Tom Banwell

Artist Tom Banwell is a jack-of-all-trades. His extensive portfolio includes sculpture, paintings, woodcarving and batik, but it’s his beautifully crafted steampunk-inspired leather masks and helmets that have made him an internet sensation. We asked the self-taught artist to interpret the Oribe logo in leather and chatted with him about his inspirations and work.

Tell us a little about your background in leather making. What drew you to creating these beautiful leather masks? What is "steampunk"?

I learned leatherworking in a small head shop on Lake Tahoe in the 1970s. I gave it up for many years to pursue other interests. Five years ago, I had another go at it and discovered mask-masking as the perfect fit for my passions and abilities, especially in the steampunk genre, which is nothing more than Victorian science fiction.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

I am not particularly self-analytical when it comes to my art. I create whatever feels good to make…things that make me say, “Oh, yeah!”

Why did you decide to design the Oribe logo the way you did?

I have worked in many different media over the years (graphics, batik, woodcarving and sculpture to name a few) but am currently focused on leather. I felt that I should create the logo in a way that shows off the nature of leather. I first put my own spin on the graphic (literally) and then embossed it into a piece of vegetable-tanned cowhide. Lastly, as an amateur photographer, I gave it some interesting lighting.

In your opinion, what defines something as beautiful?

It’s one of those things that’s difficult to define because it is subjective. I don’t think it can be learned…it’s just a sense that each individual has.

Where do you draw inspiration from when designing?

I draw inspiration from other artists’ work, as well as from nature and man-made structures. Many of my design ideas are synthesized in a state of semi-sleep. A night of sleeping (and dreaming) can be very productive.

If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and what would you work on?

I’ve always loved Frank Frazetta’s fantastical reality. I almost never collaborate on art, but it would be fun to create one of his leather armor designs.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten? Given?

Measure twice; cut once. Either you have what you want, or you have the excuse why you don’t have what you want.

In your opinion, what's the sexiest way a girl can wear her hair?

I like really big hair. The bigger the better.
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