Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Second Year - Leather

It has been a long time. A long, long, long time. Last September I began life as a second year student at North Bennet Street School. Before I catch you up on my fabulous adventures here's a little review.

"Previously On (the first season of) CTO Adventures..." The first year focused on models. Models of ancient binding techniques and structures. From ethiopian coptic stitch books all the way to glue filled fan bindings, I made model after model and edition after edition. Heaven. No I didn't make heaven. It was just glorious to make a ton of books. Towards the end of the year the class was introduced to leather...

This season, the second year, has everything to do with leather.

The first project of the year was to create a Sampler Plaquette which displayed various types of traditional blind and gold tooling on leather.

The first panel above features blind tooling, which I define as the blank impression of a hot tool into leather. If enough heat from a tool is present and enough moisture is applied to the leather, color can be brought up from lighter colored skins. (See middle decorative tool in the 4th panel above). All lines you see in this panel and across the plaquette were made using pallets. Pallets are pieces of straight line that come in different lengths and point widths.

You may have noticed the fun squiggly line in the second panel. It was made using a special tool called an ascona tool which is crucial for irregular lines. After impressing the shape I cut a tiny sliver of yellow leather which I glued directly on top of/into that curvy line -- this is called an Ascona Onlay. The weird shape of material at the end of the line is a feathered onlay. I pared the leather so thin that only the top grain layer remained hence the feathered effect and name.

Panel three displays a different type of onlay and shape. I created the circles by using gouges (pronounced using the OO from goose, not the OW in cow). Gouges are pieces of circle and are quite challenging to work with. The first circle was made by making a blind impression, then applying a layer of gold, then pasting on the leather onlay, then applying another layer of gold. Phew!

The fourth panel was created using a decorative finishing tool. The left and right impressions show blind and gold tooling but the middle one features a blind tooled onlay over the original brown leather impression. I thought this technique was really snazzy.

The fifth and final panel displays a great deal of gold tooling which involves the application of a type of adhesive (fixor or egg glaire) and a grueling process of getting 1000th of an inch thick gold leaf onto a blind impression, then re-stamping the same impression with the tool leaving it filled with delicious gold.

QUESTION: I see that gold is in the straight lines and the circles. Why can't gold be applied in a line made with the ascona tool?

ANSWER: Gold cannot be applied to a line made with an ascona tool because one uses a rubbing sort of motion to create it. If you rub gold leaf it will crackle and turn into dust. Gold leaf must be applied with a straight up and down motion into any given impression.

Seems simple enough but it was a challenging project that involved hot tools, a few burns here and there, and in the end a pretty rectangle of historic decoration.