Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why I didn’t marry an artist.


For the last few weekends I’ve been painting the house.  On the inside.  Once we paint our bedroom – the last on the list – I will have painted the entire house, inside and out.  This weekend was my daughter’s room, by her special request, since I painted my son’s room last weekend and she wanted hers done as well.

In our old house, she had a brown room.  A mocha color with brown velvet curtains.  In this house, her house was an aqua blue color. Until yesterday.  My husband took the kids to his mother’s house and I spent the morning painting her room “Shabby Chic” and watching episodes of The Blacklist.


All the painting, with the exception of the really high places on the back of the outside of our house, I have done without my husband’s help.  And that is fine with me. This is, in part, because he’s the messiest painter I have ever seen.  I think he’s who drop cloths and tape were invented for.  But in part it is because I really enjoy the process – everything from picking out the paint, to putting it on the walls, to seeing the transformed room. 

I realized yesterday that if my husband were an artist as well, this is something I’d have to compromise on. We’d pick out colors together, and we might paint together, and where I’d never cut him out if he wanted to be involved, there is a part of me that really appreciates that this is something that I get to do myself, without compromise or too much discussion.  When painting and decorating is your hobby, how you relax and enjoy your free time, having it negotiation-free is a awesome.

Before I met my husband I dated artists, and I think this is why I am so thankful that I married someone who is not one.  My husband has always supported my artistic ventures, whether they are as simple as painting our daughter’s room or as complicated as running my own leather business, and in a partner that is exactly what I need. Having his support behind allows me to continue to take chances, both in our home d├ęcor and in my artwork, and because he’s not an artist I have complete freedom to make my own mistakes, and to learn from them. 

Having his unwavering, unrestricting, support has been a wonderful gift for me personally and also for my career.  I’m glad I didn’t marry an artist, because I have found that sometimes feedback, input, opinions on the work that I am doing can be stifling to my own creativity.  And I am glad that I married a supportive non-artist, because it is his support is what gave me the solid foundation on which to grow.




VOTE FOR MOXIE & OLIVER!  We are in the finals for the Martha Stewart American Made Competition.  Vote for us here: then visit our Facebook page at and leave a comment on the top post to be entered to win a $200 gift certificate.  You can vote and enter every day through October 13.   Thanks!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Support your favorite leathercrafter!


And by that, I mean – support Moxie & Oliver as we navigate the finals in the Martha Stewart American Made competition.  To say thanks, we’re giving away some Moxie & Oliver gift certificates.  Because giveaways are fun, but when you get exactly what you wanted, it’s even better!

You have 32 chances left to win a $200 gift certificate!

Thanks to your amazing support we have advanced to the finals in the  Martha Stewart American Made competition! Now we need your vote

You can vote for us up to six times a day - and each vote enters you to win a FREE $200 gift certificate from Moxie & Oliver: 

Here's how it works: 

  1. Click here, and then click the "VOTE" button to vote for us (you can vote up to six times per day - for us!).
  2. Visit our Facebook page, and COMMENT on the top post to let us know you voted.  Comment on this post each day you vote for us. Each comment is a separate entry. So, if you start voting today and vote every day through October 13, you get 32 chances to win!
  3. On October 15th, I'll pick a gift certificate winner from the people who comment on the Facebook post.

The more votes that we have the better our chances of winning one of the grand prize spots. This would be an amazing opportunity for us, and we can't thank you enough for all the support you've given so far.  Keep it coming! 

Fine print: You must vote for us on Martha Stewart American Made nomination AND comment on the Moxie & Oliver Facebook page to fully enter in the giveaway. Limit six entries per person per day.  Voting ends October 13, 2014. 

But wait, there's more!

Martha Stewart is giving away prizes each week to the most active voter - so there's extra incentive to vote every day!

AND we'll give away an additional $50 gift certificate to the most active voter for Moxie & Oliver, as determined by the comments on our Facebook post.  What are you waiting for?  GO VOTE!

Thank you all for your support. It means the world to me!  Getting in as a wildcard finalist – as in, you all “liked” my entry enough times that Moxie & Oliver advanced to the finals – is truly, truly amazing.  You’re amazing.



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Call it what you want


It’s been a crazy week. My daughter went back to school (last year of her immersion Preschool!) and my son started spending full days with my mother and step-mother.  It’s wild to be in my studio without him, but I have to admit that I get a lot more done.  Oh yeah, also, Moxie & Oliver is a Martha Stewart American Made Finalist! I honestly almost cried when I saw the email.  We made it on the wildcard which means, and this may be even more incredible than being chosen by Martha, that my friends, family and fans shared the page enough to get us there.  Amazing.


Something else happened, too, that I don’t want to overlook.  I started calling myself an “artist”.  I have been up to my ears in applications and the more I write about my own work, the more I think about it, and the more I realize that what sets my work apart from other leather goods is that it has art on it.  How’d that art get there?  Well, I guess an artist must have… oh wait, yeah. I guess I’m an artist.

This may seem completely obvious to everyone else, but it wasn’t to me.  For as long as I have been working with leather I have been creating goods that are functional – bags, wallets, belts, mailboxes, pillows -  and for that reason alone I put myself in the category of “crafter.”  The division of “arts’' and “crafts” came about in the Renaissance, and in addition to industrialization of crafts, this was something that the Arts & Crafts Movement sought to undo. As a lover of the arts and virtues of the Arts & Crafts Movement, I’m not sure how I wandered so far from their teachings when it came to my own work.


So today, at a party, someone asked what I do and I said “I’m an artist.”  My husband says that this always makes people think I don’t make any money, which is fine. The other thing I’ve been asking myself recently is whether I would rather make a lot of money or make a difference in the world.  I’d rather make a difference, and by making leathergoods that have my original art on them for people to enjoy, I believe I do.  And that they will last for years and years to come helps everyone – your pocket, the resources of the world, you know, small stuff.  And I hope to further this world betterment by teaching others my craft, but that’s news for another day. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What’s the Difference Between Chrome- and Vegetable-Tanned Leather?

Most people love the rich, earthy smell of leather – every time I do a show, almost everyone who comes into the booth starts with "I love the smell of leather!" But what most people don’t know is that many leather products creating that alluring aroma are chrome-tanned. Unless you’re an avid reader of the Moxie & Oliver blog, you might not know what that means for your health.

Both tanning processes give unprocessed hides the color, texture, and suppleness we expect from finished leather, but the materials and techniques used to accomplish this result are different. To enlighten a little bit further, I’d like to explain the key difference between chrome-tanned leather and vegetable-tanned leather

Elements used in the vegetable tanning solution are completely natural – such as chestnut tree bark. Vegetable tanned leather typically comes from the tannery undyed and is a light flesh color.  This is what allows me to add color and pattern to it (using water based and safe paint and dyes).

On the other hand, chrome-tanning solution is mixed from various chemicals, acids and salts. One of the primary ingredients of chrome-tanned leather solution is chromium sulphate. This chemical helps to prep the leather to accept dyes (these are also typically artificial). The color that you see in chromium tanned leather - and this is the standard leather for almost all garments and accessories - is added in the factory. It may contain lead, and sometimes it's sprayed on with spray paint, a notoriously eco-unfriendly substance. 

The vegetable tanning process has been used for thousands of years and takes up to 60 days to complete for a single piece of dyed leather. Chrome-tanning was invented in the 1800s and these hides are done in about a day. The invention of chrome-tanning allowed leather handbags, shoes, and other goods to be mass-manufactured, but it yields an inferior product. As any leatherworker will tell you; vegetable tanned leather is the finest you can buy.

Okay, I'll say it - I'm a control freak, at least when it comes to my leather. As mentioned above, chromium tanned leather is soaked in huge vats of chemicals, softened artificially, and colors are added to the leather in the tannery. This means that when the leather reaches the artist or consumer, the color the tannery added is the last color it will be. No adding colors, no adding patterns... you get what you get. Veg-tanned leather, on the other hand, comes as a light fleshy color. No color has been added, so the artist/craftsperson gets to control the colors, and add pattern (which has long been the signature of my work). Because the veg-tanned leather is closer to the leather's natural state, the colors and patterns are permanent.

I often have customers ask if my leather is "buttery soft" as though a mark of a high-quality leather is thinness and softness, when in fact, the opposite is true. Vegetable tanned leather has a smooth surface but it's far from what anyone would consider "buttery soft". The softening takes time, and you have to break it in, but it will last for a lifetime of use. And, it won't give you or your kids lead poisoning (like some chrome-tanned leathers will).  Now, isn't that the mark of a high quality product?


Growing Pains


This last week or so has been hard. I finished shooting all the pictures for the book, which means that, when combined with the finished illustrations and chapters, my part of the book is done for now.  I’ll get to review it in December, but until then it’s in my editor’s hands.

It feels good to get that off of my plate, but now that I am not distracted by the directions I’ve committed to, I’m stuck making the decision of where to go next.  In so many ways I’m in the same space as my four-year-old daughter – I want to grow up and stay a kid at the same time.  She loves helping with the dishes, and doing select things for herself, but still wants to be carried and have someone take her to the bathroom.  I want to grow my business and remain a small crafter at the same time.

We have our nomination for the Martha Stewart American Made competition up. I check neurotically to see if that red ribbon is there yet, confirming Moxie & Oliver as a finalist. I check to see how many shares we have, and am happy to see that the number keeps going up. This relentless checking has forced me to question what becoming a finalist would mean to me, and why it is so important.

Since I started Moxie & Oliver I’ve kept mostly to myself, and let the business grow organically.  I rarely, if ever, have promoted my own work, and I think this is pretty normal for artists.  But this year, I resolved to try to grow the business and one of the things that this has meant, that I certainly did not anticipate, was that I would be looking very closely at the work that other leather crafters do, and comparing it to my own.

That comparison is what has been eating at me. There are other people who make things out of leather (they don’t necessarily work the leather, by dyeing or adding pattern, etc.) who are, at a minimum, more the “Martha Stewart” style than my work is. They may be more successful, I don’t know, but they make a product that they can easily scale.  They can easily have someone else, anywhere in the world, cut and sew the leather together using their patterns. 

So I start thinking that maybe, after ten years, I’m doing the wrong thing.  Maybe the right answer is to make hipster gear in solid color leather and sell it for an ungodly amount of money.  I could hire lots of assistants, create a factory, and be a brand.  I could grow my business that way.  I could have a leather empire.

The problem is that I’m not an empress, I’m an artist.  If I start to separate my artwork from the leather it adorns, my pieces lose what makes them unique.  They lose that distinctive Moxie & Oliver quality, and I will no longer be doing what I love to do – make art.  There’s something hard-wired inside me that needs to paint bright colors and flowers on everything (according to my husband, this list also includes birds).  Whatever this drive is, I need to feed it.

Through all this comparison to the other leather crafters, in the midst of all the questioning I have done, I have realized that my work is truly unique.  There is nobody out there doing what I do, and in that sense comparing myself to people who also use leather but do something completely different with it is absurd.  I’m actually looking forward to the book coming out, and to teaching some classes locally, so that other people can learn to put their own art on leather.

I will grow my business as an artist, making my artfully distinguished leather goods.  And, I will do it with an incredible gratitude for the people who have supported me these last ten years, and who continue to support me.  You all are amazing.