Makerviews exists to share the stories of and advice from a variety of talented makers, designers, and artists.
Miniviews series - No. 31 with Justin Hagan
You’ve landed on the thirty-first installment of the Maker Miniviews (mini, two question interviews) series. Learn more about these maker interviews and view a list of all Miniviews.
Justin Hagan runs Gold Bark Leather, a website he started that helps and educates leather working beginners become skilled in the art of leather work. Justin shares his personal story in this maker’s interview.
Check out this interview with Justin Hagan of Gold Bark Leather.
I'm a Maker Because...
Justin Hagan interview
On your website you say that leather working came at a time of uncertainty and that it grounded you. Do you mind expanding?
"I'm 27, and the past five years have been strange, but eventually really healthy. My wife, who I married my senior year of college, and I moved to Rhode Island right after graduating to join a team that was starting a brand new church.
These teams, called church plants, essentially have a four year runway to form a church and then become financially independent from the planting organization. The first year it seemed like things were going steadily in the right direction, but by year two it was pretty obvious that something wasn’t working, and would continue not to work without some serious changes. We continued to work and strive for another year and a half, but by the end of year four we had to move on to something else.
Without going into all that in gritty detail, I want to get across that we failed, and we failed hard. College had made me feel prepared for my job and I had genuinely believed we’d succeed, only to find out neither were true. And things I assumed I would be good at, like marriage, were turning out to be a struggle. All of it was a punch in the gut and challenged, in some serious ways, how I viewed myself.
This all caused me to slip into a 2-3 year depression.
And now we are finally talking about leatherworking:
In the midst of my depression, I picked up leather working. Leatherworking is hard to master, but it's something that's pretty easy to pick up. Early on you can start making functional, perhaps ugly, goods. You know, if you set out to make a belt, you'd be hard pressed to mess it up. It might not look as clean as you'd hoped, but it will still hold your pants up. That was first thing I made by the way, and it's holding my pants up as I write this. I had set out to make a belt, and just like that, there's a belt. I did it. And sure, it wasn't a huge feat... but that small certainty in a time where everything else I had held was being challenged, was grounding.
Greg McKeown, in his book Essentialism, talks about how small habits that have nothing to do with what your currently pursuing can start to make everything else in life click. He gives some examples of journaling or making your bed each morning, etc, but leatherworking was and is that habit for me.
The confidence it helped restore in conjunction with being forced to take a really critical look at who I was and how I lived, has changed and shaped me into someone radically different than who I was. Because of that, I am grateful both for leatherworking and a chance to really fail. That is what I meant when I said that "leather working came at a time of uncertainty and grounded me."
What one piece of advice would you give to other leather workers and makers?
"I think a large percentage of Americans consider themselves to be creative. And some will voice that publicly, but most keep it to themselves out of feelings of inadequacy, fear, not feeling legitimate enough, etc. My advice to budding makers would be to get your work out there.
You have this thing you love doing in your own time and in private, but when you get your work in front of people it becomes real. Yes, you will fail and yes some people will not get it at all, but letting what you make fail is the only way to truly refine it.
Along with that, get involved in a community. There's plenty of spaces where makers are encouraging and refining other makers. Again, this involves putting your work out there and receiving criticism, but you're also opening yourself up to a wealth of knowledge, experience, and friendships with those makers. It's well worth it. Most of what I know I learned from the leatherworking community on Reddit."
Creating things brings harmony and it can ground you, as Justin shares in this interview. There is a meditative quality to crafting things with your hands and you become solely focused on the task at hand.
"...when you get your work in front of people it becomes real..." — Justin Hagan
I really do appreciate Justin’s opening up here and I hope you too enjoy his story and responses to the questions. Be sure to check out and support his work at Gold Bark Leather where you can learn so much about leather working.
Thank you all for reading this article, now get out there and make things!
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"I am grateful both for leatherworking and a chance to really fail..." - Justin Hagan