How to Realize Your Leatherworking Dream

Today’s post highlights the work and life of Hamish Lamley, the founder and sole craftsman behind the unique works of Pictavia Leather. I recently stumbled upon an article that shared his story, including the history, motivation, and circumstances that led him to create truly unique leather goods. 

If you’ve been following our blog for a while now, you’ll know that we’re a big fan of innovation and truly believe that in order to succeed, you’ll need to follow your leatherworking passion. Sure, if you’re starting a new leather business, you’ll have to keep your customer in mind and create supply where there is a demand, but there is something to be said for those who go out on a limb and create something solely from their own inspiration. 

Hamish is a beautiful example of following your own path. His work and his interests are in no way mainstream nor follow a predictable formula. His niche, in reproducing the leather goods used and worn by the Picts (a group of Celtic-speaking, Scottish people from the early medieval periods), couldn’t stray further from the established, modern norm. His work is rustic, utilitarian, and designed to accurately depict a small chunk of history. It’s not the kind of work that you’d find in a local mall while window shopping, and I found myself feeling really inspired by his story. 

The Birth of Pictavia Leather

Hamish was inspired to start making leather goods while bed-ridden for two years. He’d had extensive back surgery, and was confined to doing almost nothing. In order to keep his hands and his mind active, he started making leather goods. At first, he made what he thought people would like and worked within an already established niche. The rural area in which he lived was full of hunters, fishermen, and other outdoor enthusiasts and so he found himself making gun cases, knife sheaths, and other related pieces. He found some success (and got the critical feedback that he needed in sharing his work with friends, family, and community members) but it still wasn’t quite what he was looking to do. Something was still a little off. 

Hamish had always been a history buff and he had a particularly strong interest in the Picts. The Picts had a unique set of leather goods and there happened to be a museum nearby that displayed local leather artifacts from that particular period of time. He studied them, made detailed sketches, and began making his own patterns. He decided that what he really wanted to do was to recreate the leather goods of his forgotten ancestors! He made a conscious choice to design with himself in mind, rather than from what others wanted and expected of him. 

In the video linked below, Hamish talks a lot about wanting to do something that he could take pride in and that could be his own. He designs all of his own patterns and templates and all of his pieces are hand-stitched and hand-carved. In looking through some of his work, there’s no doubt that he’s making some really creative pieces. 

Lessons Learned From His Story

As I read a little more about Hamish, I realized that there were a few key takeaways from his story that closely mirror what we teach at Fine Leatherworking. No matter where you are on your leatherworking journey, there are going to be times when you will feel inspired and other times when you will feel stuck. 

When I am stuck or even when I just need a little bit more inspiration, I use the steps below to re-ignite or stoke my inspiration, get back on track, and take my craft to the next level.

Slow Down and Find Your Inspiration

Find time to slow down and reflect on what it is that you really want to do. In order to get clarity and allow your inspiration to flow through, it helps to carve out chunks of time to ask yourself the important questions (for thoughts on the right questions to ask, read our post on how to design with yourself in mind) that will allow you to move forward with pursuing your passion. Though certainly not ideal, the time that Hamish spent lying in his bed post-surgery gave him ample time to consider exactly what it was that he wanted to do.

Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Have a clear goal in mind before you set out on your leatherworking journey. This goes hand-in-hand with the first takeaway. In the case of Hamish, his “ultimate aim” was to make historically-accurate replicas of indigenous, Pictish leather goods. You really can’t get more specific than that. This brings us to the third point.

Get Specific and Focus on the Details

In our post on how to make unique leather goods one detail at a time, we talk a little bit about revisiting past inspirations and how small changes can lead to big design improvements. Hamish’s work is a clear demonstration of both of these principles. His leather goods, though historically accurate in design, were made with access to modern tools and materials and are no doubt of higher quality than those of his ancestors. Simply giving yourself access to the very best is an easy way to quickly elevate your work. As another example, maybe you could double-down and really focus on improving your leather edges. As we often say, the difference between a good piece and a great piece is all in the details.

Test Your Product and Welcome Critical Feedback

Improve how your design wears and consider the utility of what you’re making. Aesthetics are important, but functionality is just as critical to consider. Get your leather goods into the hands of whoever will accept them. Ask for feedback and don’t let your ego get in the way! Hamish was smart; as soon as he had finished a new piece, he shared it with the community and encouraged them to “use and abuse” it. Getting critical feedback on where your design and technique can improve is an important part of the leather goods making process.

Don’t Overthink It

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. One of the key takeaways from Hamish’s story is that you don’t have to try to do something that’s never been done before. Take a sprinkling of inspiration from all of your most beloved sources. There is plenty of existing inspiration out there in the world that’s ripe for the picking. Find new ways to mix and match your favorites. In this case, Hamish took his love for the work of his ancestors and put a new spin on it for the modern world.

Achieve Your Dream of Mastering Leathercraft

The first few pieces that Hamish made weren’t the best, but his perseverance and dedication eventually led him to make better leather goods. Though I have a lot of respect for people who are self-taught, I can’t help but think about how much better Hamish’s work could have been, straight out of the gate, had he had a leatherworking teacher or mentor to guide him. He concedes to have learned by “making a lot of mistakes;” mistakes that most people simply don’t have the time or money for. 

Part of what we do at Fine Leatherworking is helping people to learn the right techniques, right from the very beginning. Once a student has developed their core skills and abilities, they can take those skills and use them to create something completely unique. Hamish’s work doesn’t quite fit in with the type of leather goods that we teach people how to make, but his story is a perfect example of what you can do with the skills and knowledge you gain once you’ve established a solid foundation of technique. That’s what we’re here for.

Original source: https://www.fineleatherworking.com/blog/realize-your-leatherworking-dream/