Over the last few years the leather industry has been over taken by an unlikely trend in the artwork that adorns our saddles and tack. The days of the traditional oak leaf and acorn floral, the simple basket stamping, or the intricate Sheridan style tooling being the three main options for our selection of artwork available to us are gone. Even though these are still the favorite for most western folks who want personalized custom leather goods, today we notice artists in the leather industry breaking out of the mold a bit and designing beautiful pieces with everything from game animals to Japanese coy fish with full color. But in the mix of all the new art being mixed into the traditional floral, the skull has probably received the most attention… like it or not.
Custom tooling being my specialty and being the bulk of what we do in our shop, we get many folks who want to take the artwork on their custom projects to a nontraditional place.
We have made belts with wildlife scenes, angel wings, mermaids, bar maids, hog dogs, bull frogs, cactus, swords, naked ladies and the list goes on and on and on. But the most popular thing we see people wanting is skulls.
We do many different kinds of skulls, from sweet happy sugar skulls to demon looking zombie skulls. I was never really into the skull thing until we started doing more and more of them and now I really enjoy drawing them. A belt is that small accessory item that is becoming an extension of ones individuality and personality almost like a tattoo. For those too fearful of the pain of the needle, a belt is a good second choice and isn’t permanent!
The skull theme stuff has made its way into some of our saddles as well. We have completed three skull themed saddles to date and they were all three the most popular of all the saddles we have built. Not all of the feedback was good, some people have strong opinions when it comes to skulls and that’s cool.
The main thing is the person who ordered it was completely satisfied with it. As a custom shop, we have to build and design to the specs of the consumer and that has a big effect on the artwork that we do. I really never thought that I would be tooling a topless she-devil with horns and a tail sitting atop a pile of bone chilling skulls for the artwork on a fender for a custom team roping saddle, but that’s what we did.
These days it seems that even the most conservative folks want a little edge in their lives. We see skulls and the like on clothes, truck decals, belts, wallets, caps, and many other consumer products. I don’t believe the skull trend has anything to do with death or devil worship by any means… it’s simply a fashion statement now that works for anybody who likes them. The sugar skulls are very popular with their happy expressions and bright colors, while the more bold evil skulls say “Hi I’m Tom, glad to meet you… by the way I’m a potential bad ass!” Whatever the statement or style one is trying to portray, the skull can be used to accent that and stay in style with the fashion sense of the masses… for whatever that’s worth.
I am eager to see what I will have to learn how to tool into leather in another 5 years just to keep up with what’s hot… feel free to comment on this blog to give me a heads up if you know what that might be!!!