an interview with kara ginther

kara ginther

since leather seems a medium to which you are attracted, is leather working something you trained to do, or something you taught yourself? and how long has this been going on?

I haven't been working with leather very long, about four years. I first started experimenting with leather at University (I majored in Textile Design). I was really interested in embellishment of the human body and wanted to develop a surface design inspired by tattoos. It was during this project that I absentmindedly started scratching leather with a lino tool. The time between then and now has been filled with endless samples, piles of leather shavings, several ruined belts and bags, and a few choice words of encouragement.

I really do love leather and for many reasons. I love the aesthetic in general. I love that it's natural and durable. Leather is one of few things that look better with age, even while retaining all the nicks and scratches of past use. And carving it is so satisfying! I'm very thankful that I can love the physical work of running the blade over the leather, otherwise this work would be even more tedious than it already is.

how are colours imposed upon the leather, and does carving the leather harm it in anyway?

To color the saddles I use simple acrylic or latex paint. To help the paint adhere to the leather, I need to first roughen the surface. I mix the paint with water and apply a couple layers and finish with a layer of paint. In other work, I have used leather dyes. I have yet to use dye on a saddle because it is far less controllable than paint which = scary for me.

three saddles

I cannot at this point make any claims as to how the saddles hold up over several years. I have, however, taken up this issue with several Brooks dealers and leather experts and the general consensus is that as long as a carved saddle is taken care of, it will remain durable. I have my eye on several saddles that are currently in use and everything is holding up splendidly.

saddlewise, do you work exclusively on items from brooks of england and are they happy with what you're doing to their saddles?

I have only worked with Brooks saddles thus far and have just recently been in contact with their marketing manager concerning my work. They were very nice and enthusiastic and got me a big project right away. A great moment in my career, for sure!

where do you get your ideas from, and are the carved saddles a medium for personal expression, or is the bulk of your work the result of individual commissions? is this work fairly constant? with the exception of the limited run made for this year's tweed run, is each saddle generally unique?

I get a lot of inspiration from pattern, specifically from textiles. I love intense and intricate pattern, or even better, two or three patterns nudged up against one another. Each of my saddles is unique, thanks largely to clients who trust my work enough to tell me to carve whatever I want. Most clients will give me a general idea of what they are interested plaid saddle in (floral, nautical, etc), giving me free range to push myself with every design. I have been commissioned to do logos, which is always challenging and requires a completely different kind of energy. Logos are much more like work to me than my other designs, but I always learn a lot. Regardless, I am endlessly thankful for every commission. My work has been fairly constant, by which I mean I always have at least one project to be working on. It has never been overwhelming yet, although things are definitely picking up.

is your leather work an end in itself, or a means to an end? by which i mean, is there a logical progression, or is each considered in isolation?

This is a great question. When I first started carving, I really wanted to work with a narrative design and had big plans to carry a story from piece to piece. This somehow fell to the wayside with the saddles and clients and commissions and all, but I have neither forgotten nor become less excited about this idea. I hope to someday create an entire collection of leather (somethings) that will only tell the entire story when they are all assembled. Wouldn't that be a cool way to bring people together?

would you consider yourself a craftswoman or an artist, and would you rather see your work atop a bicycle seatpost, or in a glass case in a gallery? do you hold exhibitions of your work?

the worktop

One moment I'm an artist, the next I'm a craftswoman. That is the best way I can describe it. To me, those titles are merely pieces of a whole. To get inspired, I think like an artist. To manifest my idea, I think like a craftsperson. To incorporate and lay out my work onto a functional object, I think like a designer. Not to mention the days I dabble in graphic design, photography, public relations, accounts, human resources, history, anthropology, philosophy... Titles don't mean much to me, they're just words.

I would rather see my work on a seat post any day of the week. I am quite obsessed with utility. I have had my work in galleries a couple times, which is great of course. But ultimately, I want people to intimately experience my work. I want it to draw attention to the everyday aspects of life. I want people to look at something in a new way. To me, the most precious objects are those which can assist me and be beautiful at the same time. It kills me...when my work is in a gallery, people ask if they can touch it.

does it ever bother you that such exquisite skill is generally sat upon, that if used for its primary purpose, your art can't be readily seen?

When my work is on a bicycle, people ask how many years it will hold up under their ass. It really spans the entire gamut of perspective and experience in relation to beauty and function.

pattern saddle

do you see yourself as a part of the international bicycle community, or is that simply an area in which you have one foot? a string to your bow, so to speak? do you practice your leather work on items other than saddles, and what prompted the sideways move into leather mudflaps?

The bike community is definitely a small aspect of what I hope to achieve in the future. I've gotten to the point where I have started imagining carved leather on everything. Before the saddles, I carved belts, bags, luggage, wallets, even a jacket. Thus, it was no stretch to carve up a couple mudflaps to match a saddle. (This project, incidentally, was commissioned by Ahren of Banjo Cycles for NAHBS 2010.) I definitely plan on working more with mudflaps, saddle bags, and other bike specific gear. However, I have also begun to think more broadly about functional art. Where else is this lacking in our lives? Can this extend to interiors, apparel, or accessories? Could I design something upon which the carving itself has a specific function? But I'll address these questions when the time is right. Right now I'm very happy to be working on saddles.

your writings on the iam blog are most impressive. do you find a particular affinity for writing, and what's the reason for writing?

Thank you! I have always been a writer; in fact, I started college with plans to be a journalist. I quickly dropped this idea when I realized that in order to be an upstanding reporter, you need to check your facts. Not only that, but you need to be absorbed in facts and statistics, obsessed with them. I do not have the patience to be a fact checker. I am much more of a "feelings" person. I feel if something is right. I feel what my next step should be, or what the best design is or even what a client might like. It's when I tread into logical territory that I get scared, second guess myself and stop being creative. (Because, let's face it, there are always a million logical reasons not to do something.) My writings on the IAm Designer blog are documentation of me coming to terms with my feelings, specifically in relation to the creative process. I am learning how to bypass the fact checking, logic and systems in order to write completely and directly from me. Creativity is much more than the leather carving that has become my career. Creativity is about deciding every moment how you want your life to be and then taking responsibility to make it happen. For me, Kara Ginther Leather is a tangible way to explore the ultimate creative project that is life.

kara ginther | iamdesigner blog


posted wednesday 21 april 2010

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