David Trotter Leather Design

leather as art


Contemplating a new leather bag component, on a cold winter day, January 2019

Contemplating a new leather bag component, on a cold winter day, January 2019


My Story

I have always loved working with my hands. When I was a kid, I built anything I could, with whatever materials were at hand. Old boards, grain sacks, rope, old sheets, wire, fishing rods, sticks, old wheels, a can of old bent rusty nails, became building materials for wooden carts, scarecrows, tree houses, toy sailboats.

The first leather item that I remember making, was with some scrap cowhide leather that had come from a neighbour. I made a peace symbol pendant with the leather and a piece of copper. During the summer of 1969 I began working for that neighbour, Daphne Lingwood, one of the pioneers of contemporary leather design, near Caledon East, Ontario. I learned to cut and color and polish leather at a wooden workbench in her design studio. Daphne inspired me to always push the boundaries of creativity and to always take the time to experiment with new ideas. I continued to work for Daphne over the next several years.

During that time I attended Sheridan College in Oakville Ontario, where I took a general art course. I continued my leather work during my time as a student and in the following years I showed and sold my original work at many art and music fairs throughout Canada and North Eastern US. Eventually I went on to exhibit for many years at the American Craft Enterprises shows on the East Coast of the US as well as the One of a Kind show in Toronto.

I during that time I received many craft and design awards.

I have also been granted two US patents for industrial designs of leather tool bags I designed for Ideal Industries Canada, in Ajax Ontario.

Today I make leather jewelry, functional items and sculptural pieces depicting rural architecture, landscapes or purely abstract forms.

I live and work in a historic former livestock auction barn (The Cow Palace) near Orono Ontario, where I have my leather design studio and a demonstration ‘theatre’ in the former auction arena, where the livestock auctions used to be held.

My Materials and Techniques

I work with vegetable tanned natural cowhide of various thicknesses. When I receive the hides they have already been "tanned", meaning they have been processed to make them stable and resistant to degradation. The hides have been soaked in a "tea" made from tree bark (which has a high tannin content) to tan them. Otherwise they are natural and uncolored (actually a flesh color) and have the hair removed. As the hides and the tanning agent are both natural organic products, the material is very safe to work with and it is biodegradable.

I use both "top grain" and "split suede" cowhide. Both are vegetable tanned. The "top grain" leather is smooth and has the hair-cell pattern (many tiny holes) in the surface. The split suede cowhide is fibrous and flexible and has a nap. It accepts paint and dye extremely well.

Vegetable tanned hides have the unique ability to be wetted and formed much like wet clay. It can be stamped or debossed using various tools that, when tapped with a hammer, darken and leave lasting impressions. This is called leather tooling. When dry, the leather becomes stiff and holds the shape given it.

I colour the leather at different stages of the process, depending on the effect I want. I use water based dyes for the base color and acrylic artists color mixed down to a creamy consistency to highlight or strengthen colours. The leather is usually damp when I dye or paint it. This allows the dye or thinned paint to penetrate the fibre more easily. 

Acrylic paint, when applied properly, creates a new surface for the leather that is extremely durable and colorfast, but retains the leather look. I paint the damp leather, form it and let the paint and leather dry together. This creates a resilient material with a very durable surface, somewhat resistant to staining and scratching.

I use various tools to create the textures in my sculptural work. The leather is very accepting of any manipulation when it is damp. I use abrasives as well as hammering, scratching, rubbing etc. to create intricate and interesting surface markings, or an overall texture. One of the rough surface textures I make, is transfered directly from granite rock in the Canadian Shield. Wet leather is stretched out on the rock surface and pressed into it by hand or by bare foot. The ancient texture of the rock is permanently impressed into the fiber surface as it dries in the sun.

A blast from the past... Here's my 15 minutes fame courtesy Rogers TV