Comparing Two Leather Working Samples

A reader sent a piece he has been working on and asked Tony’s opinion.  Since Tony has been working leather for over 40 years and is a perfectionist in the way traditional Japanese are, he  certainly has comments. The work is good, and this is where people run into trouble. It’s one thing to learn some basics and jump into leather carving. But how do you get the help to improve once you’ve gotten started?

So, this reader was kind enough to allow his critique to be made public. We welcome submissions, and want to do this regularly – so everybody can learn at the same time. Let’s get started, first with the submitted picture…

Student leather work

Looks pretty good to us. Lot’s of potential here, and he’s come a long way working on his own. However, this is where it gets tough to make progress without personal guidance.  Let’s look at Tony’s suggestions.

Master leather work sample

Tony’s comments:

The swivel knife is both the first and the last tool to be used. The initial cutting will determine the flow of the design, the symmetry of the curves and the body of the petals and other parts. Finally it will be used for the decorative cuts, though subtle, to bring out the definition that sets off the total presentation.

1. The Beveler (B702), as with any tool, should be smoothly and rhythmically used. This will minimize any clear marking as the beveler is tapped.

2. The Pear Shader (P212) should not be merely stamped but should be moved as it is tapped to lengthen the shading/effect and bring out the volumn.

3&4. The tools V707, V407, and C831 are all used the same way, as with many other tools. There should be a gradation of strength from strong to weak, or the reverse. This adds depth and body, creating a 3D effect rather than just a flat picture. Sometimes it can seem a bit daunting at first but just stick with it and practice.Eventually  your hands will hardly feel the tools, as the hand and the tools become almost one and the rhythm becomes natural.

5. V707 is used as a stopper. Again, a very minor tool but it works to build the design.

6. The mule foot is not simply tapped 3 times. Notice the gradation and the flow. These help create a design flow that is pleasing to the eye.

7. The camouflage tool (C831) is first used on the center of the blossom. Then the left foot is moved over and not turned, then the right foot is simply moved over and tapped without turning the tool. The placing of the left and right foot is important in maintaining the symmetry of the half circle. Turning the tool will change the shape. You will also notice that the seeds (S705) are placed close together as with a real blossom.

8. The decoration cuts and the balance is something that can only be gained over time. Keep all that scrap carving leather and use it to practice with the swivel knife. Eventually, you will be able to create smooth flowing lines.

Those who spend the time on honing the basic skills will quickly reach the stage of craftsman. As with any art, it all goes back to perfecting the basics. Be sure to constantly compare your work to the pros and masters to keep your goals in focus. Repetition of mistakes is a waste of time, and will create bad habits that might be hard to break. Focus on the lines and the balance. Continue to practice those things you do well so that you don’t slip back into bad habits.

OK. Any questions?

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