deep, which is only achieved with a sharp knife. I usually use the tiny guy exclusively for tight curves and curlicues.

Step 8 ) The backgrounder creates a bit more depth. You use it to follow the lines in all the areas you just bevelled. As you move further from the edge of the image, lighten your mallet strikes to fade the effect.

Step 9) I lied – I used five tools on the belt. The seeder is pretty simple. Use it anywhere you want to make the below circles.

Blammo. Five or six episodes of This American Life later and you have a finished piece.

Well..almost. I’m going to spend today and tomorrow painting my fishy pal and then I’ll have a finished piece. Check back.



Read more →

Writer’s Block

Some say it doesn’t exist, but everyone needs a little push now and then.

Why not get it from the professionals?

On Saturday, April 9 -as part of Hamilton’s GritLit Festival- there will be two afternoon writing workshops at Mohawk College. How to Write Funny will be hosted by Drew Hayden Taylor (author of Motorcycles & Sweetgrass which was nominated for the Governor-General’s Award) and Telling Details will be taught by Erin Bow (author of Plain Kate and winner of the CBC Canadian Literary Award for poetry).

You must pre-register for these workshops and can do so here. They’re pretty darn affordable on their own; even moreso if you’re a weekend pass holder (and have I mentioned how affordable those passes are?).

Whether or not you sign up for a workshop, you should definitely come out to a couple of the readings April 7-10. Michael Winter, Kathleen Winter, Jonathan Goldstein (of CBC’s WireTap) and Zoe Whitall are just a few of the writers who will be reading this year.

It’s going to be a goooooood time.

For more details, go here.


Read more →

Double Duty

Since I just spent an hour trying to figure out HTML, today’s post is riding on the coat tails of the one I just put up at the Beehive Blog.

Read more →

Fleur de Race

Sorry if you’ve been waiting on pins and needles for the big show-off I promised on Saturday, but I completely forgot to take a picture of it – it being a painting I did of some friends who got married this weekend.

Ah well! What I do have is flowers – a pre-race good luck charm from Sean.

Very nice! And definitely a factor in my finish.

Oh me, oh my it was a rougher race than last year – plagued by the tail end of an illness I’ve had for a month, a serious side stitch (I never get stitches so this threw me waaaaayyy off) at the 3km mark, way too many layers for what ended up being a warm morning, and 27 km of really needing a washroom break but not wanting to lose seconds, I came in a minute and 30 under my goal for a silver medal time of 2:28:37.

And if you add to that all the dancing I did at the post-race wedding I attended, I like to think I finished an actual marathon over the course of the day.



Read more →


That’s what it’s been here! Why, you ask?

Let’s take a look. First of all, I spent Thursday (or was it Wednesday?) working on this. Finally have some pictures of it laid out flat…

Then I was tied up with some gifts for groomsmen…

I’m really psyched about the Canada Grain one. This was not my idea, but the brainchild of one of the groomsmen – the same one who bought my painting of the Canada Grain rail car a few weeks back.

I’m also 100% behind the personalized flasks. They look even better than I thought they would, especially with the highlighting.

I’ve got another something to show off, but that’s going to have to wait until Monday.

Also up on Monday? I’m doing the weekly post over at the Beehive blog. Subject? TOP SECRET. Stop by to check it out.


Read more →