Carved leather belts by Kara Ginther. Photo courtesy of Kara Ginther.
Today’s guest is Ms. Kara Ginther, one of the most remarkable leather artists out there! She kindly agreed to answer a few questions for Craftsyble readers.
Before we start, here is a little bit about Kara:
Using fine wood carving tools, she hand carves leather bicycle saddles with intricate patterns, removing the thinnest surface layer to create rich contrast and texture in the leather. Kara is 26 and is based out of Madison, Wisconsin, where she obtained a Bachelors degree in Textile Design from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She uses her textile background to find inspiration for her patterns and imagery. Much of her work is commissioned privately, incorporating designs ranging from simple logos to intricate patterns that cover the seat. Prices for her work are anywhere from $99-$400. A fully carved saddle can take up to two weeks to complete.
Kara loves to work one-on-one with her clients to create unique and personal products. Her work is not exclusive to saddles. She has also embellished bags, belts, and shoes and is currently developing a line of accessories for both men and women.
Her website is: KaraGinther.com
1. Your products are fantastic! You are so talented! When, why and how did you start your business? (I’m so glad you did!!)
Thank you, thank you! My business started through a series of synchronistic events, really. I spent my undergraduate career and the following years experimenting with leather carving and all its potential. I also teamed up with my best friend on several art installations, one of which was a mobile museum pulled behind a tandem bike. This specific project birthed the idea of a hand carved Brooks saddle. It was the fall of 2009 when I carved my first saddle and posted images of the final product on flickr. Within days I was featured on some big blogs and started receiving commission requests shortly after.
2. What’s your favorite product?
My favorite and most successful designs happen when I can carve a really high quality, really useful product. Brooks saddles are a good example of this. More than anything, I want people to incorporate my work into their daily lives. Whether they sit on it, walk in it, or wrap it around their waist, I want people to experience the product intimately.
More specifically, I especially love to carve shoes and boots.
Carved Dansko clogs by Kara Ginther. Photo courtesy of Kara Ginther.
3. Do you do only custom work or can our readers find your products in stores?
Right now I have a line of belts available through Anthropologie. Other than this, my work is by commission, although I will occasionally sell things on my etsy shop.
4. One question we like to ask a lot: if you were to start your business all over again, what would you do differently?
My business per se started quite unexpectedly, literally overnight. Looking back, it could have been no other way. If I would have had time to think about the journey I was embarking on, I would have undoubtedly talked myself out of it. If you choose to jump into something like this, however, you must be prepared for a lot of on-the-spot learning (i.e. stressful google sessions). If you are not good at being put on the spot, I would highly recommend having a fundamental knowledge of small business and all it entails. Have someone around who can answer your questions. Do not be too proud to ask questions that are really basic. Most important, stay professional and confident. No one needs to know that you’re doing this for the first time.
I would recommend spending a lot of time mastering your craft. Mastery is important for a couple reasons: first, it will be what separates you from your competition and second, it will eliminate having to learn new techniques under pressure. You should have complete confidence in your skill level when you promise a product to a client. It can be very stressful to have to learn a new technique while your client waits. Let your craft become second nature and be discerning about what projects you take on. You must continue learning, of course, but do it at your own pace and with your own motivations.
Finally (and what I feel is most important) do not consider one kind of work to be more important than another, especially when you work from home. It is just as important that you spend time being playful as it is to spend time being responsible or organized. I have used a lot of energy trying to analyze the most efficient use of my time, only to discover the best thing you can do for yourself is to forget that time exists. Indulge yourself in the seemingly unrelated projects. Wander, both physically and mentally. On the surface it may seem like you are unfocused, but I guarantee that you will soon be able to see the common thread that weaves its way into everything you do. In this way, you will always know your next step based on what excites you. You won’t always be able to make sense of it but that is okay.
5. Some of our readers are business owners (crafters); what word of advice would you give to a beginner in the leather carving industry?
Leather crafting is an ancient practice, but much of what we see today fits into very specific aesthetics that appeal to very specific products. Yet leather is very prevalent in today’s fashions. Every day I think about the numerous ways I can bring something completely fresh and new to leather goods. When all is said and done, there really isn’t a whole lot of competition in the leather carving field. There is definitely room in the world for more leather artists. Focus on creating leather products that veer away from the typical. There are people other than cowboys and Harley fans who would like to wear leather.
Custom saddles by Kara Ginther. Photo courtesy of Kara Ginther
6. What are you up to these days?
To be honest, I currently find myself at a crossroads. This past year has allowed me to experience small business on many different levels. I have worked intimately with individuals to create products based on their unique motivations and inspirations. I have also worked with large companies, creating multiples of one product to be sold internationally. It is time now that I pause and decide which of these aspects are most important for my work and lifestyle. Right now, you can find me trying to take my own advice (see #4) to be playful, spontaneous and happy. I’ve been checking out stacks of books from the library and going on walks. I’ve been doing some traveling and indulging in my other obsession (cooking). I’m working on launching a website called Do Nothing Design (donothingdesign.com), which will explore the creative process in the context of nature and returning to the source of creativity. And, of course, I am still carving, working on refining my skill and experimenting on new products.
Sometimes I feel as if I’m forging ahead blindly. That being said, I have no doubt that this will be an exciting and successful year.
7. Any events coming up?
A few projects are in the works, but nothing I can talk about quite yet. I will do my best to keep you updated via Facebook and Flickr!
Carved leather products by Kara Ginther. Photo courtesy of Kara Ginther