Debbie Johns is a Master Leathersmith specializing in Custom Leather Creations. If you can dream it in leather, she can do it.
“It’s the ultimate high to completely lose myself in the creation of a new leather crafting or carving project.”
While leatherwork is nearly a lost art, Deb’s connection to it started in Central Florida in 1980 the moment she walked into a leather crafts booth at the Festival of the Masters at Disney World. The leather smell caught her imagination and the pictures her fascination. The booth artist happened to be local and had a small leathershop in town. She started hanging out there where he taught her the basics. He was a very traditional leatherworker in that he used mostly earth hues to stain his carvings. But Deb wasn’t satisfied with the confines of those limited colors and wanted her artwork to look as real as possible while still allowing some of the original leather to show through. This is where her organic painting style was born.
Debbie does her carving and etching work the old-fashioned way, with handtools and a hammer, no machines. Hides are bought directly from tanneries in the West and pieces are cut from the hide as needed. She literally has 100’s of tools that do 1000’s of details. To start a project the “pattern” or drawing is done on plastic tracing paper, as mistakes can’t be erased from leather. After the pattern is drawn, the leather is then “cased” or dampened to receive the trace. Once this is accomplished, the main lines of the pattern are then “cut” with a swivel knife. On a floral pattern, shading is done next with tools that leave “shading” impressions. Beveling tools are used next to bring the pattern into relief or up out of the background. Detail tools are then used to add detail from needles on pine trees to hair on a horse. When all carving is complete, the project is allowed to dry. After dry, then any dying, antiquing and finishes are applied. If the project is something like saddlebags or handbags, this is when all holes are marked for sewing and any additional skiving is done. Holes are made using a hand awl, and natural sinew is used for thread. All edges are then burnished smooth for a “finished” item. If a picture, framing is then chosen, as this is an integral part of the piece.
Deb Johns was born in Hollywood, Florida in the mid 50’s and in subsequent years her gypsy father moved his family around to so many different locations that she can’t pinpoint exactly where she grew up. When she started her own family, she chose her birth state as home and and never wanted to live anywhere else. She currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida, has two sons and a houseful of animals. Deb has published previous work as Debbie Mann and Debbie Huffman and is a member of the International Leatherworkers Guild.
- Some of her work includes:
- Carved Leather Paintings
- Photo Albums and Album Covers
- Corporate Logo Engraving
- Family Crest/Name Engraving
- Leather Purses and Handbags
- Leather Art Modifications (Jackets, Saddles, Bike Bags)
- One-of-a-kind custom-order leather gifts
- Leather repair
- Renditions of your pet, boat, car, house
- Custom carved additions/accents to furniture
- Carved patches for pillows
- Awards, Plaques
- Custom gifts such as recreating your wedding invite on a photo album