By Samuel Lee
FROM ROLE-PLAYER TO LEATHER ARTISAN
My name is Samuel Lee. I am an artisan and my focus is on creating original custom creations for my clients. I like working with various mediums but I am most known for my leather armor creations.
I became interested in making armor during my high school days of live action role-play and visiting Renaissance Festivals. I created Prince Armory in 2007 to do this full time as a craft but I’ve certainly always had a fascination with armor, knights, and fantasy realms and I’ve always liked being creative and making interesting things so it feels natural for me to be creating fantasy creations like armor and such for a living at this point.
Pictured above: Custom leather armor created by Samuel Lee.
LEATHER AS AN ART MEDIUM
I love using leather as my primary medium because it is universally recognized as a premium material and is amazingly versatile. I’ve used leather to create everything from a giant koi fish wall art set, to belts, pouches, wallets, hats, and of course my leather suits of armor.
VERSATILE AND DURABLE
When working with leather it starts out two dimensional but with its great wet forming capabilities you can create works that rival sculpted projects in shape and form. And one more great thing about leather is that it does not break. If you use good leather at a reasonable thickness your metal hardware will break far before the leather is damaged. Leather can droop, bend, and deform if abused but if you design with its limitations in mind you can produce some amazing things that will last a lifetime.
Pictured above: Samuel Lee applies his versatile leathercraft to custom weapons and sculptures.
LEATHERWORKING - THE BASIC TECHNIQUES
Leatherworking has a few basic techniques you can use to blend together to create more and more elaborate and complex works. Taken to the most fundamental process, after the design you could say most of my leather works are done as such: Cutting, Tooling, Shaping, Hardening, Dyeing and Assembly.
Any construction starts with a pattern. Once you have the pattern how you want it, you trace it onto the leather and cut it out. This can be done with knives, razors, shears or laser cutters. I usually use heavy leather sheers I custom re-grind myself for clean easy cuts.
The next step is to transfer the design details to the leather. You can use a stylus or ball point pen to trace your lines. You only have to put enough pressure to get a light mark and the leather needs to be damp. I'm generally not too precise with this since I clean up the flow and shapes during the carving process.
Pictured above: Starting with a pattern, leather can be cut to shape and then carved, embossed or filigreed.
Tooling has the most expansive range of technique possibilities. Leather can be carved with a tool called a swivel knife which can serve as stand-alone decoration or a starting point for more advanced designs. I try to make sure all the lines flow well, meaning they need to look clean, consistent, and not have jagged or wavy lines.
You can also tool leather with a repetitive stamp tool, and you can emboss it and shape it with tools almost like clay. There are many ways to emboss leather but the most common is simply using hammer and beveling tools.
Pictured above: Leather can be detailed with a variety of tools including swivel knives, repetitive stamp tools, razors and more.
You can wet form/mold it into 3D shapes though this requires more effort as the leather doesn’t behave as placidly as say thermal plastic or creating a shape with clay - especially with armor grade leather thicknesses. To achieve more depth in your shapes with thick leather it involves some manipulation with geometry and layering and various assembly techniques. You’ll notice that many of my works have a lot of shape and depth so quite a lot is possible.
4. Hardening (optional)
And of course, you can harden the leather. I do harden most of my pieces but only to an extent. You can make leather as hard as you want but the harder you make it the more you run the risk of it developing fatigue cracking. And most techniques of hardening will eventually break back down to the leather’s natural consistency.
You can then dye it, stain it, or even paint or airbrush it to whatever color and texture you want. I use a lot of color and metallic effects in my own works but you can do whatever suits your preference.
You can rivet leather together with any number of rivet hardware types. You can sew it by hand or machine, and you can lace it up with leather or cord. Certain glues can work but a permanent bond on something that will see some use and abuse really calls for some additional measures.
Pictured above: Dyes, stains and paints can transform leather into an endless variety of colors and finishes. Construction and hardening techniques guarantee that the art will not only function, but last.
If you’ve never put your hands on leather to make something I suggest you find your nearest Tandy Leather Factory Store or local leather shop and buy a hide to play with. In some ways you could almost think of leather as 2D clay, though perhaps less forgiving. Leatherworking as a craft reminds me a lot of playing a guitar; It’s really easy for anyone to pick up and play but you can spend a lifetime perfecting your skills and techniques.
You can spend a fortune on leatherworking tools and machines but it’s also something you can easily start out with minimal investment. I believe when I made my first venture into leatherworking my full leather working toolset totaled less than $100. But it’s addictive so watch out; your tool and hardware wish-lists will quickly skyrocket! Also, one thing I’ve noticed about leather shops is that the staff are almost universally experienced with leatherworking and eager to help get you started and will happily answer your questions to get you underway with your first projects.
MAKING MEDIEVAL SUPERHEROES
Currently, I’m most excited about my “Medieval Legends” series of works where I take iconic superheroes and villains and reimagine their outfits mostly from the standpoint of "What if this character was a knight in a medieval high-fantasy universe?"
Pictured above: Samuel Lee's "Medieval Batman" custom leather armor.
The first creation within this realm was “Medieval Batman,” followed by “Medieval Aquaman” and “Medieval Loki.” Incarnations lined up for the future: Spawn, Iron Man, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Man of Steel style original Krypton armor, Green Lantern, Deadpool, and more.
Pictured above: Samuel Lee's "Medieval Aquaman" custom leather armor.
MY ULTIMATE GOAL
One of my ultimate goals is to produce work for fantasy film productions. Too late for the LOTR and “The Hobbit” but I definitely have my fingers crossed for the “Wheel of Time” movies whenever they come around!
- Samuel Lee
Follow Samuel Lee and Prince Armory:
Prince Armory Website - www.PrinceArmory.com
Prince Armory on Facebook