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Time to Make the Donuts (if donuts were hand-painted Coach bags)

“What do you do for a living?” is a bit of a disheartening question for me because I haven’t quite figured out an answer that satisfies the person who asked it.   I usually just rattle off the title on my business card:  “Blogger.  Artist.  Fuckabout.”   Then I let that hang there in the air with no further explanation unless I’m asked – which I rarely am.   People generally run through a quick succession of facial expressions beginning with slightly startled then moving to bewildered then finally landing on either annoyed or bemused depending on the listener and the level of inappropriateness vis-à-vis the number of small, impressionable children present.

Most folks glide right on past any further conversation, preferring to put the whole unpleasant matter behind them but a few are curious and ask what each of those titles mean.  No one has ever made it all the way to Fuckabout.  It goes like this:

“Oh, what do you blog about?”

“Me.  Just … me.”

This is inevitably followed by silence while they try to work out in their head a nice way of saying, ‘But you’re not famous or rich or beautiful.  Why the fuck would anyone want to read about you?’  Failing to think of a nice way, they move on to the next item.

“What kind of artwork do you do?”

“I mostly create custom pet portraits hand-painted on Coach bags.”

…. and we’re done.

The people who buy the custom pet portraits hand-painted on Coach bags, however, have asked for more detail, and I thought it might be fun to share the process.

How to Create a Fancy-Schmancy Hand-Painted Handbag/Work of Art in Just Eighteen Easy Steps


The Prelude

Have an idea or get commissioned by a client with an idea.


Step One

Everything starts with a photo since I can’t paint something I can’t see in the flesh/fur (I have a wildly inaccurate and inconsistent imagination).  The pet photos come directly from the client and they are most often blurry and poorly lit and in need of a big dose of Photoshop.  I usually have to embellish their fur baby with internet photos of similar-looking critters.  For instance, they’ll send me a profile view but they want a full-face portrait or they send me the face but they want the whole cat.

Even if the design is all mine, I usually still have to patchwork my pics and Googled images together to create the end result I want.   The Catrina bag was a mashup of the good bits from three or four different sugar skull drawings I found.  Yes, I mostly steal my design elements from the good people of the interwebs.  I like to think of myself as a quilter of images.  The internet furnishes the pieces of fabric and I use Photoshop to stitch them together into a warm and cozy blanket of misappropriation.


Step Two

Spend hours, days, sometimes weeks, agonizing over the design layout and which bag it will work best on.  The silvery blue kitty looked beautiful on the seafoam blue bag but that same portrait on a mustard yellow bag would have been garish.


Step Three

Order bag from Coach online outlet. My favorite step.


Step Four

“Sketch” a scale mockup in Photoshop and Illustrator using the photos and measurements from Coach’s website.


Step Five

Print mockup at actual size.  [See photo 1 in gallery below]


Step Six

When bag arrives from Coach, ignore it for a month because I have a backlog of other bags and writing projects and broken promises in line ahead of it.


Step Seven

Carefully unpack the bag, retaining all packing materials, filler and tags.  When it is finished, I will use all of Coach’s original packing to ship it out.  I leave the tag on unless the client directs me otherwise and even then, I only remove the price part.  Being “new with tags” is a big deal.


Step Eight

Deglaze the approximate area of the bag that will be painted.  The deglazer is a special kind of acetone that is most definitely NOT fingernail polish remover (learned that the hard way) which strips the finish off the leather so that the paint will adhere better.


Step Nine

Trace the printed mockup onto bag – yes, I cheat at this step too. [See photo 2 in gallery below]


Step Ten

Mix the full array of colors that will be needed in tiny resealable containers.


Step Eleven

Start painting. I use Angelus Leather Paints and I cannot recommend them enough! Here’s a link to them in Amazon (I earn commissions)...


Step Twelve

Stop painting.  Hate everything I’ve done in steps one through eleven.  Realize I can’t paint worth fuckall.  Feel defeated and demoralized.


Step Thirteen

Forge ahead, focusing on one tiny detail — usually the eyes.  Remind myself over and over to just paint one 1-inch section at a time, then move to the next section and the next.  Like Chuck Close except I don’t actually draw a grid. And I’m not famous or rich.


Step Fourteen

Go back to the first section and start over because it sucks.


Step Fifteen

Continue moving two steps forward one step back until the whole thing is finished.


Step Sixteen

I love to add baubles and brooches and surprising little 3D elements like the sloth’s claws or Kita’s blingy collar.  To do that, I position them on the bag, mark where they will be attached, then drill tiny holes for the nylon string or wire or whatever will attach the object.  Glue them in place with e6000, then when dry, sew/wire/whatever as an added backup to the glue.

In the case of Kristen’s sloth, tiny magnets were embedded in the inside layer of the purse and the back of the glasses (real child-sized glasses) to make the eyewear easy to pop on/off.  Normally my artwork is the one area of life I’m kind of humble about but this time, I gotta say, I’m a goddamned genius. You gotta see this in action so here’s a video:

(There should be a video here. If you don’t see it, go to this link instead.  Don’t worry,  it’s only 2 minutes long  😘):


Step Seventeen

Seal with two or three coats of clear leather sealer, drying for several hours in between coats.


Step Eighteen

Take photos of finished product; Photoshop bag into cleverly eye-catching and copyright-infringing pics for Etsy and social media.


And there you have it.  From idea to finished Etsy post is about three weeks, depending on how long it takes Coach to ship the bag to me.  And how motivated I am to sit with the feeling of being an abject failure at Step Twelve.  It’s a rough step but it cannot be skipped.  If I try to avoid it, I end up with a painting that looks a third grader’s art project.  The failure step — and this is always true no matter what the work is — is the step where it goes from mediocre to something really special.   So that’s the secret sauce, the answer to how I make a living (very little actual income involved).

By the way, a professional Fuckabout –- as I will gladly explain if anyone ever asks about the third element of my job title –- is someone who travels all over the country from job site to job site with her hardworking Hubby.  While he is at work, the Fuckabout is either back in her hotel room creating custom pet portraits hand-painted on Coach bags (she brings all her supplies in a road case designed for this purpose), or she’s scouting for cool attractions and the best local food for them both to enjoy when Hubby is done for the day.  It’s a good gig.  The Coronapocalypse put an end to most of that fun, but when travel opens up again …. Let the Fuckaboutery begin!


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