Leather Guitar Straps Guide

Posted on: May 14th, 2019 by Quentin Burns

This article is an overview of everything to do with our leather guitar straps, which are handcrafted by the artisans at Leathersmith Designs. It will show you what goes into designing one of our custom guitar straps, and it will compare different techniques we use for different styles of straps. Read on if you’re curious about how our handmade guitar straps are created, or for guidance on which style of strap would be ideal for your needs.

Watch artisans handcraft different styles of leather guitar straps.

1: Real Leather Guitar Straps

Every guitar strap starts life as a high quality piece of 5-6 oz vegetable tanned leather. The “5-6 oz” measurement refers to the thickness of our full grain leather; these hides are about 3/32 inches thick. “Vegetable tanned” describes the tanning process, which uses tree bark. This process creates leather that can be stamped and molded when wet.

We often incorporate other leathers in the strap, such as chrome tanned garment leather. We use this soft leather as a lining or inlay option.

Leather guitar strap blanks and cutters for the hydraulic press.

Standard size undyed full grain leather guitar strap pieces and cutters.

We cut our standard size guitar strap pieces using cutters on a hydraulic press. You can see our hydraulic press in action in the video below. Extra long straps and wide bass straps are cut out by hand, using a strap cutter handtool and a sharp utility knife.

We hand cut custom leather guitar straps longer and wider to customer specifications.

2: Design Elements Of Leather Guitar Straps

Once our pieces have been cut they are ready to be hand tooled. This section will cover some different techniques we use to personalize and embellish our straps.

“Classic” Stamped Straps

Blue and gold stamped personalized guitar strap.

A classic series stamped personalized guitar strap.

The embossed classic series are our most popular guitar straps. To create this look the strap needs to be wet, which allows the stamping tool to mold the leather as it’s hammered down.

The key to this technique is precision. We line up the stamping tool exactly in place, and bring the hammer straight downwards to create an even impression. Then we line up the tool again, and repeat a few hundred times to create a beautiful border design around the strap.

After stamping the border designs, we lay out the text. On most of our guitar straps we use one style of lettering: the classic, western-inspired font you can see in the picture above. We also have an old english font set, which is unique but not as easy to read as the classic style.

A hand stamp being used on a leather guitar strap.

Hand stamping an “x” pattern onto a leather guitar strap.

Etched Leather Guitar Straps

Etched designs have a hand-drawn artistic look, as opposed to the uniformity and crisp corners of the stamped designs. To create these we trace an image onto the guitar strap in pencil, wet the leather, and press down the lines of the design with an etching hand tool. The key to etching is to keep a steady hand and apply even pressure. This blog post on making custom candle holders includes a tutorial for etching, if you want to learn more.

We hand paint the etched lettering or layout with an acrylic leather paint. We have several font options for this lettering style.

Three unique leather guitar straps with etched and painted artwork.

Etched and painted designs on three unique leather guitar straps.

“Script” Straps

Monogrammed guitar strap with textured embossed initials.

A script series monogrammed guitar strap with textured embossing surrounding initials.

This is a different type of stamped strap. We trace on a design, as with the etched straps, and then we use small, textured stamping tools to tamp down the area around the design. It takes hundreds of hits to emboss the background using this method, which is very time consuming. This technique makes the lettering or image appear raised.

For a subtle look, we will dye the whole design one color. For more contrast, we can leave the lettering undyed. We do this by painting on the dye with a fine artist brush around the exterior of the raised image.

Three tooled leather guitar straps with a chiseled look.

Our script style designs on our tooled leather guitar straps have a chiseled look.

Inlay and Overlay Straps

Inlayed straps have pieces of the main body of the guitar strap cut out, revealing a different leather underneath. We might use a textured leather for these inlays, such as ostrich imprint or stingray, or a soft garment leather, or leather with a metallic finish.

An inlay series handmade guitar strap decorated with textured leather.

A setting suns handmade guitar strap with textured leather inlay.

Overlay straps have extra pieces sewn on top, creating a 3D effect.

Overlay series Christian guitar strap with a blue cross overlay.

A Christian guitar strap with a blue leather cross overlay piece and decorative metal concho.

For both the inlay and overlay styles, the first step involves tracing a pattern onto the leather and then cutting out the necessary pieces with a sharp utility knife. The cut edges are sanded and adjusted until the cut-out is completely smooth.

3: Dyeing, Oiling, Polishing

Once a strap has been tooled it is ready to be dyed. For some straps, we use wooden blocks lined with sheepskin to apply the dye. This method floods any stamped or etched impressions, making the whole strap a uniform color.

For straps where the stamped impressions are to remain undyed for a natural contrasting color, we apply the dye with a cotton cloth and use q-tips to fill in the edges.

Classic hand tooled leather guitar strap, dyed black with undyed designs.

Dye is applied carefully, so as not to flood the undyed stamped design in the guitar strap.

Black vogue hand tooled leather guitar strap showing dyed in design.

On vogue style hand tooled leather guitar straps, the design is dyed in using sheepskin.

After the leather strap is dyed, it will be coated with a leather conditioner – usually neatsfoot oil. Then we hang it up and leave it to dry overnight. The next day we may need to even out the color with more leather dye or conditioner. Once the color is uniform, we polish the guitar strap with acrylic resolene. The edges are rounded with a beveler leathercraft tool and dyed with edge-kote.

4: Finishing Touches

Many of our stamped and etched designs have an option for the lettering to be hand painted. We apply several coats of acrylic leather paint using a ball point stylus tool. The first coat establishes an even line width, and subsequent coats build up the color until it is completely opaque.

After painting, decorative conchos are fitted with leather washers and attached to the strap.

Close up of gold old english letters imprinted on a personalized guitar strap.

Gold painted lettering and decorative concho on an old english series personalized guitar strap.

Inlay pieces for inlay guitar straps have their edges thinned, so there won’t be a bump under the strap lining later. Then we glue and sew them in place.

An inlay guitar strap sewn with a metallic leather finish.

A dancing flame guitar strap with a metallic leather inlay. The inlay pieces require very careful sewing.

5: Padding and Lining Leather Guitar Straps

We have a few different lining options, each with a different look and feel. Inlay guitar straps need to have a full garment leather lining, to cover the back of the inlay. Otherwise, lining choice is up to preference. In all cases we adhere the lining with contact cement and then sew it to the strap.

Foam Padding and Garment Leather

A brown vintage guitar strap padded with foam and with soft blue leather lining.

A vintage guitar strap padded with foam and lined with soft blue garment leather.

Our foam padded straps are the best option for anyone who will be playing onstage for long periods of time with a heavy electric guitar. These straps are sturdy and substantial. The foam is light and doesn’t add much extra weight, but it can withstand a lot. When Jamie designed these padded guitar straps, he tested different foam types by flattening them in a press overnight. Once removed from the press the next day, the foam padding we now use sprang back to its original thickness perfectly, while other types of poorer quality foam remained flattened.

You can watch a video below showing how we add foam padding and garment leather lining to our guitar straps.

This video shows Jamie making foam padded guitar straps.

Garment Leather Lining

A double stitch wide bass guitar strap lined with garment leather.

A wide bass guitar strap double stitched with a soft garment leather lining.

If you want a strap with a more finished, polished look, but don’t want the added bulk of foam padding, then this is a good lining option. The garment leather is soft, smooth, and pliant. It adds some extra thickness, creating a slightly firmer strap, but the strap will still be very flexible.

Sheepskin

A sheepskin padded guitar strap for shoulder comfort in black leather with white lettering.

A sheepskin padded guitar strap for soft shoulder comfort with a double stitched border.

This lining option gives a nice soft cushion for your shoulder, as well as being a major, visible design element. The same strap with or without this type of shoulder pad will look very different! In the video below you can watch how we attach sheepskin padding to our straps.

This video shows Quentin adding soft sheepskin padding to leather guitar straps.

Unlined Natural Leather

Leaving your strap unlined is a good option for straps with a classic rustic look.  The underside of our vegetable tanned leather is treated with a clear leather finish, giving it a smooth surface. The underside will be a natural, undyed leather color.

Brown personalized guitar strap with white stitching and an unlined natural leather back.

An unlined, sewn double border personalized guitar strap. The stitching is for design effect only on this unlined strap. The underside of the unlined leather is a natural color.

6: Our Guitar Straps Around the World

We love when customers send in photos of our guitar straps in action. Here are a few of my favorites:

Vogue guitar strap worn by Javier Sans.

Javier Sans performs in Spain with a vogue custom guitar strap.

 

Etched guitar strap worn by Katie Rocks.

Katie Rocks performs with an etched guitar strap.

 

Christian guitar strap worn by Mark Rankin.

Mark Rankin performs wearing a hand tooled guitar strap.

 

Two brown christian guitar straps shown on performers.

Troubadour performed wearing a pair of Christian guitar straps. Photograph by Greg Mooney.

 

Three guitar straps posed with guitars.

A few guitar straps with their guitars.

Check out our many styles of electric guitar straps and acoustic guitar straps. If you’ve ordered one of our guitar straps, we’d love to have a photo to share on social media!


Leather Hole Punch For Belts & Leatherwork

Posted on: January 28th, 2019 by Quentin Burns

Which Type of Leather Hole Punch?

This post covers the best methods for making holes for belts and other leatherwork projects, using several different types of leather hole punch tools. It will teach you how to use the drive punch, rotary hole punch, oblong hole punch, and four hole punch. The post will also help you choose which leather handtool or leather punch set is the best fit for your leather crafting needs. At the end of the post is a video where you can watch how to make a hole in leather with each different type of leather hole punch.

Round Hole Drive Punch

The drive punch is the most basic, strongest, and most universal type of leather hole punch. They come in a range of sizes. We use our small 3/32 inch leather punch to make holes for small rivets and small jacket snaps, our 1/8 inch drive punch tool to make holes for medium and large rivets, and our 5/32 inch hole punch for large jacket snaps. These sizes can be used for some buckle holes as well, but often the larger hole punch sizes are better for buckles with thicker pins. For this, you will need to choose a punch based on the circumference of your buckle tongue. To make holes for grommets and eyelets, you will need to choose a punch size based on the interior circumference of the eyelet or grommet.

crafttool round drive punch for leather

Round drive punches are available in many hole diameters.

You can also find adjustable leather punch sets. These consist of a body that can be fitted with different sizes of removable hole tube tips. Our mini punch set includes six smaller tips, and the maxi punch set has six larger tips. These are a good option if you aren’t sure what size you’ll need, or if you need to punch multiple sizes of holes. They are a good economical choice if you won’t be punching a lot of holes, since you won’t have to spend money on many different individual drive punch tools. The disadvantage of this type of punch is that swapping out the ends takes up time.

Mini leather hole punch kit with a variety of hole sizes.

Mini punch set with interchangeable tips and wrench.

How To Use A Drive Punch

To use a drive punch, first start with a sturdy surface that won’t bounce when you’re punching holes. We use a solid tree stump. On top of the stump we lay a piece of scrap leather, so that the sharp point on the drive tool won’t get dull from punching directly onto wood. This also prevents the punch from chewing up the wood and ruining your cutting surface. If you don’t have scrap leather available, you can use a poly cutting board.

Use a pencil or scratch awl to mark the leather where you need the hole punched. On darker colored leather it is easier to see a point mark by the awl than a pencil mark. Then set the piece on your cutting surface and line up your punch. The hole punch should be completely perpendicular to the leather. Hold it securely in this position, and hammer straight downwards. Depending on the thickness of the leather, the punch should cut through cleanly with one or two solid blows.

Using a drive punch tool to make holes in leather on top of a tree stump with a scrap leather underlay.

We punch holes on top of a tree stump, with a scrap leather pad to protect the drive punch tool.

The hammer shown in this photo is a large poly head mallet; a heavy rawhide mallet is also a good option. Both materials will absorb bounce, and the softer surface will protect your tools over time and extend their life.

A traditional carpenter’s hammer can be used as well.  The disadvantage of a metal hammer is that over time it will start to mushroom the end of your hole punch tools, since you are banging metal against metal.

Making Buckle Slots With An Oblong Leather Punch

crafttool oblong punch for belt buckle tongues

Oblong hole punch, used for the pin hole on belt buckles.

Use the same process to punch an oblong shaped hole for a belt buckle. It may take a bit more hammering than the smaller drive punch. You can tilt the leather oblong punch slightly, if needed, to focus the force of the hammer onto a stubborn spot.

If you can’t afford an oblong hole punch when first starting leather craft, you can get around that problem with your round hole punches. Punch two round holes an inch apart, then use a utility knife to make two parallel cuts to join the round holes together.  You could also use a wood chisel to make the straight cuts. However once you have the money and use an oblong punch, you will never go back to the work-around method.

For most of our belts and dog collars we use a 1 inch oblong punch. We use larger punches for items with large or bulky buckles, and smaller punches for small items with slender buckles. If you can’t afford a number of different sizes of oblong hole punch, you can use the one you already own to make a longer hole. Punch one hole and then overlap the punch on the existing hole, extending it past the existing hole to the desired slot length. Give it a blow with the hammer so the two slots make one longer oblong slot. You can see a poly cutting board being used below to protect the bench and the tool’s edge.

An oblong hole punch creates a belt hole with a poly cutting board used as the base.

Use an oblong hole punch tool to punch a hole for a belt buckle. Shown with poly cutting board.

Punching Round Holes With A Rotary Punch

deluxe rotary punch to add a hole in belt is convenient.

Revolving hole punch is convenient for doing the odd quick hole.

The advantage of the rotary hole punch is convenience. It comes with six different sizes of hole punches, which you switch between by rotating the wheel. We used to take this hand tool to craft shows to add a hole to a belt when someone would request it.

The disadvantage is that if you have many holes to punch, using the rotary punch pliers becomes tiring on the hand. It also will only reach about an inch in from the edge of your leather, so you can’t use it to punch a hole in the center of a large piece.  Also, the thicker the leather and the larger the tube size, the harder it becomes to squeeze the revolving punch through.  In these cases, sometimes you have to twist the punch some as you squeeze to get through the thicker leather. This leather tool is good for doing the odd hole, but too tiring and hard for punching lots of holes.

With this type of punch we again use a scrap piece of leather underneath the piece we want to punch, to keep the blades sharp. Otherwise you are crunching the sharp cutting tube into the hard metal anvil. Doing so will dull the tube quicker and wear out the metal anvil. Sandwich your good piece of leather and your scrap piece between the tube and the punching surface, and squeeze the handles together.

Punching Round Holes for Lacing

Four hole leather punch for leather craft.

A four hole punch used for lacing.

Beyond the basic drive and rotary punches, you can find specialty leather punches for different applications. One of the more handy leather work tools is this four hole punch, which is used to make small holes for lacing leather. On this punch each hole is 3/32 inch diameter, spaced 1/4 inch apart. The advantage of the four-in-one punch is that it will save time and keep your holes evenly spaced.  Use this four hole punch for the straight parts of your leather lacing project.  For going around curves, use the single hole punch mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Use this hole puncher the same way as an individual drive punch. As with the oblong punch, you may need to tilt the punch to focus the force of the hammer on a particular hole.

The Video

Here you can watch Jamie demonstrating these leather craft tools. He shows how to punch a hole in a leather belt and other leatherwork projects in his custom leather shop.

Video demonstrating how to make holes in leather.


Braiding Leather Tutorial

Posted on: January 15th, 2019 by Quentin Burns

How to Braid Leather With Three Laces

This braiding leather tutorial will teach you how to create a decorative three lace leather braid. You can use this leather lacing technique to make a braided bracelet, belt, dog collar, or any other leather object.

We’ve made a video showing the complete leather braiding process, which you can find at the end of the blog post. Additionally this article includes written instructions and diagrams for reference.

You will need: a strip of tooling leather, leather lace, and three two-prong lacing needles. Optional: garment leather for lining, and contact cement to attach it. Depending on your project, you may need other leather craft supplies such as rivets, D rings, snaps, and buckles.

Three-lace braid on dog collar.

A three lace braid on our Concho Designer Braided Dog Collar

Preparing Your Leather

First, finish your natural tooling leather in whatever way you prefer. The leather in our dog collar in the photo above has been dyed, dipped in neatsfoot oil, polished with acrylic resolene, and coated with dubbin water repellent.

Punch holes in your piece of leather in the pattern shown below. You will need two columns of holes, spaced ½ inch apart, plus one extra hole between columns at the top and bottom of the braid. The holes should be as small as your needles and lace allow. We use a 3/32 inch hole punch for our leather craft projects.

Finished three leather lace braid example.

A finished leather braid. Refer here for hole placement.

Finished three-lace leather braid example, back side.

Reverse side of a finished leather braid.

Cut 3 strands of leather lace. Each strand should be 4 to 4 ½ times the length of the final braid. Use a knife or skiving tool to thin the ends of the laces, removing material from the rough sides so that they resemble the picture below. Next, secure the laces to the two-prong lacing needles by punching the prongs through the finished top sides of the laces.

Leather lacing needles with attached laces.

Attach two-prong lacing needles as shown to leather lace.

Starting the Braid (Step 1)

Thread the leather laces through the top three holes from the back (the unfinished leather side) to the front (the finished leather side). Leave about an inch of lace remaining on the back side.

Hold the leather so that the front side is facing you. Take the leftmost lace and weave it under the middle lace, and then over the right lace. Thread it through the third hole down on the right side of the leather strip. Make sure to leave the second row of holes open, as shown in the diagram.

Next thread the middle lace through the third hole down on the left. The lace which began on the right is now the new middle lace.

Turn your leather piece over. You should have two laces emerging from the third row of holes. Pull these laces back up to the second row of holes, and thread them through to the front.

This step will create two loops on the back side of the braid. Tuck the free ends of the laces into these loops to secure them.

How to start braiding leather shown in diagram.

Braiding leather first requires securing lace ends under loops on the back side of the braid.

Braiding Leather (Step 2)

Begin to braid with the left most free lace (second left hole down from top) shown in diagram “Front-1” below. Weave that lace across the others following an “over, under, over” pattern, then thread it through the fourth hole down on the right side. Thread the middle lace through the fourth hole on the left side. The lace that began on the right will now be the new middle lace.

On the back side of the braid, bring the left and right laces up one hole and thread them through to the front. The laces will now be in their “starting position” again. Repeat step 2 until you reach the end of the braid.

How to follow the three lace leather braiding technique.

Follow an “over, under” pattern for this leather braiding technique.

Ending the Braid (Step 3)

When your leather braid is near the end, the three laces should line up with the bottom three holes. Thread them through, and turn the leather piece over. Tuck the lace ends into the nearest loops, the same way you did at the start of the braid. Trim any excess. Refer to the photo above showing “Reverse side of a finished braid,” to check this step.

You can glue down the lace ends to make your braid more secure. Our finished braided products have a soft garment leather lining glued underneath, to hide and completely secure the underside of the braid.

The Video

This video shows our leather braiding technique in action. Watch to see how it’s done, then refer to our diagrams when making your own braid.

Video tutorial on braiding with three laces.

The Finished Braid

The leather craft projects shown below are finished with the lace holes being 1/2 inch apart running down the length of the leather wristband and dog collar. If you want a tighter looking braid, you can make the holes 1/4 inch apart instead.  However it will be much more time consuming to braid the leather lace, and it will take a lot more lace. We have braided the lace with both distances of hole spacing but prefer the 1/2 inch spacing.

Wristbands with three-lace braid.

Braided leather wristbands.

Dog collar with three-lace braid.

The finished braid on our Braided Leather Dog Collar.

If you make a leather project using this braid, please send us a photo to share on Facebook and let us know how it went for you!


How To Make A Leather Belt Key Holder

Posted on: September 21st, 2018 by Quentin Burns

Leather Lanyard For Keys

Each leather belt key holder shown in this article was made using 5-6 oz scrap vegetable-tanned leather. Vegetable tanned leather, also called tooling leather, is leather that was produced using tannin from natural plant materials such as tree bark. This results in a firmer leather that can be stamped with designs. The 5-6 oz is a measurement for leather that means it is about 5/64 – 6/64 inch thick.

For this quick, easy project you will need one swivel snap or scissor snap of any width, one large jacket snap with long post (post and stud), and one large jacket snap with regular cap post (cap and socket). You will also need a tool for punching holes, a snap setting tool and a dot snap anvil.

Leather belt key holders with swivel clips.

Leather belt key holders in black and natural leather.

Preparing The Leather

This project used scrap leather which had already been dyed, treated with leather conditioner, and polished. This is a great way to use up your small pieces of leather. If starting with natural undyed leather, cut your strap out first and then treat it in whatever way you prefer. Alternately you can leave it untreated. Undyed, untreated vegetable tanned leather will darken naturally over time and attain a light golden brown patina.

To figure out the size of strap you will need, measure the inside width of your scissor snap’s loop. The strap should be cut to this width, or very slightly narrower. Next, measure the width of your belt. The length of the strip you cut should be twice your belt width, plus 4 3/4 inches. This measurement doesn’t need to be exact, since you can adjust your snap placement in the next step to make a loop that fits perfectly. If you’re unsure how long of a strip you need, err on the longer side.

Draw an appropriately sized rectangle onto your leather. Then cut out your strap using a sharp utility knife and a straight edge.

Cut belt key fob strap from scrap leather.

Cut the strap for your key fob out of scrap leather.

Punching Holes for Snaps

Measure 3/8” from one end of your strap. Make a mark in the center of the piece, to indicate where you will punch the first hole.

Measure strap for leather snaps.

Measure where to place your snaps on your leather strap.

The hole should be the same diameter as the snap post you’re going to use. For our large snaps with long posts, we use a 5/32” hole punch tool. You can refer to our video How To Punch Holes In Leather for more advice on this step.

Once you have your first hole punched, feed the end with the hole through the scissor snap and fold it over by about 1 1/4 inches. Make a mark where you’ll punch your second hole, such that it will line up with the first.

Belt key chain folded through snap loop.

Fold the leather key chain strap over your scissor snap.

 

Belt key clip with holes for snap.

Punch a hole in the other side of your leather belt key clip.

Setting the Snap

To set the snap you will need a snap setter tool, a hammer, and a concave dot anvil. You will also need a solid surface to work on, such as a mini anvil, and sturdy table or work bench so that your snap won’t bounce when you’re setting it.

Snap setting tools for leather lanyard keychain.

Tools for setting the snap in your leather lanyard (dot snap setter, dot anvil, mini anvil & mallet).

There are four components of a snap: the top cap and socket, plus the bottom post and stud. The interior socket that goes with the top cap has rounded edges with a wire spring in it. The stud that matches the bottom post has flat edges, and the same diameter as the post back. You can see the different snap parts being used on belt leather in our video How To Set Snaps With Long Posts.

First slide the scissor snap into the loop, and fold the end over so that the holes match up. Put the bottom post up through the right side of the loop. Place the corresponding stud on the other side, as shown. Set these against the flat side of the dot anvil, or against a traditional flat anvil. Since the snap is going through two layers of leather, we used the large jacket snap with long post (post and stud) for this end of the leather strap.

Position the snap setter on top of the snap and hammer downwards with a few sharp blows. Test that the snap is securely set and can’t be spun around.

Stud and post snap set in leather key lanyard.

Set the stud and post snap parts on a flat anvil.

Once you have the bottom snap on, wrap the belt clip around your belt to adjust the size. Make a mark where the top snap will go, and trim your strap shorter if necessary. Place the mark for the top snap at least 3/8” in from the end of the strip.

Punch a hole and set your top snap the same way you set the first, with the cap side facing down against the concave indentation in the round dot anvil. Since the snap is set through only one layer of leather on this end of the strap, we used the large jacket snap with regular cap post (cap and socket).

Cap and socket snap set in leather key holder.

Set the socket and cap snap against a concave anvil.

Permanent Leather Lanyard Rivet Option

If you prefer to have a permanent lanyard attached to the scissor snap instead of the removable type described with a snap, use a rivet instead. A medium rapid rivet will go through 3 layers of 5-6 oz tooling leather. If you use a thicker leather, you may have to use a longer rivet. A variety pack of different sized rivets with a rivet setter is a good way to start if you don’t know what size rivet to use for your thickness of leather. This is a good video to introduce you to How To Set A Rivet In Leather.

The Finished Leather Belt Key Holder

Here is the final leather belt key holder! If you make this project please send us a picture to share on our leather facebook page, and let us know how things went for you.

completed leather belt key holder

Finished leather belt key holder.


Finding Artisans in Halifax Area and Beyond

Posted on: August 2nd, 2018 by Quentin Burns

Discover Galleries & Studios of Local Artisans in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has a rich arts and crafts tradition. The beautiful natural scenery and the community-focused spirit have combined to make a place where local art is thriving and celebrated. Many artisans in Nova Scotia live solely on their craft, while others do it on a part-time professional basis. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or whether you’ve lived here for years, these resources will help you find new places and events to explore.

Discover artisan studios in Halifax / Dartmouth and beyond.

Halifax Art Map used to discover artisan studios in Halifax / Dartmouth and beyond.

Halifax Art Map

Leathersmith Designs is proud to be a featured location on the 2018-19 Halifax Art Map. The guide has been running since 2002. Leathersmith Designs has been appearing in it since 2016, alongside dozens of other amazing artists and craftspeople from the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM).

I called Keith McPhail, the advertising and business coordinator of the Halifax Art Map, to ask about how the guide started and where it is headed. I thought I had only a few simple questions which would take him a few minutes to answer. At the end of our hour-long phone conversation, I realized how much I hadn’t known about the Halifax art community. Much of my own city and industry are still mysterious to me.

That’s the mission statement of Art Maps: to de-mystify the mystery. Their goal is to make people aware of what’s out there, to get people through the doors of small workshops and studios. Above all, they ultimately want to guide consumers towards finding a piece of art they can fall in love with.

How Halifax Art Maps Started

In 2002, Keith was working for the city in the Tourism and Culture department. “Culture” was a new addition at the time. They didn’t have much funding or much of a concrete game-plan. They were approached by a group of artists who wanted to highlight local art, to combat a perceived lack of knowledge by the public. Thus the Art Map was born.

In its first year the map covered only Downtown Halifax and Dartmouth, and was focused on the tourism market. There was no money available from the city that year, so the project was funded solely by ads. The response exceeded expectations. They learned there was a lot of local interest and local discovery happening as a result of the map. Therefore, they decided to expand the goals of the project.

In the second year they received matching grants (one each from the province and municipality) for three years to develop the project (print layout, website, distribution). Later they added an annual exhibition. In the last six years they added social media, and the Art Map solidified into its modern form. Nowadays, the market for the map is half tourists and half residents of Nova Scotia.

How do they find Artists?

The Halifax Art Map relies strongly on word of mouth from participants. Artists recommend the map to other artists, and recommend new artists to the map.

Artists can apply to be featured at the Halifax Art Map website. The Halifax Art Map doesn’t have any restrictions on what type of artists can apply, but they do vet their artists for professionalism. They want to feature people who are serious about doing art professionally. The goal of the project, according to Keith, is “helping local artists and craftspeople make a sustainable living”.

Where to find Halifax Art Maps

You can find Halifax Art Maps at every featured artist location, at Visitor Information Centres in the HRM, and at some larger Visitor Information Centres across Nova Scotia. They are in Halifax and Dartmouth hotels, at the Halifax cruise ship pavilion, and at and the Halifax and Dartmouth ferry terminals. They are also distributed at conferences, to reach visiting professionals from all over the world. If you’re planning a vacation, Halifax Art Maps has an online artisan directory where you can search for artists by area or category.

Keith told me hotel concierges proved to be unexpected gold as a resource. They get to know the map, and remark on the changes and updates to it year after year. Even more, they are great at getting maps into the hands of serious art and craft lovers … AND they talk up the local scene.

The library and their branches were also a surprise as they help distribute maps to all their 17 branches. They help get it into the hands of locals as part of their mandate and service as information providers.

If you’re in the Dartmouth area, stop by Leathersmith Designs to pick up a free copy of the map. Jamie Hartling, our master leatherworker, has been a dedicated member of the Nova Scotia crafting community since 1975. He can give you a tour of the leathercraft shop and tell you all about the local leatherworking scene.

Creations of the artisan as well as useful and interesting info on the crafter / artist shown in the printed Halifax Art Map as well as on the Halifax Map website.

The Halifax Art Map in both print form and on the web displays the creations of the artisan as well as useful and interesting info on the crafter / artist.

Who is the Halifax Art Map Team?

For Keith, Art Maps a labor of love. Its creators have all worked in the arts themselves and are passionate about supporting the Nova Scotian crafting community. Keith (second from right) and Kathryn Fraser (third from right) are the core team. Together they do add sales, coordinate exhibits, and organize artist talks. As of this writing, there is a Halifax Art Map event coming up at the Halifax Public Library on how to buy art. To keep up with current craft and artisan events, you can follow the Halifax Art Map Facebook page.

Jane Lombard (far right) is their graphic designer and works on the Halifax Art Map part-time for about three months each year. Peter Eastwood is the webmaster for the Halifax Art Map website, and puts in about one month full time.

Then, of course, there are the featured artists and craftspeople. Every year, Kathryn stops by to talk with Jamie Hartling about the state of Art Maps. Art Maps began as a scheme by a group of Halifax artisans, and aims to stay true to its roots as a “community collaboration”.

Halifax Art Map release in 2016 listing artisans.

Jamie Hartling (leather artisan on left) attending a Halifax Art Map release in 2016 with some of the key Halifax Art Map organizers.

New Directions for Halifax Art Map

Every year the Art Maps team makes decisions on how best to keep supporting artists in their community. Every year they decide to keep the map in printed form. It is now one of few surviving publications in Nova Scotia. Although paper costs continue to go up and the format of the map is expensive, Keith says it’s important for the map to look good, to represent the quality of the art inside it. It’s also important that it remain a tactile piece, because the core buyers of art are familiar with a tactile world. However, the demographic is slowly changing, so the decision must be made anew every year.

This year, they are also considering a new service. They are looking into options for how Art Maps might help facilitate marketing plans for individual artists and small galleries. When Keith spoke to me he was getting ready to attend a seminar on the subject. He told me the next step is to go out and talk to members of the community about what they would want from such a program.

Nova Scotia Doers and Dreamers Travel Guide features Artisans in Nova Scotia

The Province of Nova Scotia Tourism publishes a comprehensive travel guide called “The Doers and Dreamers Travel Guide“. You can request to have it mailed to you anywhere around the world. You can also pick up the guide at any of the Nova Scotia provincial tourist bureaus. On the Nova Scotia Tourism website under the “See and Do” heading ,you can find a section on “Galleries, Shops, and Artisans”. As of 2018 there are 170 listed. While the Halifax Art Map focuses on artists in the Halifax area, this guide is province-wide. It features many small studios and creative artisans off the beaten path.

Artisans in Nova Scotia found on provincial website.

Viewing galleries, shops and artisans in Nova Scotia, Canada on the provincial tourism website.

Citizens of Craft

Citizens of Craft is a good resource for finding craftspeople and artisans in Nova Scotia, as well as across Canada. You can search by location, type of establishment (museums, studios, galleries, etc.), and craft type. There is a diverse array on offer. You can find sculptors, leather workers, fibre artists, glass blowers, furniture makers, metal workers, potters, jewelers, and more. Artisans featured on Citizens of Craft are all registered members of their provincial craft councils, which promote quality in craft.

Artisans from across Canada featured in this national craft directory "Citizens of Craft".

Citizens of Craft is an online directory of artisans from across Canada.

More Sources for Finding Artisans in Nova Scotia

Provincial craft organizations such as Craft Nova Scotia, Arts Nova Scotia, Visual Arts Nova Scotia and Centre for Craft Nova Scotia can put you in touch with the craft community and artisans in Nova Scotia. Even more, there are many regional and local organizations such as the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, Halifax Crafters Society, Dartmouth Handcrafters Guild, and Maritime Makers. Various craft shows throughout the year also provide a great opportunity to meet artisans coming to your area.

Discover the uniqueness and quality of individually handmade crafts. Besides that, nothing is more memorable when visiting an area than purchasing a one of a kind piece by a local artisan, or watching a handcrafted item being created before you in their studio.

Leather handcrafts tooled by leather craftsman in Dartmouth, NS. studio.

Artisan at leather craft studio in Dartmouth, NS shown hand tooling design on leather guitar strap.




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