Exploring New Designs

(source: Bottega Veneta)

After my recent post about making sandals, I had some great discussions with folks about design and how it relates to leatherworking. I’ve been thinking about design a lot lately and today I want to share a summary of one discussion that seemed especially resonant.

Practice Design Outside of Your Comfort Zone

When you’re practicing leatherworking, you don’t just practice discrete skills like sewing, edge finishing and cutting. You also practice design. Practicing design requires a longer time scale because, unlike practicing sewing, it can take a few days, weeks, or even months to finish a project. As a result, most people don’t practice it much. However, if you want to really grow as a leather craftsperson, it’s important to try different designs.

My recommendation is to do something that’s outside of your normal style. If you do mostly western design, try modern design. If you do more rough biker stuff, try softer,delicate designs. You can discover new ways to make a piece by designing it outside of your normal style.

One way to find inspiration is to design your piece for a specific person that has a distinct style unlike your own. You can take a look at the other things that they own to get a sense of their style. Imagine what your item would need to look like in order to fit into their closet or match the clothes that they already wear. If everybody you know dresses like you, go to a public place and do some people watching to look for other styles. Photograph some ideas (but don’t be a creeper!) and then use tools like Pinterest or Evernote to collect your ideas.

Experimentation is Important for Everyone (and Lots of Fun)

When I visited the Salvatore Dali museum in Figures, Spain I was struck not only by the melting clocks style of work for which Dali is well known, but also for his non-surrealist work. His classical paintings of scenery and people were well-executed masterpieces. He and other famous painters, like Picasso, were not only masters of their own style, but were also adept at many others.

Being able to embrace multiple styles increases both your skills and mental flexibility, giving you the freedom to create something new. Even if you never sell a western style braided leather belt, you might use those skills to make woven pair of oxfords.


(source: Tye Shoemaker)

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” is the often-paraphrased Proust quote. He was talking about travel, but the idea also fits well with designing leather goods. If you can look at familiar or even commonly dismissed styles with fresh eyes, you might find inspiration to make creative new works.

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