Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding my sculptures:
Q. Are these real plants and leaves that have been preserved somehow? If not, what are they made from?
A. They aren't real, they are actually sculpted from leather and painted by hand.
Q. What type of leather do you use?
A. I use vegetable tanned leather, which is produced using natural materials which are high in tannins, such as oak bark and oak galls. This is not the same type of leather as most leather coats or furniture, which is known as "chrome tanned" leather.
Q. What type of paint do you use?
A. I use professional quality artists acrylics. After a piece has been sculpted, it is treated with gesso and painted, much in the way that a canvas is prepared for a painting.
Q. How do you get the impressions into the leather, and how is it shaped? Do you use a mold or press of some kind?
A. I don't use any sort of mold or stamp in the making of my pieces. All the sculpting and shaping is done entirely by hand. Some of the tools I use are similar to those used in traditional leatherworking, but much smaller. Many of the tools I use I have had to make; some are dental or surgical implements which have been altered to suit my needs.
Q. Where did you get the idea to do this?
A. The techniques I use date back to the middle ages and earlier. Some museums in Europe have pieces of sculpted leather which date back hundreds of years. Although I am self taught, these pieces inspired what I do now.
A. It depends upon the piece. A single leaf can take more than a day, from start to finish. Some larger sculptures can have over 50 leaves on the base, besides whatever flowers or animals are in them. These may take a few hundred hours, usually spread out over several months to complete. Many sculptures end up being comprised of 300 or more individually shaped and painted pieces.
Q. How lasting is leather as a medium?
A. There are pieces of sculpted leather in European museums dating back hundreds of years to the Middle Ages and earlier. Leather can be as lasting as any other natural material, such as wood, depending upon the environment. Like any artwork, much depends upon how it is cared for. In my framed pieces, I use acid-free conservation matting (an industry standard in museums) to help protect the work and ensure its longevity.
Q. Where do you get the ideas for your sculptures?
A. Most of them are based on leaves or plants I come across. Some of the more rare flowers I have depicted are endangered, and grow only in protected areas. For these I have had to make special arrangements with park officers to get close enough to take photographs and do sketches. Because I want to depict the subjects in such great detail, I need pictures and sketches from all angles, as well as accurate measurements and notes about the habitat.
Each sculpture begins with field reference- photos, sketches, and careful measurements, as well as notes about the surrounding habitat. Here is a page from one of my field sketchbooks:
Then the sculpture is planned through a series of sketches, for size and layout:
The finished sculpture:
Detail view of the sculpture base, including leaves, bark, twigs, and grass all carefully created in leather:
Q. I'd like to see how you do this. Where can I learn more?
A. I often demonstrate at shows, as many people are curious about the processes used. If you would like to see pictures of a virtual demo outlining the steps involved, please visit the demo page of my site, or for detailed how-to information, check out the online article I wrote on the subject by visiting the sculpture articles page at the WETCANVAS web site.
Please feel free to send me an email with comments or questions about my work.