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A Look Back at 2017

I kind of like this time of year. The holiday order rush has dwindled, the New Year is upon us, and there’s finally a bit of time to sit back and reflect over the happenings of this past year. It’s interesting how the feeling of today will vastly differentiate itself from that of tomorrow, Jan. 1 2018. A single day change, and suddenly we will all be off to the races to improve, modify and hopefully make our lives better in more ways. I too am like this, and admittedly I too also falter on quite a few of those changes after a few weeks! That said, I think change should be thought of more as a continual process that has no beginning date or end date. Just a constant modification to improve our lives and those of others as well.

Alright – that’s enough philosophical rambling for now, so here’s a peek at the actual changes in the workshop this past year:

New Designs

The most obvious thing to start with are the new leather goods designs created this past year. I initially spent a significant amount of time looking into stitching a line of bags, even came out with one design for a few weeks as a test sale. Alas – I decided I am not quite yet ready to stray from my trusty rivets.

I still do like that design above, perhaps it’ll reappear at some point in the future. After that bag, came a whole slew of new ones here:

A few new wallets and accessories were built:

Even a few updated designs for the ladies, with a snap closure for the Tote, and anew handbag:

Then I decided to make an entire line for gear suited for all your doggies. This involved months of research into the best type of leather and hardware to be used on items that will undoubtedly see extremely rough treatment. It turns out, U.S. Latigo leather (highly resistant to weather and wear) and a new style of solid drilled brass rivet (near impossible to separate without ungodly amounts of force), and stainless steel hardware (the toughest you can get), all make for fine quality collars and leashes built to last:

A lot was learned in running my small workshop as a business this year. Namely – you really can’t sit back and just enjoy the spot you’re at too much. I mean you can, but as a business owner you really need to keep innovating and pushing the load uphill. If you relax too much, that load will push back on you and run ya over! Each year I learn little lessons like that, this year the lesson was, simply put, today’s world changes incredibly fast. Marketplaces can change from one month to the next so you got to be on your toes and change with it!

Another thing I learned is that running a business can be all-consuming. It’ll eat up all your time if you let it. Truth is, there is always something to be doing or working on next. For the next year I aim to come to peace with that and know that at the same time, it all doesn’t have to be done right now. Perhaps some gets done after a nice long walk, or after a full weekend has been spent with the computer off, or maybe sometimes that work will wait until after a short trip through the desert with my backpack.

Trips and R&R

Speaking of which, quite a few fun trips were made this year:

Backpacking into the Sawtooth Wilderness in Idaho for the Total Eclipse

A bit of Oregon and its endless beauty.

And a lot of Desert, to quench the soul’s need for some peace and quiet.

Tutorials

The year before I may have over-promised on my ability to post many more tutorials for y’all. As it turns out it takes a long time to build a tutorial for the site that I feel merits sharing with everyone. Ever notice how on other tutorial sites here and there, the stuff is shoddily built, corners are cut, or it’s just not a product made to last? Well, I only post techniques and builds that I am proud of and of sufficient quality. This means that for some things it can take over a month for me to finish. Heck, I don’t usually have all the skills myself to complete the project, but it is certainly worth taking the time to learn the new skill and build it the right way, so that you can have a handmade item for a long time to come. Here are a few from this year:

Well, ok this one above was technically from the very end of last year, but it’s worth posting up here. The Leather Keychain Tutorial.

I’m not sure this one above counts completely, but there’s some good info in there. I hand stamped a leather belt with a scene from the desert. I have worn it every day since. Stamped Leather Belt.

I know there wont be too many people with a need to make the above western style gun holster, but for me I have been working on some items to use as decoration in the shop. In the above tutorial quite a few new skills are passed on to you the reader. In-depth saddle stitching included. Leather Gun Holster Tutorial.

Sneak Peak

Coming into the new year I am working on some new moccasins to keep my feet warm. Now, technically I started these an entire year ago and gave up due to several technical complications. Well, I am happy to say that I finally figure out a way around those issues and have the right foot down below. I am photographing the entire process of making the left foot, so it will be a tutorial on the site within a few weeks time.

As for a look into what’s to come next year, well a lot really! I am planning a ton of new items for the shop. Look forward to several new wallets and accessories and perhaps even a few more bags too. I have quite a few in the works, so keep an eye out. Also – for those who enjoy the tutorial section of my blog, I will have a couple more scattered throughout the year depending on the time I have for it. Something even bigger may be happening this year, as once again I am looking into moving the workshop. Greener pastures await!

Thank you to all my readers out there and those of you who spent your hard earned cash on my leather goods. As a very very small business I truly appreciate you and your support, I wouldn’t be able to do it without ya!

Cheers to all of you in the New Year and good luck to you in your endeavors!

Sincerely,

Mr. Lentz

Getting Out

For all the misery that a mosquito can cause, it sure can keep you in the present. Have you ever been lost in thought about the future? Or maybe a bit stuck overthinking an event in the past? My advice – go find some mosquitoes, they will make you forget all that.

Mosquitoes will limit your thoughts to only what is happening right now. You see, this little bug has an endless urge to land on any of your exposed skin and take your blood. It’s in our nature to keep that from happening, so when 100’s or even 1,000’s descend on you when you’re out in the woods – you have no choice but to fight them off. Everything else goes out the window and an intense focus ensues, you must avoid their needles. You must move, swat and sway constantly. You divert their paths, dodge them, and blow them away, but one thing you do not do is think about anything else.

That’s the conclusion I have come to while out in the Sawtooth Wilderness of central Idaho this past week – enjoying the eclipse with my girlfriend. Yep – mosquitoes do have a point in life after all, and it’s a positive one. So the next time you find yourself frustrated, annoyed and overwhelmed by their persistence… remember the subtle rejuvenating effect that they are having on you. They take you away from all worries and keep you there as long as you can stand them. It’s nature at its best and it’s how I have slowly been growing my understanding of why I love being outdoors so much. It’s the suffering as much as the views and isolation. It’s learning to appreciate nature from all angles.

While backpacking I am usually wholly involved in the route, the terrain, cooking meals, treating drinking water, setting up camp, hanging bear bags, and a lot of other simple and rewarding tasks. I’ve always loved all that for what it is, simple things that while keeping me busy are also fairly important for a successful journey. I tend to feel more human when I am out there, perhaps it’s just being in the sunlight and the wind. Maybe it’s waking up in the middle of the night and walking out under the stars. You tend to get this feeling of being more connected with the earth itself, like you belong here. That feeling was well-amplified during the eclipse this trip. It’s almost kind of weird to feel more, well – human.

That said – I am back in the shop. There was a short delay there in orders, but we should be all caught up now. In the works over the next week or so – a brand new bag design, the biggest yet! It’s kind of like a large briefcase, plenty of room to fit it all. Also – some new interior storage options for all of my bag designs. It’s an optional addon to help keep the interiors organized. Come on back towards the end of next week and I should have some more news on that end. Cheers!

Salton Sea

the salton sea dead fish
Oh the desert, always revealing another surprise around every corner. You can walk through it for days, out in the middle of nowhere, and suddenly come upon some strange artifact from a hundred and fifty years ago. These past few months I have been taking some time on the weekends to explore a bit in this harsh southwestern landscape.

I wrote about it in a previous post in 2012 here. This past weekend was a trip with my lady out to the Salton Sea. Hardly the middle of nowhere, but strange nonetheless. Its most recent form having been created in 1905 by mistake. The Colorado river broke through a farming levee and flooded the basin for 16 months straight.

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For an incredibly quirky history – checkout the netflix documentary Plagues and PLeasures on the Salton Sea. There’s ghost towns, abandoned railways, dead decaying mounds of fish, beaches made entirely of barnacles, and a stench that comes and goes. Definitely worth a look.

How to Photograph Stars in the Night Sky

astro photography of stars in the milky way

Every few months or so I walk out into the desert with nothing but a backpack and the bare essentials for camping it alone. It’s an essential part of balancing out my days as a leatherworker. The desert is a great place to find solitude, the kind you need when you are looking to recharge a little. There are many many places you can go in the Southwestern U.S. where you will not see another soul for your entire pack trip. I usually head off-trail after a few miles to get to more interesting features in the landscape and find a nice quiet setting to make camp.

desert silouette night shot
This trip out into the desert I decided to bring along my better camera and some simple gear to help take decent night shots. If you want to learn how to take some great star shots, you can follow my simple advice by reading on below. There really ain’t much to it, 75% of the work is just finding a good spot with low light pollution. I found this handy light pollution map so you can get a good idea of where you need to head: Dark Sky Map. From my use it seems fairly accurate.

star photography camera gear
Above is the camera gear I packed into my backpack for this trip. It’s an attempt at sticking with a minimal amount of gear without sacrificing my options when shooting. From left to right starting at the top: Canon 5D Mark iii with a Canon 50mm 1.4 prime lens attached, a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 prime lens (a great hobbyist lens for wide night shots), a Lowepro case that’s just big enough to fit the 5D with 50mm lens attached, two 64GB compact flash cards, two Canon batteries, a mini tripod from Cowboy Studio, a neoprene padded lens sack to carry whichever lens was off the camera, a small cuben fiber stuff sack to hold rocks if I wanted to weigh down the tripod against the wind, a plastic bag in case a sand storm or rain whipped up and I needed to protect the camera. It’s a simple setup and really, it’s all you need to get started.

Quick Tips

  • Find a comfy spot as far from cities and towns as possible
  • Use a decent tripod that can lock firmly in position
  • Weigh your tripod down with weights or rocks
  • Keep out of the wind
  • Use the feature on your camera called ‘Mirror Lockup’
  • Use a camera trigger, or set the timer on your camera for a 2 second delay
  • Try a lens with a nice wide aperture allowing for lower ISO shots
  • Try to keep ISO at or below 3200
  • Pick a cloudless night
  • Pick a moonless night (or not, depending on your shot)
  • Experiment with all types of exposure settings
  • Take a few shots in each exposure/position – then pick the best later on
  • Use manual focus and take a few shots adjusting around the infinity setting.
  • You’d better be a patient person

desert night sky photograph

How To Photograph Stars… or How I Shoot:

Here’s how I typically set up a star shot while out in the desert. First I usually forget to check whether there is a full moon or not and by the time I get out there I realize there’s still a half moon in the sky until 11pm. That means the best time for a good dark sky is a few hours past 11pm on that day. As I am hiking out in the day time I also realize I forgot to check the weather…and there’s a haze of thin clouds above me. Basically the first night of shooting didn’t go so well, so I had to scrap most of the shots, except the one at the end of this post.

On night 2 I waited until about an hour after sunset and placed my camera on the mini tripod (see all camera gear below). I set it in the sand, but a solid platform would be better, like a rock! Luckily for me there was no wind, but this is a big factor to consider when taking longer exposures as the slightest bit can shake the camera/tripod and result in blurry shots. If there’s a breeze, try to put the tripod in a spot out of the wind.

If you look close at the shot above you can see another galaxy 2/3 the way down on the left hand side. I am no astronomer so I can’t tell you what it is, but if you happen to have your iPhone with you while shooting – you can download all kinds of star map apps that make it easy to figure out the night sky. Of course if you are camping you should definitely leave the phone at home!

night shots in the desert

Certain things are only noticed after you bring the images home and process them. Above I captured a glimpse of a meteor. Don’t be confused by every line in your shots though – a lot of the night sky has planes passing through. You can identify those easily as the flashing lights will leave a trail with dots across it.

I used the Rokinon 14mm lens first as it is a very wide angle and I wanted to experiment with a bit of the ground in the shot. The moon was still fairly high, so I started taking shots of it in the frame as well. I set my aperture to 2.0 – which is a decent aperture to avoid lens blur I have found. I set the ISO to about 3200 or one stop below, and the exposure length to about 13 seconds. On my camera there is an option in the menu to use Mirror Lockup, in layman’s terms – you need to use this to get a sharper image. Google it if you want to know why!

I then set my camera to use the timer, and set the timer to 2 seconds. This helps if you don’t have a trigger, it allows for 2 seconds after you push the button for the camera shake to settle down, resulting in a sharper image. On the Canon 5D Mark iii, you can use the live view screen and zoom in 10x to help with manual focusing. This is a huge help since the Rokinon lens will not autofocus (and you wouldn’t want to use autofocus anyways for stars). I found that a hair back from infinity worked the best for a sharp photo of the stars.

star and planet photography at night

In my case I had the camera set up right next to my camp chair and cooking gear. This way I could keep setting up the shot and retaking the photos while I was waiting for my dinner to cook. Of course this also meant I could not use my headlamp as it would ruin the shot, but with a half moon – things were pretty visible and I narrowly avoided several burns. The shots were looking ok, but I knew I could get better if I waited for that moon to set. So at some point I gave up and went to sleep, waking at 3 am to use nature’s toilet and set up another hour’s worth of shooting.

One benefit of being up at 3 am to photograph the stars… there’s a lot fewer red-eye flights in the sky to ruin your shot! Of course shooting at 3 am will cause the user themselves to get red-eye. At some point I switched lenses to the 50mm just to see the difference. What you get is a bit more detail in the shot and you may be able to spot a galaxy or other phenomena. Try out different lenses to get the feel of what works for ya.

Different parts of the sky tend to have different densities of stars. It’s not always easy to identify with the naked eye, so just point your camera in different directions and see what you can get as a first pass. I do know that if you are shooting the Milky Way, that cloudy mass of stars in a lot of these shots, your best bet for brightness and density occurs early spring to early summer. This is because the Earth at night is facing what they call the galactic core, or center of the galaxy. Astronomy sites will have more detailed info on that subject though.stars in the desert night sky

For me when I am taking a star shot, I tend to like to include some of the ground for scale. The shot above had to be taken around 3 am, several hours after the moon had set, so I could get a nice silhouette. You’ll notice that if you try and shoot with a moon in the sky – it can tend to light up the ground almost as if it were daylight, depending on how long your exposure is.

Time-lapse night star photography can make for some very interesting pieces to watch. I only made a few this trip as they can take quite a while to capture. The way I did it with the Canon 5D Mark iii is to load a program called Magic Lantern on to an SD card and insert it into the camera. The program allows for all kinds of extra camera shooting features, and automated time lapse shooting is one of the benefits. Here’s a (very) short clip I made from some time-lapse photography, above.

The first star time-lapse shot was taken with Rokinon 14mm lens at f2.0, 3.2 second exposures, 12 seconds apart, ISO 3200, and there are 120 shots there – meaning it took about 30 minutes to capture. The second star time-lapse shot was also taken with the Rokinon 14mm lens at f2.0, 15 second exposures, 2 seconds apart, ISO 3200, and there are about 53 shots to make that part – so it took around 15 minutes to make.

One trick I learned to help with the monotony of time-lapse shooting, is to wait until you are ready to start your shot before beginning to cook dinner. Seriously. I set up the first star shot, then went about 10 yards away and heated up my meal in the dark. Careful not to use your headlamp unless you know it wont make it into the shot!

photographing stars in the night sky

Light pollution is pretty much everywhere these days. Above you can see it on the horizon, as the small orange area. Below it lights up the backdrop of the rocky hill.desert night sky with stars

Even after waiting for the moon to fully set (I went to sleep until 3 am) the night sky was still partially aglow in certain directions. This is due to towns and cities on the horizon.milky way photography example

To really see the Milky Way in your photos, you will need to do a bit of processing after the fact. I use Adobe Lightroom and will say that that is by far the best choice. I wont go into detail about the processing part, but I will point you in the right direction. You just need to know that the camera is not a perfect instrument, so it will not necessarily be able to get an image looking just like how your eye may have seen it. You will need to adjust the contrast, black levels, and give the right spectrum of light a little help in popping out a bit. Here’s one perspective on the editing side (and believe me there are many more).

star photography example

The shot above was taken with the moon still in the sky, thus lighting up the ground. I was lucky enough not to capture any planes in this photo – are rare occurrence in today’s world! Rokinon lens, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.moon setting in the desert night sky

This is the moon setting, right next to the Milky Way. I had to overexpose the moon in order to get more detail in the sky. This shot did need a bit of processing before the right look came to. Some photographers will take this shot as two exposures, one to get detail in the moon, and one to get the stars to show up. Then they edit the two shots together in photoshop. For me at this point I feel that’s going a bit too much into creating a ‘fabricated’ shot, though in their defense – that is typically how the eye would see it, so it’s not that far from what it naturally looks like.

star photography in the desert

Make sure to get out into the night for some of your own shots, it certainly is a peaceful way to spend the evening! Feel free to share your star shooting experience in the comments below.

Wallet Selfies in the Woods

leather wallet selfie

Wallets tend to travel as much as we do. I took mine on a quick backpacking trip in the high Sierra mountains. Not exactly the most practical thing to carry, but I thought it might make for a few fun shots. Here are the most scenic spots, of course the Minimal Leather Wallet – Extra is at center focus.

Leather Wallet over lake

That really is the color of the lake, no joke. It felt like a tropical ocean in the middle of the mountains. And nope, I ain’t givin’ away the location!

Leather wallet and lake

This area wasn’t quite as tropical, more apocalyptic. Up near Mammoth, CA there is a lake or two that suffers from high levels of carbon dioxide off-gassing from an earthquake years ago. Aparently it causes the lake to drain and vegetation around it to die off. Well, the wallet went there too.

Leather wallet with Aspen Trees

Aspen trees are one of my favorite parts of getting into the back-country. They make this soft relaxing noise as the wind passes through their leaves. They usually grow in large clusters and it’s easy to see through the forest when you’re under them, in case – you know – a stray cow comes barreling down the path towards ya. Happy summer, go enjoy the last few days while you can.

A Vast and Empty Space

BackPackJTree03__0024The Desert is a vast and empty space, capable of absorbing all thought going in and expelling the visitor with a mindless sense of calm. It stretches its broad and parched plains outward in all directions, seemingly without end. Silence prevails here, not a drop nor tweet nor howl of the wind. A silence so stark the heartbeat can deafen. A silence broken only in the night by the packs of roaming coyotes out on their nightly prowl.

BackPackJTree03__0005

The desert is a place I go to recapture my sense of primal humanity. Over the last year I have journeyed out into the arid lands once every few months. It clears out my thoughts, and reminds me of how incredible and serene the natural world truly is. Significant thoughts of a few days earlier become meaningless as I press on gaining miles and searching for spots to sleep before nightfall.

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BackPackJTree03__0001When backpacking, the basic daily needs of back-country life take over your focus, and all that is left are a few stray thoughts from your city life well beyond the horizon.

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In hiking through the wild, I try to step off the trail for at least half the journey. Breaking my own path narrows my focus down to only a few key thoughts: watch out for rattlers, keep track of time – pace – heading – and approximate position, dodge the thorny plants, keep an eye out 15 yards ahead for the best route through the brush, and find a spot to settle for the night out of the prevailing winds.

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When I head off the trail I typically get vast distances all to myself without a single person in sight. I generally pay for it though by having to work my way through unexpected obstacles not apparent on the map. A simple ridge descent can turn into a long and slippery slope sliding down loose rocks and having to push through thorny brush while keeping from going over either edge.

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But no complaint is ever made when campsites like those above are found. The views are endless. The night is quiet.

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I now travel fairly light. It helps in getting me further into the wild. Above is my entire cook kit. A light titanium mug, a tin foil lid, and beneath is a small container that holds a bit of 180 proof liquor used as fuel.

BackPackJTree03__0069As I have always said, try to take a break yourself and get out into nature. It’ll cure you of some of those city-borne ailments in no time.

 

A Week’s Journey: The Desert Part 1

joshua-tree-wilderness_0100Out there lies an endless desert. Stretching to the horizon. The air crisp and dry. The sun steadily beating down all life. joshua-tree-wilderness_0092No real way to go but through the thorny brush. Dust rising on my trail, the wind picks up and I saunter onward. joshua-tree-wilderness_0111This is no land for man. Peak after lonely peak reveals the enormity of the path ahead.joshua-tree-wilderness_0138-2Careful foot placement avoids pain from below. Everything out here is sharp, protective and hostile – fighting for every last drop of life.joshua-tree-wilderness_0120At the end of the day, when the sun drops below the horizon and the scorching air makes peace with night a sense of comfort is found out here in the Southwestern Desert. Have a great weekend and remember to get out and enjoy some nature.

A Respite in the Desert

Every cowboy needs a few moments to collect his thoughts. So, this one went out deeper into the desert. A few miles into the wilderness area inside of Joshua Tree National Park, under a full moon. The wind whipped, cactus pricked and luckily the snake did not bit.

joshua-tree-wilderness_0024

The first camp was set up on a high ridge, miles from any trail and without the slightest hint of humanity in sight.

joshua-tree-wilderness_0040If you need a break from life, a chance to let all of your thoughts settle, consider planning a 3 day getaway to the desert, mountains, or plains. Get away from your daily habits and stressors. Even just 2 days out and you might even see a big change, go with it. joshua-tree-wilderness_0046The best way I have found to really get away and get some good solid nights of solitude is to hike out into a designated wilderness area. Get yourself few miles in and you may be the only person willing to make that extra effort and thus get the entire place to yourself. joshua-tree-wilderness_0128Make sure to bring the appropriate equipment for wherever you end up…but don’t take too much – it’ll just slow you down. Out here in the desert all I really needed (but did bring more) was a sleeping pad and bag, some grub, and about a gallon of water per day out. That’s as minimal as you can get and it would allow me to hike even deeper into the desert. joshua-tree-wilderness_0138

Back Into the Woods

Redwoods14_0014

 

Last week I took a brief respite in my favorite woods. The Redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest. It was a camping journey, one to calm the mind and find peace before the major holiday season truly erupts in a fury of leather goods. My favorite spot to lay down the sleeping bag – a stretch of beach that roars with breaking waves, and backs right up to a major chunk of old growth forest. Taking this trip also meant coming back home after to a lot of catching up type of work. It was worth every second – and always is. So kick that fear about giving yourself a break, and go out and do it!Redwoods14_0020Redwoods14_0043Redwoods14_0061Interestingly this shot above of elk was taken at night with moonlight only to light up the prairie. It’s about a 12 second exposure.Redwoods14_0065Redwoods14_0071

 

On the first day out into the woods I parked at a lonely trailhead and made my way a few miles deep into an incredibly stunning valley of Redwoods. Then, out of nowhere from around the bend came this adult black bear. Steadily making his way down the path…towards me. Must be nice for him having a pre-cut trail. I stayed long enough to snap a quick few shots before turning back and beating the bear to the parking lot.Redwoods14_0099Redwoods14_0105Redwoods14_0112Redwoods14_0122Redwoods14_0157Redwoods14_0124Redwoods14_0195Redwoods14_0201Redwoods14_0209Redwoods14_0222Redwoods14_0229Redwoods14_0250Redwoods14_0254Redwoods14_0265Redwoods14_0280And finally – a moon-rise above the forest. Now back to cuttin’ leather!

Land of Rain is a Land of Green

Portland_0006The storm arrived as soon as our plane touched down. It was 80 and sunny the day before, it will be 80 and sunny the day after we leave…but for the five days in Portland it will be cloudy cool and a bit of a downpour. That’s certainly ok with me, because seeing Portland in any other way would seem, well…a bit unnatural.

Portland_0016This place gets rain and it gets green, very green. Especially to a Cowboy living in the arid Deserts of the Southwest. By the third hour my eyeballs were bleeding, green. I became green blind. The last year and a half in the desert has sucked every last memory of green from my brain. I have been left with only the idea of green as a word with a definition and one that appeals to me: pleasantly alluring. One that has pleasantly lured me to the Pacific Northwest.

Portland_0019Portland_0026The trip to Portland was indeed to find green as well as to find more spectacular plant life than the tumbleweed and cactus. Though they tend to expose their own unique beauty, especially when not oft encountered. Portland has always been a city of mystery to me, one that I have wanted to explore for the past 8 years or so. There are a lot of incredible makers up there making a lot of fine work.

Portland_0058I get the feeling that this town may hold one of the largest populations of artists in relation to its size than any other town in the U.S. Could this be a side effect of the weather, or the inspiration of all the nature that surrounds it?

Portland_0060Portland_0068In my travels I have repeatedly found that nature inspires me, it frees my brain, lets me think. The busy-ness of our man-made world ends at the beginning of the trailhead. It disappears at the cliff’s edge, it sinks deep into the lake, no longer disturbing us. Nature is where our minds belong, at least its where mine does.

Portland_0104Several months ago I wrote about a trip I took to the mountains of Colorado. The point is that you should always take time to get out and get away from your daily work to let your brain breathe. A funny thing happens after a short time away. Getting out of your normal routine gives you space to think and be creative (this also includes turning off that phone). Just be.

Portland_0108Portland_0109Portland_0142Portland_0240Portland_0262After spending quite a bit of time in the green forests around Portland, the beach was next.

Portland_0180The coastline of this part of the country only looks good to me on a nice cloudy, dark and windy day. It just fits with the moods evoked from this ocean, the large rocky cliffs that dive into it and the crashing waves that bury it.

Portland_0193Portland_0181Portland_0158Go bury yourself in some nature and see what becomes of it. You never know what that creative side will do when you let it free.

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Taking a look back at 2013

A few weeks into the new year and it is time to take a look back and see what happened in 2013. Mind you, I quit coffee cold turkey yesterday (for the 432nd time), and am writing this with taped up eyelids dosed on pain meds. Let’s see if I can get through it. Here we go:

2013, just like 2012 was a year of massive change for me, Mr. Lentz. In the beginning of the year I had just returned from an 8 month journey through Central and South America. I was in culture shock. There are a lot of things you don’t get while traveling and one of the biggest ones that bothered me was the lack of some solid mental stimulation. Traveling is great, it is fun to see new things, new places, new people…but I ultimately missed what I had begun in my workshop in Boulder, CO. That is – designing, building,writing…all around creating. This keeps me busy and gives me a feeling of fulfillment like no other South American ancient ruin can compete with.

So…once I returned to the States, I packed up my stuff in Boulder, CO and headed out West to begin my work anew.

I started from the very beginning, taking a close look at my previous designs and reworking them. Ultimately creating entirely new ideas that were much more refined.

I did the same for my rings, creating new designs, using better materials and in more efficient ways.

I took a break and philosophized a bit about creativity and why you shouldn’t care.

 

Then I made a few more rings…

 

I expanded on my ideas a bit, trying to push them to the limit of what was possible. Out came this Grass Knuckle.

I took the time to write several tutorials, which I am proud to say have helped numerous makers like myself begin in the world of makin’. The one below is about how to build a quick, cheap and sturdy workbench.

Then I threw together an idea about a wood and leather lunch box. It came together nicely, but I am still looking to improve the design.

Several fans requested a simple leather wallet tutorial…so I made one. I realized that a lot goes into a simple leather piece like this just to get it looking right.

Partly due to my own forgetting of the steps to make a leather belt (there are many) – I made a tutorial of one. This guy now sells in my shop, it’s a fine piece of work.

There were a few ideas I had to scrap. The one below is a leather and dye combo I do not use anymore – in favor of natural dyes I make by hand.

This phone wallet below was scrapped. It included a secret interior pouch…that was extremely time consuming to make.

Many new wallets were born this year. The time taken to conceptualize, design, template, create, refine and finish for sale in the shop is immense! – But worth every second. I love designing new work, the best part is when I condition up the leather with my own hand made leather balm (extra virgin olive oil, beeswax, carnauba wax), the leather glows with deep and rich colors.

Constantly experimenting with new ways to create natural colors from vegetable matter…I added two more color options Dust Storm and Stallion – though soon to be combined into just the Stallion.

For a brief period I created a desertscape for photographing my leather goods. This proved hard to maintain in the longrun and I quickly switched back to wood backdrops.

Realizing the importance of getting away is crucial to the creative mind. I took a break in Colorado, hiked a fourteener and let my mind be free and wander without anything or anyone to tell me what needed to be done next. I recommend this for everyone – take a nice solo week and drive off somewhere towards nature. You will be glad you did.

Some designs from the past were revived for a custom order. Only to quickly disappear again back into the past.

Mistakes were made, plenty of them. In fact it is quite common as a craftsman to fudge things up every now and then.

I burnt some leather too.

Then I created even more leather designs, a purse, cuff and the belt from my tutorial.

 

Towards the end of the year I disappeared into my workshop, not seeing the light of day for weeks on end. It got busy. Very busy, very quickly. It was a blast and I worked my tail off.Looking back is kind of crazy, just reading through this and realizing how far I have come since my travels ended. There are a lot of new ideas and projects coming along that I will be sharing on here shortly. I have a few fun powertools…still waiting to be unpacked due to the craziness of the Holiday Rush). With them I plan to make bigger things – things for the home and maybe some art. This next year looks like it will be a busy one as well, but I am preparing for it in advance. That’s the great thing about making mistakes – hopefully you remember them and learn a bit from them. I think it’s important that when we are all sittin’ back and thinking about the new year ahead of us, that we also look at the year behind us and continue on that path of improvement. Cheers the 2014!

Get Away and Think Big

A few weeks ago I left the hot and arid confines of the Southwest for the land of mountains, Colorado. I took some time to get away from work, computers, the workshop, and the daily habits that tend to take over in this crazy world.

Nearly as quickly as I had arrived in CO, I headed up into the mountains – camping this time of year at 9,000 feet is quite exceptional. Colorado has beautifully forested mountains, full of pine and aspen, sharply contrasting my current landscape of scrub brush and cacti. By changing the scenery that surrounds me every day, I am also changing pace. Everything feels new again. New sights, new sounds, smells and experiences.

This is extremely important for those that do creative work. Anything at any time can influence you and your decision making process in your creative work. So – when you find yourself doing the same thing day in and day out, you are essentially starving your mind of new thoughts and external creative influence. Breaking free of the habitual items on your daily to-do list will also help you gain another perspective and expose you to the unexpected which is like candy for your creative soul.

I chose to head out into central Colorado near a town called Leadville to camp for four days and climb the highest peak in the Rocky Mountain range, Mount Elbert at 14,440. The hike took me half the day and gave me very little to focus on except for breathing and taking the next step forward. This mind space is incredible. Without all of the inhibitions and stresses of daily life as a roaring background chorus, I was able to think about new things. New ideas. New solutions to old problems.

You don’t have to go far to find this space. Even something simple, like taking a walk at night, or riding your bike through a new neighborhood, or pulling your camping mat out and laying it down on your porch to relax and watch the sky for an hour…these are all things that can take you out of your routine and expose you to fresh experiences.

Try it out. In fact try it out in a different way each week and let me know what your results are in the comments below.

Sum of the South

Eight months ago I left our beloved land of comfort and landed in a hot fiery hell known as Panama. The goal was ultimately to take a break from life in the U.S., relax on a lot of beaches, meet new people and have an incredible adventure. Why I chose Panama as the starting point, I will never truly understand, but I do know that because of Panama I can now begin to take pleasure in the simple things in life in the U.S. of A. – such as: a cool breeze, feet that are free of agonizingly itchy bug bites, a stroll into town where not one whiff of poop crosses my path, and food on a plate that doesn’t stare back at you with a slight doubt of the potential for parasitic infestation. Ahh Panama, the day I left you behind for Brazil was perhaps the best day I spent with you. Here are a few words of advice I have managed to gather after spending around four months in the country:

PANAMA

  • Avoid being in the capital for more than a day, any more than that and you are likely to miss-step into a 30 foot, uncovered sewage drain – thus sucked into the depths of the underworld never to be seen again. For that matter, don’t ever take your eyes off the ground anywhere you go in Panama as this scenario is likely to happen at any given time – especially on the day you feel like Panama ain’t such a bad place after all.
  • Don’t bring anything except your bathing suit. Seriously – you will live in it.
  • When on the beach in the evening, you will most likely be mauled by the local variety of the sand flea. This tends to take away any remaining pleasure of being in the tropics on a beach watching the sunset, so – bring pure coconut oil, the suckers won’t be able to hold on to you long enough to bite.
  • Watch for poop floating in the water in Bocas Del Toro. If you don’t believe it, I saw it with my own eyes ( see post here ).
  • When the power goes out in Bocas, don’t buy meat for three days.
  • Don’t ever get your hair cut by the American lady living in Bocas, you will end up getting two extra haircuts to fix the damage ( see post here )
  • The Spanish school in the mountains is a great place to meet the ladies, ahem.

 

As a closing note for Panama, don’t go there. Avoid at all costs. Keep going south.