When I met leather artist Carina Sohl last year in Paris I had a suspicion she might live in the country side. I have myself moved to a little costal village a few years ago. The sea change has allowed me to be calmer, & more focused. The effect nature has on us is undeniable. Carina is so genuine, when I spoke she listened, in a way that you can when you are not overstimulated from living full-time in city life.
All the leather is produced by Carina at her studio using natural elements she collects in the Swedish countryside. Her pieces truly have a presence, they all glow with sharp and subtle outlines of leaves, twigs, grasses, and flowers. During the embossing process all of the natural materials used to create the print are destroyed. This makes every piece so special, every element becomes a ‘ghost’ of something that has been and is now gone. Carina embraces the natural world, an ever changing, ephemeral place into become a permanent surface.
What inspired you to begin to work with leather professionally?
As long as I can remember I have been creative in different ways but it was when I began a leather course that I found a material that really appealed to me. I started to think about how I could develop the craft in relation to my own creativity.
One autumn day in October 2006, I was on my daily walk by the sea and found a beautiful half-decayed leaf on the ground. I studied it closely, delighted by its small delicate veins that intertwined into a beautiful pattern – nature’s own art. This feeling gave birth to a new idea. I wanted to somehow create patterns by transferring the fine leaf details onto leather. The leaf I found became the key to an entirely new type of decorative pattern on leather. My personal journey as a designer and craftswoman has been long, and processing my idea has taken time. In my studio, I experimented to find the right type of technique, leather and plant material.
How would you describe the process of hand embossed leather?
The plant and leaves that I use for the patterns grow wild in the forest and during summer I hand pick as many as I need according to the customers specific order. Before the design process a carefully selected hide is cut to shape, then I begin designing the pattern by hand, using the natural leaves we have hand-picked and gathered. I base my designs on the different shapes and select leaves that together create a harmonious pattern. The plants are pressed into the leather before being removed and discarded and now the leather has a pattern. Instead of painting with a brush and paint, I design with natural leaves instead. The result is a beautifully detailed and intricate pattern on leather, where each pattern has it’s own unique artistic expression. The organic, fragile leaves are destroyed in the press process which means that you acquire a pattern that no one else has.
I use to search for leaves with folded corners or wormholes so everyone can see and understand that we use natural, authentic leaves and plants from the nature.
If you look very closely you will see the small fine veins and shapes of the different leaves,
Nature is central to your leather work, Would you say the natural world is a part of your everyday life as well?
Yes, I create patterns using the finest raw material in the world – Nature´s own. I live on the country-side close to the forest and the plants that I use for my patterns, some of them grow just outside my kitchen window. In Sweden we have a unique public right, where everyone has the right to be in nature and the common right of access to private land. Almost each day during the summer, I have the lucky freedom to roam the Swedish countryside where I search for and hand-pick the wild plants according to a specific order or to experiment and develop new patterns.
The cycle of the seasons are directly linked to your studio practice, can you describe this?
Here in Scandinavia, we have four different beautiful seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter with snow. Our hand-picking season is from june to October. The plants we use are native to the Swedish countryside and are harvested only in the Swedish summer-autumn time, some of them blooming only some weeks and others the whole season. I have my secret places in the forest where the specific plants growing. With a special method we can also keep a large store of different leaves and plants over the winter months.
In our modern day heavy duty machinery is the most common method employed to emboss leather, what makes hand embossed leather superior do you think?
Our artistic designs cannot be compared with machine-embossed leather, as creating patterns with natural plants requires a completely different kind of artistic and slow craft process, allowing only for one-of-a-kind-pieces. The organic materials form irregular, vibrant and beautiful pattern which are impossible to reproduce with modern printing plates and no two are same. This artistic and handcrafting process is complicated, demands time and love, and only allows limited editions. I think that These days true luxury is finding something real, authentic and natural, something made with love, passion and skilled hands and the knowledge that you will not see your purchase anywhere else.
We also use high quality and natural, vegetable tanned rare breed cattle hides from selected Swedish farms and Reindeer hides from the Sami people who are the indigenous people in Sweden. Reindeer herding is legally reserved only for the Sami people which lives in the north of Sweden where they work traditionally with reindeer-herding and I growed up and lived in a small village in this area close to the Sami people and the Reindeer animals.
When I met you we were speaking about your work in terms of ‘freezing a moment’ can you elaborate on this?
Nature creates perfect works of art, and I want to convey the sense of humbleness that I feel before nature and living plants. I want to freeze a moment of this beauty, and when I design my patterns with leaves that I have picked in the Swedish countryside and press them into the leather, an exact detailed embossment is formed, which will become integrated in the leather forever.
The overall message is that the beauty of nature can be preserved. I am capturing a piece of nature and preserving its beauty forever.
You offer a bespoke service with your unique leather, what applications have your clients used your leather?
Most of our clients are interested of a bespoke service, creating and implementing designs using my handicraft process. Applications can be made for interior, fashion and accessories. Our pattern leather can be applied in a numerous way and we are always open to new and interesting ideas for applications. We have worked directly with fashion designers, architects and luxury companies.