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Mark Rowney Flights into leather engraving

February 16, 2015

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Mark Rowney was born in 1962, amongst the hayfields and moors of Northern England. He was educated at St Martins School of Art, London, and went on to work for many publishers, creating illustrated art work for Penguin Books, the Radio Times, Homes and Gardens and various BBC publications. He moved to New York and lived in very small apartments, producing work for the New York Times, Time Magazine and Travel and Leisure. There he became interested in leather work and started producing products for the fashion designer Paul Smith.

His paintings reveal his love of nature and the countryside, living now in the lovely Durham dales back in the UK. I was intrigued to discover more about this work and his love for carving leather, (which you will see more of below). So I tracked him down and he happily agreed to be featured on Fishink and tell us more.

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Mark says “I’ve been painting since I was a child. I always had a love of nature but especially the small creatures that scurried around unseen. I trained as an illustrator and worked for editorial publications and design companies, but after many years in the commercial industry I rediscovered my interest in Nature. I moved back from NY to our family farmhouse in the Durham Dales and started to paint as I had once dreamt of when I was a small boy. Imaginary adventures and semi-surreal stories of the insects, birds and plant life that surrounded me here. These diminutive creatures are so full of beauty and endeavour, its only when we come across an old nest or dew laden cobweb that we appreciated their struggle. The Painting ‘The Strange effect of light’ portrays the moment in which we see clearly how wonderful the Moths that surround us on the darkest night really are! I walk at night and I once saw the open door of a generator shed emit the light of a single bulb through the Fog. It attracted hundreds of moths, lacewings and Crane flies. A grand ariel dance. I made sketches the next day and spent the next 3 1/2 months painting the picture. ”

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How did you first get into carving on leather and would you say that this is quite a rare profession ?

In the 1970’s my parents owned and ran a Country and Western venue in the North of England and also imported many leather goods from Arizona and Texas. As a child we would go and visit the suppliers and stay on ranches and Indian Reservations. It was during these visits that I became interested in the wonderful carving on leather that I saw. It wasn’t however until I moved to NY to work as an illustrator in the 80’s that I started to carve myself. In Britain it is a very rare craft, one that was once, I suppose, quite common place, but is now relatively forgotten.

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Some of Mark’s work involves leather carving and painted illustration combined.

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What do you most like about the process ?

I love the tactile nature of working with leather. It has so many practical uses and will accept decorative and artistic design to great effect. Leather also allows one to be as creative as the tool one picks up…it marks very easily (which can be difficult sometimes) … so anything that can make an interesting mark can be used. It’s immensely satisfying to start a project with a piece of raw hide and end up with an elaborately carved journal, pouch or sculptural piece.

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Which other designers / artists work do you most admire and why ?

Wow there are so many….Working in so many fields of artistic and creative endeavour. I tend to like individual pieces of work rather than an artist completely. However I love the paintings of Stanley Spencer, the Films of Michael Powell, the photos of James Ravillious (Eric Ravillious’s Son). Also the designs of William Morris, the cartoons of Tex Avery, the illustrative simplicity of the ‘Ladybird’ artist John Leigh Pemberton and the sublime wood carving of Grinling Gibbons. I could list thousands of individual pieces of work that have inspired me, but I guess that I love the profound, Hans Holbeins, ‘The Body of the dead Christ’ and the humorist, Ronald Searle. Most of all, I love work that best exposes the individual and their need to create something memorable and lasting.

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What first gave you the idea of incorporating painting onto the carvings too ?

For me it was an natural progression. I love painting and also leather carving. It seemed the right thing to do. Most of the great crafts, incorporate a wide range of talents. I did however realise that most leather work I was seeing, relied heavily on the purely decorative. I wanted to create pictures and small stories. At first, I tried this idea out by carving mounts or borders in leather around my paintings, so they became a part of the image. I then carried the painting onto the mount and saw the possibilities for a different kind of leather work.

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Do you have any plans for new items to add to your range of products this year ?

Yes…I always make plans for new work. I will be making a range of completely useless leather cutlery for my own amusement ! On a more serious level I would like to move into a more ‘Interior-based’ set of products. I am working on interesting lighting sconce’s and what I call ‘Story Doors’, in which the wooden panels of doors, will be replaced by carved, leather panels, each depicting an ‘image-frame’ of a simple story. I would also like to work on some ‘time’ pieces as well

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To give you an idea of the work involved, I asked Mark to describe the process.

” Each Journal cover I make/carve is unique. I start by making a small drawing of the design, I then cut out the leather for the cover and the inside inserts. The leather is then soaked in water and I start to ‘draw up’ the design on the damp leather. Once the design is drawn I use a ‘Swivel Knife’ to cut or make a ‘plough line’ around the design. After which I then hammer down along the cut line with a ‘Beveller’, ( much like taking a 1/4″ for a ten mile walk). This creates the raised effect of the design. Once completed I then mark the leather with all and any tools that make an interesting imprint. I then paint all the background inks and cover with a protective coat. When dry I start painting ( I mix my own colours with acrylics and inks) all the detail of the birds or butterflies … another protective coat. I then start on all the un-carved spaces, mixing the main background colour of the journal and painting with tiny brushes. Another protective coat. At this point I work on soft surfaces as I don’t want the journal marked. The individual pieces are then hole punched, ready for stitching. A final protective coat is applied and once dried the journal is named, numbered, catalogued and placed in its presentation box. An A4 Journal can take upwards of 120 hours to complete ! ”

Wow how impressive ! There is such a beauty and delicacy to these pieces, that I’m imagining what a steady hand and the amount of patient hours of work that go into each piece. You can purchase a print or an original book cover over on Mark’s Etsy site and discover more about his nature inspired work, here on his Blog.

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Many thanks Mark, for sharing your secrets and passions about your rare and beautiful craft with us.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. boabee1 permalink
    February 16, 2015 10:34 am

    What a find! Mark’s work reminds me a little of pone of my favourite artists, Kit Williams. He has the same sense of play twinned with realism which I find captivating.

    • February 16, 2015 1:15 pm

      I can see what you mean about the similarity with Kit’s work. Maybe it’s also the amount of detail in each piece that links the two. Thanks for your thoughts : )

  2. February 16, 2015 6:23 pm

    Really lovely. I like the combination of the beautiful images with such a fascinating craft. (I used to live in County Durham and remember the Country and Western venue too!)

    • February 17, 2015 5:50 am

      Thanks Jane, the imagery and craft do sit together amazingly well.

  3. February 17, 2015 7:52 pm

    I came across the work of this artist before. His work is amazing, thank you for highlighting it.

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