Friday, March 26, 2010

Inspiration comes in strange ways

You never know where inspiration for a leather project will come from. I had the day off today and instead of doing something productive, I was laying on the couch feeling crappy with the cold I've had all week. We've got a strange cat that thinks when I'm watching Criminal Minds on TV, I should also be playing fetch with her. She jumps up on the back of the couch and drops her little pink stuffed mouse on my lap. Then she waits for me to throw it, watches where it lands, crouches down, and when she's ready she flies across the room to retrieve it. Maybe she thinks if she acts like a dog, I'll like her more.

One time when I looked up at the cat, I noticed something really interesting. We've got a print by Nancy Glazier on the wall over the couch next to one of my deer mounts. When I looked up at the picture, there was a reflection of the deer showing in the corner of the print.

I've always thought that an elk scene similar to the one on Nancy's print would look neat on leather. I've also always wanted to do another shadow box scene similar to the one I created with some pictures I took in Rocky Mountain National Park a few years ago.

Seeing that reflection in the picture on the wall started the wheels turning in my head and now there is another project that needs to be added to the list of things I want to do someday. A shadow box picture with a mule deer buck gazing down on a group of elk grazing below. I'm not sure how it'll all come together yet, but the process has started.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Life after leather class

Okay, I need to figure out a way to be a professional leather class taker. Carving a bear, or carving pretty much anything for that matter, is way more fun that hanging sheet rock. After two weeks off from work, hauling 12 foot sheets of sheet rock down stairs and hanging it on a ceiling really kicked my butt!! I'm glad we finished up that part of our job this week, but I bet putting siding on isn't going to be a whole lot more fun.

So, can a person be a professional leather class taker?? I don't know, but I've got something in the works that might at least make it possible to do it part time, and maybe even make some money doing it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed hoping this works out. Who knows where it could lead.

When I was at Jan's he asked if I knew where he could get big marbles. He uses large marbles to help with the embossing part of his projects. We couldn't find them at Hobby Lobby or the other art supply stores so I did a search on the internet. I came up with a place called Rainbow Turtle that carries all sizes of marbles up to 2 inches. (or up to over 10 inches if you need a crystal ball!) I ordered some 1 3/8 and 1 5/8 inch marbles last weekend and the arrived in just a few days. If you're looking for large marbles, check them out.

I've got to get busy and get all my stuff in order so I can get my taxes done this week. I should have gotten it done this weekend, but I spent a lazy weekend with Stacy. Guess I'll have to do it one of these evenings. Once that's out of the way, I can get back to working on some leather projects. I've got lots of ideas on my ever growing list.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Upcoming classes with Jan Schoonover

As any of you that follow my blog know, I just spent a couple weeks with Jan. He's got a few classes coming up and I'd like to plug them here.

In Sheridan and the Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show, Jan will be teaching a class on carving, embossing and coloring a Boston Bull Terrier on May 18-19, 8am to 5 pm.

On Thursday, May 20th, Jan will be teaching a class on hairing techniques from 8 am to 12 noon. From 1 pm to 5 pm he'll be teaching a class on painting leather with acrylics. In this class Jan wants to teach how to mix different colors using the primary colors and how to blend colors when painting. This sounds like a very interesting class and I wish I was going to be there to take it. For more info on these classes, or to sign up for them go the Leather Crafters and Saddlers Journal website.

Then in June, Jan is planning to head to the Pittsburgh, PA area to teach a class on either a wolf or a bear on the 26th and 27th. Approximate cost for the class is $200. For more info on this class, you can contact Chris Kearns at

A title for the bear picture

I normally have a difficult time naming my pictures and most of them just go un-named.
Today Jake found a saying that I think is appropriate for the griz. "You can run, but you'll just die tired!". I am thinking of getting a small plate engraved with that saying and attaching it to the picture. Yeah it's kind of silly, but I like the idea.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Home again, home again......

We finished our bear project early yesterday afternoon. All that was left was a little touch up on the painting, a bit of plastic surgery on his top lip (actually it was leather putty), an application of spray sealer, and then coating the eyes with glaze. It was kind of nice to have the time for Jan to show me how changes could be made to fix some minor details. When he showed me that I could take a pear shader and a mallet to change the shape on one of the bear's cheeks, I was a little nervous. But it mashed down fairly easily and a little picking of the hair and you couldn't even tell.

I made a trip over to Cabella's in the afternoon because I had some time to kill. Jan and Alice invited me to a pot luck dinner at his church before I left town. While I was there, they told me that they had noticed I had a head light out on my car when I was following them over there. When I left home, I called Stacy to let her know about when I would be home. I told her to tell Jake I was going to be mad if I got a ticket on my way home (it was his car I borrowed). It wasn't more than 10 minutes later that I saw a car turn around on the interstate and start following me. I was sure I was going to get pulled over and it wasn't long before the blue lights came on. The officer walked up to the car, looked in the window and said "good evening, I'm trooper XXXXXXXX." (I'm terrible with names) Then all of a sudden he said "WOW, that's a cool bear!" I had the bear on the front seat beside me. The car was packed to the top. He spent the next five minutes talking about my bear project and finally he said, "oh, by the way, you've got a headlight out". He just gave me a warning and sent me on my way. Other than one deer that almost ran into the side of the car, the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful and I got home around midnight. It's sure nice to be back home again, even if it seems we live in the land of perpetual winter and fog.

Jan and I made plans for a new project together that I think some of you will be interested in. I'll let you in on more details when we get farther along on it. It means I may be making several more trips to Billings later this year, but they wont last nearly as long.

Here the last set of pictures of my bear project (I promise!)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day #11, Color!!

I'm so excited, I colored my bear and I didn't ruin him!! I don't think I even realized till I was finished how much stress this was causing me. Jan gave me a bunch of pointers, I used one of my new hog bristle brushes, and I actually enjoyed painting! I could apply color to the tips of the hair while still allowing the leather to show through. I could blend without making mud. I learned how the right shadows and highlights can really accent the carving.

I decided to change the top lip a little this afternoon and I'll finish that up tomorrow. I still need to decide if I am going to add any decorative accents to the piece (I am leaning towards not). Then we will do the backgrounding, apply a sealer, and finally varnish the eyes. I think those last steps will really bring him to life.

It's been really fun and I'm so glad I had this opportunity, but I'm sure looking forward to going home tomorrow night too!

Here he is with some color.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day #10, starting to paint

I brought my bear back to the motel with me last night and finished separating all the hair with a scalpel so I was a little ahead of Jan this morning. When he caught up, we started applying the Drake's X-1 as a stiffener. Once that's applied, the hair can be sort of shaped and when the sealer dries, it will stay that way. Here's a picture after all the hair has been lifted and shaped. It's funny, the hair doesn't look nearly that "clumpy" in real life. The hair on mine is longer than on Jan's. I have never liked it when I tried long hair before, but I got way behind when we started and was trying to catch up so I made it longer (less cutting). Jan said he actually liked the long hair better, that it looked like a winter coat.

Then this afternoon we started on the painting. We started with the shadowing. Jan is really fast with this part, I was standing there with my mouth open thinking "wait for me!!!!". I watched how he did his, then I tried to do something that sort of resembled what he was doing. One thing I found out was that I have been trying to paint hair like this with the wrong kind of brush. Jan told me to get some stiffer brushes, he suggested hog bristle. It seemed like they did a lot better job of applying paint to the tips of the hair but allowing you to still see some leather underneath. Sometimes when Jan concentrates really hard for a long time, his hands start to get shaky so we quit a few minutes early. Heck, my hands were shaky just cuz I was scared I'd mess up! Well, here's how it looked when I left. I got some different brushes so hopefully I can do a decent job of painting tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day #9 on the grizzly

We're pretty much on track with where Jan wanted to be on the bear right now. Jan was hoping to start coloring on Wednesday and it looks like we should. Today we added some bear tracks to the side of the picture, just for an added touch. Then we finished up the putty that shaped the chin and bottom jaw. We also filled in all the scars where the leather was cut loose from the background. Then most of the rest of the day was spent adding hair texture to the puttied areas. We were going to add a stiffener to the hair so that we could start coloring in the morning, but Jan decided he'd rather wait to start that when we could keep at it until we were finished. So instead, we spent the rest of the day using a scalpel to slice all the hair into individual hairs instead of clumps. I'm getting really excited to see what this is going to look like when it's finished.

Here's a what he looks like tonight.

Grizzly class, week 2

Well, it's the start of week #2 on the grizzly bear with Jan. It's starting to really progress. On Monday we finished up the final stretching and filling that gives the bear his depth. Jan ended up at just a hair under 5 inches and I ended up just a hair over 4 1/2. I'm pretty happy with that. I know what I could have done to get a little more stretch and can work on that when I do another one. We started to paint some in the bear's mouth as that needed to be done before we mounted the picture on to it's backing board. Today we'll work on finishing up the hair texture on the puttied areas, and on lifting and shaping all the rest of the hair. This is something I have some experience with so I think it will be a little easier on me mentally. Here's what my bear looks like now.

I also ran over to Montana Leather yesterday at noon and stocked up on some things I'll need to do my other big project for the year, teaching Jake how to make a saddle (and making one myself) . I picked up 5 sides of saddle skirting and a can of Barge cement. That worked out well as shipping this stuff wouldn't have been cheap. I also got a couple different kinds of rubber cement to try. This bear project takes a whole gallon of rubber cement to complete and I'd like to try another when I get home. Jan always suggests doing that as a way to reinforce what he has taught, and though I normally don't do it, this time I think I need too.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Stacy came over to Billings to visit me for the weekend so I didn't feel like wasting any of our time together writing on here. This is the longest time I've ever been away from home and while this class is something I really want to do, it's hard being away from my family. Having Stacy visit was really nice. We did a little shopping, ate out a couple times, and yesterday morning we took a little trip to Pictograph Cave State Park. It was a really small park a few miles out of Billings. There are 3 small caves, one of which has a few visible paintings on the back wall. There was a walking trail around the site and the weather was wonderful so we had a nice morning walk. I bet it's even nicer when everything is green. The "sound effects" we a little scary as there must be a rifle range (or artillery range) nearby but I think we'll have to go back there next time we visit Billings.

Jan and I still got together on Saturday and Sunday afternoon for a couple hours. We worked on more stretching and shaping of the face. Yesterday Jan had his bear out to 4 7/8ths inches and mine was out about 4 3/8ths. He'd like to go just a little bit farther, but we ran out of rubber cement to mix up putty. Jan will pick up another can at Montana Leather this morning and we'll do the final push. We've still got a lot of work to do this week, but Jan is pretty sure we'll get it finished by the weekend. He commented that he was pretty sure I'd do a nice job on my bear, but that he didn't expect it to look as good as it does so it sounds like I'm doing well :o)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day #4 on the grizzly

Day four was another good day on the bear project. The face is starting to really take shape. The nose and cheeks are pretty much shaped and we started on the bottom jaw. I am really impressed at how much attention Jan pays to the tiny details. He spent quite a bit of time today adjusting things so that the top and bottom teeth line up perfectly, even though they wont be together when the project is finished.

It's also neat to see how closely the leather putty can be made to look like real leather. Once the hair is cut into the putty and it's painted, it's awfully hard to tell where the leather ends and the putty starts. Here's how the cheek is looking so far. We started shaping the bottom jaw today as well as continuing to stretch and add putty to the back of the bear.

This afternoon, Chris Kearns from Pitt Pounders Leather Guild in Pittsburgh called to talk to Jan about a class they are trying to set up for June. They've got 7 people signed up already. Hopefully they'll get the other 3 they need so that Jan will make the trip out there. It'd be nice for people on that side of the country to get a chance to learn from Jan. I got to talk to Chris for a few minutes too. It was nice talking to you Chris, and I hope you have a great class out there in Pittsburgh!!

Kathy said my blog wasn't any fun to read since I never pick on her here. Well, let's fix that. Kathy is starting a new job soon. She had to go in and get finger printed today. I don't think they were all that worried about her criminal past as they were about her hanging around with all her nose picking friends. I think they were just wanting to get a good look at her hands to make sure she washes up :o) (ya happy now Kathy???)

Jake called this afternoon right after I left Jan's for the day to ask about hooking up the generator. While the weather here in Billings has been just wonderful, it's been foggy every day back home and cold enough for the frost to build back up on the power lines again. The power finally went out today. Jake got the generator hooked up and running, but Stacy called a little while ago to let me know the power was back on. 10 hours is sure better than 10 days like last time!!

That's about it for today. Thanks everyone for the comments. I'll let you know how tomorrow goes.

Day #3 on the grizzly

When I looked at the final picture from day number three, it didn't look like we accomplished a whole lot, but really we did. This day consisted of filling several more layers of putty on the back side of the leather and waiting for each of them to dry. We also started the process of building up the nose area and getting it into the right shape. This is another long process, putting in some putty and letting it dry, adding more, letting it dry. The back teeth in the upper jaw have been roughed in and we started to get the shape around the eyes. Jan took a measurement and we now have the nose out a little over 3 1/2 inches. We've still got a ways to go to get it close to 5 where he thinks we'll be when we are finished. It really is an interesting process and even though he has explained to me how he came up with it, it's hard to believe anyone could figured it all out.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day #2 on the grizzly

This morning we started out by finishing up the hairing on the grizzly. On this project, Jan does all the hairing before he does any embossing. When the hair is cut first, it lifts and spreads on it's own when the leather is stretched from the back. It's also just easier to get into all the areas on the animal when the leather is flat than it is after it's been stretched and shaped.

Once the hairing was finished, we started the process of stretching the leather. We started by rolling a marble under the leather which is a process Jan uses on most of his projects. For this project, Jan has come up with some additional techniques. He created some "plugs" out of scrap masonite that he stretches the leather over. When using these plugs a lot of force can be applied to get a lot of stretch out of the leather.
Once a cavity is created on the backside of the leather, we started filled it with a layer of leather putty. The putty is layered in, about 3/8ths of an inch thick. The putty is allowed to dry in between layers. This process takes a lot of time. Between each layer, it has to dry for at least a couple hours. Today we put in 3 layers of putty. The last layer went down into the into the nose. This layer helps to start shaping the nose. Tomorrow we will start filling in the many layers of putty that will build up the nose and lower jaw. I'm beginning to see why this projects takes so much time to complete. Here's where we ended up today.

I feel really fortunate that he has decided to do this one on one lesson with me. He said he doesn't know if he'll ever teach this to anyone else so he's shariing the responsibility of passing on the techniques he has developed to the next group of people wishing to learn. I really hope that I can live up to his expectations.

Day one at the grizzly class

I arrived here in Billings Sunday evening. The first thing that I noticed was that it's WARM here! Yesterday marked the first day working with Jan Schoonover learning how he creates his amazing bear sculptures in leather. We're working at Jan's house. That has the benifits of being right there where he works everyday. I had the chance to see what he's been working on lately (some really neat stuff). He also pulls out things that he's done earlier in his career as we talk about all kinds of stuff. I bet most of you didn't know that Jan used to design, build and race speed boats, did you? At one time he held 7 world records as his boats went as fast as 120 mph! One of the boats he built and raced crossed the wake of a tug boat on a river and went airborne. He said that it was clocked at 113 mph. The really scary part was that at the time it was 26 feet in the air at the time, upside down. He was throw out just before it came back down into the water, flipped over and sank! Jan showed me a couple wooden models of boats he has built in the past, and of one he still hopes to build in the future.

Well, we did work on the bear too :o) We started by tracing the pattern. Just that part of the process was eye opening for me. The tracing pattern was two parts. The first was a normal tracing pattern for a bear. The second was a smaller part of just the nose that has been distorted so that once all the cutting, stretching and filling is done, it will still look like a bear. We then cut, beveled and added some of the hair texture. Once this was done we started to cut the nose and mouth of the bear loose from the leather. If you saw our leather now, you'd probably think this was a practice piece gone terribly wrong, but I have confidence that Jan knows what he's doing :o)

Here's a couple pictures of where we're at after day one.