This post is a long time coming. I have been struggling to find the time for my work here since starting a full-time job, and moving. The last of the moving happened at the beginning of the month, and I had hoped to be able to get two paintings done in December in order to make up for November's missed painting, but it seems the challenge has gotten the best of me. I have no paintings at all to show for this month. Perhaps I'll do better in January. We'll see.
This isn't to say that I have been idle.
I decided to make my Christmas gifts this year. As I also write and publish fiction, and I had easy access to those books for measurements and fit, and the three family members I was likely seeing this Christmas had my books, I decided to create custom covers for those books. It was a lot of work. I broke all but two of my sewing needles. I gouged a part of one of my fingers out... This project was the literal definition of blood, sweat and tears.
Still, they turned out really well, and I'm quite proud of what I managed to achieve.
Here they are:
The actual cover of Skylark was too complicated for me to be able to replicate in leather, so I opted instead to use the image that was the scene divider in the book. This image is actually a Daemon territorial sigil that I drew specifically for the purpose of being the scene divider, just to have something more interesting than *. I did want to keep the cover colours in keeping with the tones of the original cover, and tried to distress the cover so that it might look a little closer to steel. I'm happy with how that worked, but I realize now that I missed a golden opportunity to include some orange in the cover by making it seem a little rusted.
Still, the end result is pretty good, I think. I'm happy with this one.
Much like Skylark, the actual cover of Human was too difficult to replicate in leather, but a single feature was not. I took the heart on the book cover and enlarged it, approximating both the tone of the book and the colours of the book cover.
As it's a vampire story, I thought keeping the book cover antique-looking would be the best way to go. Actually, my antique stains, hand-rubbed, are my favourite for leather. I don't know why I like it more than solid colours, but I find it really interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
This cover surprised me how well it turned out, actually.
Daughters of Britain
This is my favourite of the three. Not my favourite book, mind. I can't really pick one of those, but my favourite custom cover.
Like Human, the stain on this is a hand-rubbed antique, this time in mahogany instead of black. I figured that since this story is set in Roman-occupied Western Europe, an antique look would be best. To that end, I used my antique stain and painted the title and the hare in blue, and then distressed it, so it looked like the dye had rubbed off some - like the cover itself was antique, instead of newly made. I think it worked really well.
Unlike the other two, the cover of Daughters of Britain was simple enough for me to replicate almost exactly. The hare I had drawn specifically for the cover, and it was fun to transfer to leather for tooling.
The end result for this one is by far my favourite. I'm really pleased with how it turned out.
Like all of my leather works, these custom book jackets were all done entirely by hand - the cutting of the leather, the tooling, the sewing and the staining/painting. All in all, each book cover took me roughly three and a half hours each, from the cutting, tooling, staining and sewing (actually, a lot longer, but I estimate that once I get used to the work, it'll be about three and half hours each). The sewing was particularly tricky, and did leave me both bleeding and in frustrated tears. That shouldn't be the case the more of these I do.
This means, however, that custom book jackets will be quite expensive. Factoring in the materials as well as time, my first estimate put the covers at around $700.00 each. That's... a lot. I'm thinking I can probably significantly drop the price with some creative accounting, and perhaps underpaying myself for the time required. I'm thinking that $350.00 would be a more affordable price, while still ensuring I get paid for my work - more or less.
I will have to think about it a little more before I make the decision on price and open up my store for custom leather book covers.
So, despite failing desperately at my desire to paint one piece a month, I haven't been entirely idle, and the results were not terrible at all.
It has been a while since I last wrote here. I apologise. I am currently setting myself up after a move to a new location. I will post updates about that once I'm properly set up. Before I moved, I had completed another leather working project, and had meant to post about it long ago. The move was sudden, however, and rushed, and I didn't get the chance to do so before now. Until today, at least.
In any case, they're available now! New in store - hand carved bookmarks!
I have just the one design currently, but will hopefully be able to create more once I'm properly settled in my new location. For now, I shall have to be content with the Twin Birds design I created all the way back in September. I have a few ideas for more Viking designs, as well as Celtic ones, and I think I'll do a few name ones as well... once I'm settled.
With the move, I will also have to buy a few things that I used previously on loan, so creation will be a bit slow to get started. With luck, it won't be too much longer.
In the meantime, if you're looking for the perfect gift for that well-read raider in your life, I have you covered!
Last week, I stared at my pile of leather scraps, unsure of what I ought to do with them. Throwing them out was not an option. Such waste would make me incredibly sad. So, I devised a plan to sew them together and see if I couldn't make something useful out of them. A dice bag, in fact.
The design itself is quite simple. It was sewing all the scraps together that took the most time and proved the trickiest. I must say, however that I absolutely love sewing by hand. It's oddly meditative.
It took an entire day of continuously stamping holes, cutting back extra leather, and stitching to create the dice bag. It was entirely enjoyable work, however. If I had the means to make this my profession, I would have a workshop and happily spend all day in there.
The end result was quite satisfactory.
It appeared to strike a chord with a friend of mine, who saw the photos on Twitter and decided to buy it. This is my first ever handcrafted leather item sale, and it made me obscenely happy. I sent it off today, and he should be getting it in the next couple of days.
I spoke with another friend of mine, who is a seamstress, and learnt how she charges for her handmade items. I decided not to include the cost of materials for this one, and just charge for the labour. This is because for this piece and all the pieces I make in this style in the future, I used the scraps that wouldn't have been used otherwise. Even still, with just the labour, these dice bags are not inexpensive.
Given how this bag was a prototype test, and is honestly still quite rough and could have been done better, I sold it for less than half the price it will go for when I settle for a style that I like. The pattern will not change, but the manner in which it is stitched will be toyed with the next time I have enough scraps to create a second prototype.
This project was a lot of fun for me. So much so that I have another two dice bag creations in the pipeline. The basic pattern will remain the same, but the leathers, linings and possible accoutrements will be different. I'm thinking one of the dice bags will have a chainmaille exterior. I'm forming plans, my friends, and looking forward to it.
I'm genuinely surprised I got something so close to correct on the first try, and I'm really looking forward to working on my next one, which will be soon, I hope.
What an enjoyable project this was.
Well, I have exhausted my supply of leather for the making of book jackets. I will be restocking when I get some more funds. This time, I worked with a slightly stiffer goat leather. It was still very thin, but nowhere near as elastic or floppy. This made it a dream to work with.
Granted, the leather is too thin to do any real carving. It does, however, take tooling well enough that the design isn't lost in a shallow mess. So I didn't carve at all. I did tool. I'm really pleased with the results.
The design makes me laugh (I've been giggling over it since it's inception), and I've gotten pretty decent at tooling, quickly picking up the skill I learnt more than twenty years ago. The end result is something I feel I can be proud of.
I've dubbed this the Novice Leather Jacket, and it comes in antique black and antique mahogany. Other designs are forthcoming, when I can acquire more leather. I plan on putting the designs only on the front panel of the jacket, so the price will not be as great as the current design. As it is, the tooling alone is something like twelve hours of work. My thumb is still recovering.
Working with a new style of leather presented its own lessons; ones I thought working with the soft leather already taught me. Not so.
The first is that the measurements for the soft leather do not work well for the stiffer leather. In order to get the book the fit, I needed to make the cut a little longer than I did for the softer leather. Luckily, leather is quite pliable and I could make my first attempt fit. It's snug, but it fits. The second attempt is by far the better one, though both fit and are good.
The second lesson has to do with staining and finishing. I rather enjoy the hand-rubbed antique look of the leathers I've stained, which I've achieved first by accident, then quite deliberately. The mahogany stain is, to my eye, a great deal more purple than I thought it would be, but coupled with the mahogany finishing, it works beautifully, adding a delightful depth to the colour. The same is true for the black; not that the stain was far more purple than I'd imagined, but that using the hand-rubbed stain and hand-rubbed finishing both in black adds a great deal of interest and depth to the piece. I'm glad that's the route I decided on when I embarked on this project.
The last lesson I learnt was that leather stain makes quite the mess when it spills, and that your hands will be funky-looking for a couple of days if you happen to spill the stain all over them.
This latest project was lovely to work on. I quite enjoy tooling. I find the focus needed to do it well is meditative for me, letting me put aside a good number of worries as I tried to ensure that the tooling was vaguely straight.
Due to the length of time required to cut, tool, sew, stain and finish the piece, I will likely restrict my monthly orders of the Novice Book Jacket to about ten a month. It won't be enough to make a living wage, of course, but I wouldn't be able to do that unless I charge $200.00 each for these, and I don't feel that's something I can do.
Perhaps I will be fortunate and sell enough paintings and prints to make up the gap, if I sell anything at all.
I have used all of the soft goat leather that I had bought for to make my book jackets. I think they look pretty good. The rustic nature of the sewn edged bothered me at first, but now I think it adds to the appeal of the piece. I'm quite fond of the rugged adventurer vibe these book jackets exude.
I think I have the skill down now, though it still takes far too long for me to sew each one. As I am now, I can safely say I can make one book cover a day of soft leather. That means that should I make any tooled leather, it will take me two days or so to complete the project.
I had hoped that I would be able to do two a day of the soft leather, but as it stands, I am not. That means, unfortunately, that I don't think I'd be able to make enough in a month to sustain the business. At least, not at these prices.
I'm not willing to charge more for the leather pieces. I think the price as it is now is fair, considering everything is hand done. No machines involved.
I am also unwilling to drive myself mad trying to make enough in a month to earn what amounts to minimum wage each month. All that will lead to is burn-out and my inability to make and send client orders in a timely manner.
So I'm in a bit of a bind, currently. I think the smartest way I can do things is to simply limit the number of orders of book jackets to twenty a month - whether they are tooled or plain. That way, I'll be able to complete orders in good time without becoming swamped by an insurmountable backlog.
Is that enough to live off of? Unlikely. It would be if I managed to sell twenty at the highest price point in a month. Which is exceedingly unlikely. However, if I can supplement that with original art sales and sales of prints, as well as any meagre income I might garner from book sales, I won't be starving.
Of course, there's no guarantee of any sales whatsoever, which is something that is quite likely. I am a terrible marketer, and plenty of people in this economy haven't the funds to buy handmade goods from people like myself. It's not a grand time to be starting a business.
All the same, I've really enjoyed making these covers, even when it got frustrating, and I'm hopeful that someone will like them enough to pick up one for their books. The goat leather book jackets are now listed in my new online shop. They are the only items listed, as they're the only one made thus far.
I'm currently working on a new book jacket made of slightly stiffer goat leather and hand tooled with some of my designs. The first of the designs is one that makes me giggle, and I'm quite looking forward to having that done. But that will take me a couple of days to complete.
The last of my leather supplies arrived yesterday, and so I spent the day trying to figure out how to make a leather book jacket. You know, so you can carry around a paperback without having to worry so much about how damaged it'll get in your bag.
I had bought goat leather, as it's less expensive than cow, thinking that I'd be able to offer a less expensive option at first. It's quite a thing to work with. It's soft and supple, and that made it a lot more difficult to work with than I thought it would. All the leather I had worked with to day was cow, and a good deal thicker and stiffer. I think, all told, I prefer working with the stiffer stuff, but the goat leather sure feels soft.
Next time, if I have funds enough, I'll get some cow leather and try to make a stiffer book jacket out of that. For now, though, I will finish working with the goat leather and see what I can do.
There are some things I have learnt trying to make the book jacket out of goat leather. The first is that even with the aid of an L ruler, I can't cut a straight line to save my life. Hopefully practice will make that particular problem go away. The second thing I learnt is that I'm a twit. Truly. I did thing that required time and effort, and it was very wrong. Well, not very, but it wasn't right.
Here's a picture of the finished thing, and I'll let you guess what I did incorrectly:
I'lll let you guess something other than the fact that the stitching isn't straight. I'll pretend that's an intentional 'rustic' look. It does have to do with the stitching, though.
It's the location of the stitching on the short edge. I stitched the inside edge, instead of the outside edge, Which is what I meant to do to create a neat little border around the jacket.
It's a silly error I'm kicking myself over, but it's not the end of the world. The jacket functions.
I tested it on a borrowed copy of Blood of Elves, I've loaned from a friend. The book is the basic Trade Paperback size, so it was a good candidate to test my pattern. I'll also be working on A-Format and B-Format patterns, but for now, I'm just refining the Trade Paperback size.
It's a little taller than I need, and only just long enough for a book of 434 pages, so there is still some tweaking of the pattern to do, but I've basically got it, I think.
I hope that my second attempt works much better. I will find out this afternoon.
As I'm not particularly thrilled with this attempt, it will not be for sale. It's not up to standard. That's not a total loss, however, as now I have a removable book jacket to protect my books when I'm out and about.
Hopefully soon I'll be able to offer at least a couple for sale in case anyone wants one for themselves.