3-D Picture Leather Carving Tutorial

by Claude Overstreet
IILG Member

Castle Scene
Click Images to Enlarge

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3-D Picture Leather Carving Instructions

I am going through the steps for carving a 3-D picture by using as a Demo, a castle scene. Fig 1, is a sketch that we will be working with. There is a castle in the background, a path leading to the main gate and some scrubs and trees in the foreground/background.

Wetting the leather:
When I first started out, I would wet my leather with a sponge. A couple of times I wiped a wet sponge across the leather and it would dry and leave a discoloration on it between where the leather was wet and dry. I have since went to using a spray bottle and have never had a problem.

All of the leather used in this picture is 10oz leather. I spray it really good on the front and back and then put it in a plastic bag or cover with plastic (like a dry cleaners bag) overnight so it gets evenly moist. The next day, if it is still too wet to work, I leave uncovered until it starts to turn back to the original color.

Fig 2 is the start of the sky and background. The outline of the clouds are put in and the line along the bottom shows how far down I need to tool the sky before other elements (like the castle) come to the foreground. In Fig 3, I show the tools used to create the sky and clouds. The clouds are created with the round edge of the tool while the rest of the sky is just matted and trying to not leave tool marks.

I want the castle wall to not look like it is just build of brick, but have the impression of hand worked stones. To get this impression, I got an inexpensive metal ruler you would use for grade school. I filed the edge using a metal file, I then banged on the edge using a hammer so the line varies and is not perfectly straight. I then used the metal file one last time to smooth out the rough parts the hammer put on the edge (Fig 4), making the back perfectly flat.

Fig 5 shows options for making the wall. The top section uses the perfectly straight edge of a ruler where you drag your swivel knife along the edge for the horizontal line and cut by free hand the vertical lines. As you can see, it looks like a brick wall. The middle section uses the roughed up edge for the ruler which is a little better. The bottom section first uses a pear shader to rough up the area, and then uses the rough edge of the ruler to draw the horizontal lines. But as I move down to cut the next line, I move the ruler left or right to get some variation in the beat up section of the ruler. All vertical lines are put in free hand with more variation in how far apart the lines are. It now starts to look like hand helm stone for the wall.

Fig 6 starts to show the tooling for the center section of the castle. The part of the left will be cut out and serve as the archway to the main entrance. The part on the right will have the ramparts cut out at the top. I put in two windows above the entrance. All tools used are shown on the right. You can see the stone wall is starting to look pretty good with variations both vertically and horizontally. I try not to make anything look too uniform.

My very first attempt at 3-D pictures many years ago was just carving a couple of sections, cutting them out and stacking them on top of each other. Today about 95% of the time, I cut the carved section out with leather shears and then trim all pieces to a feather edge using a "Gem Super Stainless Steel Single Edge Blades" you can pick up in a drug store or order from Amazon (Fig 7). In Fig 8, you see the main entrance cut out.

I now work to finish up the rest of the castle wall (Fig 9). I rough up the wall with a pear shader before I cut the lines. I also add in cross windows that would be used by archers. In Fig 10, I beveled the rampart openings that will be cut out latter and beveled around the windows. Fig 11, shows the lines cut in for the stonework

Now for the wooden door that leads into the castle. I start by scratching vertical lines to simulate wood grain (Fig 12) and then using my beat up ruler, cut in the planks (Fig 13). Fig 14 shows how this will all come together.

I am now going to start putting the castle together by gluing the middle section on. Eventually I will glue the entire picture on a piece of Tempered Hard Board you can get at Home Depot. For large flat pieces like the sky I will use Barge Cement. To glue little leather pieces together, I use Super Glue Gel which is thick and fills the unevenness of the carving. They say Super Glue set in minutes (if you put some on your finger and thumb, it just take seconds to set), but when you work with large globs, I set the pieces together, put weights on top and wait 1-2 hours. Fig 15. In Fig 16, I have a couple of legs weight holding the pieces together. I like these leg weight because they have no hard edges. I sometimes use books and dumbbell as weights. Fig 17 shows the front of the castle glued together.

Fig 18 shows the carvings of the building that go behind the castle wall. They are taller than the original drawing so they can go completely behind the castle wall when they are glued together. Fig 19 shows them cut out and the edges feathered. I also take this time bend down the feather edges and shape the buildings so it does not just look like a flat piece of leather.

The hills on the left side of the picture are started on Fig 20. I draw one hill, then raise the pattern to draw the next hill so the hills are larger than needed. That allows me to overlap them after they are cut out and re-glued to give a more 3-D effect. You can follow the progression of beveling in Fig 20, Adding dimension in Fig 21 with a pear shader and adding grass in Fig 22. I will then cut along the main lines using my leather shears, feather all the edges and roll and form each piece to give it a rounded effect before they are glued together.

The following shows the progression of cutting and forms these hills
Fig 23/24/25 - one piece cut out with leather shears before trimming the edges
Fig 26/27 - the edge is trimmed and bent with the fingers to a rounded shape
Fig 28 - all pieces cut out and the edges are feathered and rounded
Fig 29 - the three pieces are laid on top of each other to see what they will look like when glued

Next we start on the ground in from of the castle with the pathway in Fig 30. In Fig 31 we add some texture with a pear shader. In Fig 32, we add the grass and a pebble effect for the path.

For the trees and the shrubs, I don't have a firm plan. I am going to create multiple trees and shrubs and move them around when I put the picture together to see what I like. I may need fewer or more than I originally create.

Fig 33 is the start of the shrubs. I use a pear shader to go around the outline and put some variation in the middle. In Fig 34, I go around the outline with a petal tool. This tool is fairly sharp and I probably go half way through the 10oz leather. In Fig 35 I randomly fill in the middle of the shrubs. Fig 36, the shrubs are cut out with the leather shears. Fig 37 shows a piece that is ready to have the edge feathered. In Fig 38, I am using the single edge razor blade to trim along the edge. I make sure the leather is very most along the edge at this time. It is much easier to cut into damp leather rather than hard dry leather. It turns out that the petal tool went so far into the leather that trimming to a feather edge can easily be done by following the tooling and get a perfect cut with very little effort (Fig 39). Fig 40 shows all the shrubs cut out.

If you laid this flat on your workbench, it would be very thick in the middle (10oz leather) and thin around the edges. I don't want just a flat bush that you can look along the edge and see raw leather, so I manually bend the edges around and give them some shape (Fig 41/42). Fig 43 shows all pieces completed.

I use the same technique with the trees in Fig 44/45/46.

For this picture I am using Pastels. I will start with the ground/grass carvings. I am using Pan Pastel (620.1 - Phthalo Green X-Dark) which I rub in with a soft foam applicator. The applicator just covers the top, I use a small shoe brush to scrub the green into all the cuts and even out the color (Fig 47/48). I use the same green for the trees and bushes that were cut out.

In Fig 49, I use a Rembrandt 370.5 Permanent Red Light heavily applied to the roof and then use a brush to spread it out into the cuts and carvings.

Fig 50 is a brown color for the door to the Castle. Fig 51 is after the pieces are brushed and ready to assemble.

Fig 52 is after applying Pan Pastel 380.3 Red Iron Oxide Shade to highlight the Castle wall to give some variation in color and interest to the wall. The windows are darken with a black pastel pencil.

Fig 53 is the start to coloring the sky using Prismacolor Nu Pastel white, blue and dark blue. I then use my fingers to even out the colors and blend the blues from dark to light (Fig 54). Using a brush on this would just remove all the pastels and basically get back to plain leather.

All the colors mentions are available from www.jerrysartarama.com

In Fig 55, I glued the brown door onto the back of the castle entrance, and then start gluing the picture together using Super Glue Gel. In Fig 56, I add the ground in front.

In Fig 57, I add the trees. I just play around on tree placement until I find something I like, then glue them onto the picture. Fig 58 adds the sky. The gluing takes hours, since I do one item at a time, weight it down and wait 1-2 hours before doing the next piece.

In Fig 59, you can see the gap around the edge. I use my razor blade to try to just have one thickness layer around the picture edge so it sits in a frame evenly. I put the bushes back about _ inch from the edge since that is the depth most frames hide. Fig 60 shows the same edge after I sprayed water between the mounting board and the back of the leather to help get it to lay flat. I then put glue along the edge and weighted it down with books overnight.

Fig 61 shows the final picture with the bushes added. After everything is done, I went back and cleaned up the sky and applied black shadows around the bushes so they seem like they are growing from the grown and not just glued on. The 3-dimensional effect is much more pronounced then shown in the picture. It is now ready to be framed. Any good frame shop can help pick out a frame to make this picture really stand out.

For those of you interested in my workspace, it is shown in Fig 62. This is just an office desk with a nice piece of granite on it and an overhead light. I made the tool holder which has mostly Bob Beard's tools and a few Ellis Barnes tools. I have a range of reading glasses from 3x to 6x that I use depending on the detail I am trying to get when I carve.

This carving shows some of the lessons I learned while carving a much bigger picture of St Anthony (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Durer-st-anthony-1519.jpg). The final carving for this picture is shown in Fig 63.


Completed Castle

Leather Artist, Claude Overstreet

Castle Scene, continued

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