Designing a new floral tooling layout can be a bit of a task on any project but especially on bigger pieces like notebooks and saddles. In this post, I will show you five tools that will make the experience easier and a lot more fun.
Before I begin the list of tools, I want to say that I lay out the majority of my floral tooling patterns directly on the leather that will become the final piece. Many craftsmen and artists prefer to begin their initial drawings on paper so that they can get the pattern just right and then transfer it to leather when completed. There is nothing wrong with doing it this way and I will sometimes take this approach myself on certain pieces. But for the most part, I find it easier and less time consuming to draw directly on the leather and I feel that it keeps my work unique and one of a kind since I usually do not have a hard copy of the pattern for later use. Here is an article on how I layout my patterns on a wallet.
With that being said, lets begin with our list of 5 Tools for Floral Tooling Layout:
- Circle Stencil
- Tracing Paper
This is a subject that gets a lot of attention on our website and youtube channel. The biggest question I get on this subject is “How do you get the pencil marks off the leather when you are done tooling?”
When I am drawing on the leather, it is not cased at all. The leather is dry and if mistakes are made in the drawing this allows for erasing of the graphite from the leather just as on paper. When it comes to having pencil marks when completed with the tooling process, I have very little of this problem. If I do see any stray pencil marks they can simply be erased before any finishing is done.
The thing to remember here is that you should, for the most part, be carving with your swivel knife directly on the marks you made with the pencil. So with that, the majority of the pencil marks are gone by the time you start tooling anyway. Also, if you miss a few marks here and there, its no worry since the oiling and finishing will usually wipe them away by the end of the project anyway.
The pencils that I use for my floral tooling layout are an 8B graphite art pencil. This hardness of graphite is very soft and allows the pencil to drop a lot of lead without having to push down very hard. This is important so that my drawings do not cause impressions into the leather. When a correction needs to be made with the eraser, there is not a scratch line or impression that can still be seen after the lead is gone.
You can use a normal #2 pencil for layout and it works very well but the darkness of the lines is very light compared to the 8B. The advantage to the #2 pencils is that the point of the lead doesn’t wear down as fast as the 8B since it is much harder lead. I sharpen my lead points with a knife so that I can get a sharp yet slightly blunt tip so that the leather isn’t scratched by the point. Although this wears the pencils down faster and I go through them much faster than I would with a #2 pencil.
I have found a good middle of the road in the 6B leads, but I still prefer the 8B for what I do on a daily basis. Get a few of these and give them a try and see how they work for you.
2. Circle Stencil
Number two in this list is the Circle Stencil. This is a relatively new tool to my war chest when it comes to floral tooling layout. For many years I used the calipers to layout my flow and circles for my work. As I still use them for tooling swell fronts on saddles, I find this little tool very helpful on work that is flat.
I found these at Hobby Lobby last year and decided to give it a try. They are pretty cheap and very helpful. I am sure there are many differect types of these in the market so brand isn’t important, but the main concern here is that it have many different size circles so that you have options.
The thing I really like about this stencil is the fact that I will not have a dot in the middle of my flower center left from the calipers. This is always a big annoyance with me in my finished product, and even though most of the time my flowers are not centered exactly in the middle of my circles, it is still a concern in the layout.
This stencil also comes in handy for use in determining flow of the pattern. Many times I will use it to layout the bulk of circles where a flower may go and then once I get to filling the pattern I decide a particular circle is more of an action line and better suited for flow than flower placement for whatever reason.
The one thing I would recommend on these, is to make sure they are somewhat transparent. Most of the ones I have seen are, but this comes in really handy when you are deciding where to place a circle or curve within a layout. If you can see through the plastic a bit then you can have a better view of where that circle should be placed.
Calipers are essential in the world of leathercraft… and many other trades as well. These little devices allow the craftsman to scribe lines evenly from a guide point, compare sizes and ratios, and create arcs within a space.
I have many pairs and sizes of these in my shop and use them many times throughout the day on much more than just floral tooling layout. I do not have any particular brand or style that is great for everything, but I would recommend having a couple sizes.
Even though I draw my patterns on the leather with a pencil as previously discussed, I almost always layout my border lines, guidelines, and negative spaces within a pattern with this tool. Without this tool in your tool chest, you will find it very difficult to properly frame your artwork within a piece no matter the shape.
When it comes to composition of your artwork, these tools are essential for overall comparison of objects and focal points within the design. They allow you to very quickly compare size and distance in reference to certain aspects within your work.
We are down to the most important tool in the floral tooling layout collection… The Eraser! Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of new and old craftsman more than a mark being made that is permanent. Rest easy and know that the eraser is here to calm your anxiety.
Whether you are drawing on leather or on paper, the eraser becomes your right hand man. I can not remember one pattern that I designed where I didn’t use this simple tool. Mistakes happen, and without them happening we never grow or learn as artists. With this being said, do not be caught dead without your eraser!
The erasers I like are the clean white ones you can find at art stores and sometimes Walmart. These are great because they erase the lead clean with minimal trash coming off the eraser. Some other erasers I have tried, in both leathercraft and my fine art, tend to smear the lead around until finally lifting it from the surface all the while leaving behind a trail of eraser trash.
The thing I like to do is to cut off a cross section of the eraser with a knife as seen in the above photo. This gives me a few different angles and edges that I can use for different areas that need mending within my layout. I usually keep a few of these placed around the shop so that I can always find one when needed. They also work okay for removing dried contact cement where you don’t want it.
5. Tracing Paper
Last in this list of floral tooling layout tools is tracing paper. This is just handy to have around at all times. When I was younger I thought tracing paper was only for cheaters and not real artists. I have since learned about working smarter not harder and putting to use tools available.
Tracing paper is a tool that can help to speed the process of pattern layout while improving the symmetry within certain layouts. Many times you may be laying out a project that has two halves that need to reflect each other. This is common in saddles in the dish of the seat if it is tooled… not to mention on a saddle there are two sides or a left and right of almost every part.
I use tracing paper a lot on belts that have a name centered in the back. The name is the focal point of the piece and it is centered in middle of the pattern. I will draw the left side of the belt first and once I am happy with the floral pattern, I will then trace it off onto tracing paper and then flip it to other side and transfer it. This insures the symmetry of the patterns on both sides of the central focal point.
This tool also comes in handy when a brand or logo needs to be copied into a pattern. Usually these have to be exact to the original supplied by the client. If you are good at freehanding then cool. If you are concerned about it, then trace the brand or logo onto tracing paper and transer.
A little trick if you need to resize an image to fit a project and you are going to trace the image is to use your iphone or ipad. These made great lightboxes so that you can trace them onto tracing paper. Here is a link to a post I did on how I do this. If the image was given to you as a hard copy (paper, business card, ball cap) just take a photo of the image and then its in your phone.
So there are my 5 Tools for Floral Layout that I use everyday in my shop. There are many more tools that help me achieve my goals in my work and I will discuss more in the future, but for now these should help you as well.
If you have any questions on these tools or have a suggestion on some tools that help you, please email me and let me know. I hope you found this article helpful and be sure to share this article with your friends and fellow leather heads on social media! Thanks ya’ll!