Do you have a day job or is creating beautiful things what you do for a living?

Creating wearable leather art has turned into a full-time business for me in the last two years.  Before that it was sporadic and part-time at best, that was my big learning about leather period (but I learn something new everyday).  However, once a year I work for Ali Nilforusian in the VIP tent of his amazing horse shows!  That and life on a horse ranch keeps me pretty busy!

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

How do you create your custom leather designs? How did you come up with the idea?

There are a lot of steps that go into creating my designs.  I don’t really know how I come up with the various designs, but I just do.  The hardest part is making a design that I’m satisfied with.  I’m definitely hard to please!  I’ll rework a design over and over if need be, to get it just right!  Typically the client gives me a list of their preferred colors, and then we talk about likes and interests.  Some clients know exactly what they want, such as cherry blossoms.  Then I come up with a sketch or two, and start cutting leather shapes!  I then thin edges depending on how they will be layered, paint those individual edges, start laying them out, gluing them down, and then stitching them down!  It’s during the laying out stage that I come up with changes or additions that adds a little unusual or unique touch to it!  Some of the steps are tedious (and satisfy my OCD) but I think they make all the difference in the finished product.

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

How did you become an leather-worker and how long have you been doing it professionally?

I had never touched leather work until about 4 years ago when my partner Allen Clarke (he’s a well-known jumper trainer) bought a leather sewing machine.  He was an apprentice saddle maker in Australia and wanted to work with leather again.  He taught me the basics and still helps me when I have questions about leather repair (we do tack and boot repair too).  He doesn’t do what I do now though.  He says a person has to have the patience of a saint to do what I do.

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

My first leather item was a collar for my dog, then it turned to beaded browbands that I sold.  Then one day I saw some leather scrap on the floor.  I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want any part of the animal to be wasted and the idea of making belts etc using every last little piece of hide developed into my design style.  It went like wildfire from there!  Most of my designs use hundreds of little pieces of leather, all sewn on layer by layer.  It’s extremely time-consuming, but worth it.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  We now have a 2000 sq ft leather studio with 9 leather sewing machines and a huge supply of every type and color of leather imaginable!  I’m a very lucky girl!!!!

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

What is your creative process? How do you get inspired?

I’m not sure I have a specific process.  I get inspired by nature, the colors, and the symmetry and asymmetry of it all.  From geology to astronomy, it all factors into my ideas.  I think that my degrees in astrophysics and mathematics helps me look at things a little differently and helps with spacial placements of the different designs, because I certainly didn’t do art before!

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

What is a typical day for you?

A typical day isn’t typical at all.  Some days I’ll work 18 hours, the next will be three.  It all depends on how well I’m putting things together or sewing that day.  Both me and the machines seem to have good days and bad!  Sometimes things just don’t look right once I’ve laid it all out, whether it be colors or placement, so I put it down and let my subconscious work on it for a bit and it invariably comes together within a day or two.  I usually have 6 projects going at the same time so if one needs more thought, I’ll move on to the next and work on that for a while.  I definitely get a rush when I see the difference between the gluing down stage and the completely finished project.  It’s amazing how they evolve, and I will never tire of that!

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

What is your history with horses? Tell us a little bit about the most important horses in your life.

It feels like forever ago, but I used to have 26 horses.  Three stallions and some warmblood broodmares.  I bred both warmbloods and Arabian/Warmblood crosses using a 16hh tall Arabian sport stallion with my imported Trakhener and Hanoverian mares.  It was a really special cross, those foals are now winning in the open circuits!  I have no horses now, as many have passed or were sold.

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

While they all hold a special place in my heart, four of them were extremely special to me:
– My daughters Arabian mare Komarah, one of the kindest, gentlest, and most beautiful creatures to walk the earth.
– Tequila Sunrise, a beautiful big bodied Hanoverian mare that taught me everything dressage and has me falling in love with every chestnut horse I see. – Helca, an imported Trakehner mare that moved like a million bucks and waited for me at the gate to come ride her everyday.
– Pavi, a Trakehner stallion. It was because of him that I met my partner Allen Clarke, who I’ve now been with for 13 yrs and who taught me leather!  If that sequence of events never happened, I wouldn’t be answering your interview questions today!

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

Another very special horse was one that I didn’t own, but got to take care of like she was my own: Kiss the Sky, Allen’s incredible Grand Prix jumper that I was groom for and took us to the World Cup in Vegas! She and I had a special bond and it was an honor to care for her. She is happily living her retirement just outside of our window. As for the rest, well, I sure wish that horses lived longer.  I miss every single one of them, every single day.

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

What do you like most about being a custom leather worker?

The thing I like most about custom leather work is creating something from basically nothing.  It’s all from scratch (well, we don’t tan the hides).  We cut our own belt straps, spur straps etc.  Nothing is pre-made except the boots that I do all of the boot tops on.  To see start to finish is extremely satisfying even though I remake them in my head 5 times over!  I always say “I can’t believe I made that!”

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

What do you like the least about it?

The thing I like least about it is that I’m always redesigning and making the projects over again and again in my mind.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.  I think of different things or additions that would add an extra touch, or the little mistakes I’ve made.  Every artisan makes them.  Absolutely nobody will notice them, but they stand out to me like a beacon!  But I guess that’s how I improve from project to project.  I see my work evolving in every piece I make.  That’s pretty neat!

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

Another thing that I’m not thrilled with is making clients wait.  These are so intricate and take a lot of time to make (projects take 30 to 70 hours) and I have a back order on top of it.  But really, I am so fortunate to have so many people like my work and place so many orders!

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

Do you have anything else you would like to let our readers know?

All of the exotic leather I purchase comes from suppliers that are very aware about the whole animal being ethically treated and utilized.  Every part gets used (such as feeding villages etc).  It’s extremely important to me.

Artist Spotlight: Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio

You can learn more about Mary AnnToinette Leather Studio or reach out for a quote on a custom design on Facebook!