History of Leather Painting!

Acrylic is a popular paint choice for crafters of all ilks, especially leather crafters. There are myriad ways to color leather, but none give more control or vibrance than paint. We recently received a question from a customer curious about the history of leather painting. 


He asked: 

Prior to acrylic paints (about 1950) how was
leather painted (other than dyeing)? And how long have these other paint
options been available? Was there a time when using a dye, either by
application to the surface or soaking the entire hide, the only option? 

Well, we did a lot of research and here are the results! If you’re short on time, skip to the end. We’ve got a brief explanation for you. 

Let’s begin with a brief history of leather…

The use of leather has been recorded as far back as Sumerian times with records of skins being used for dresses and headbands for women. Of course, leather had its uses among the Assyrians, ancient India, ancient Egypt and ancient Rome. Decorative leather gained prominence in the 8th century, but was taken a step further in the 12th century with improvements in tanning processes. Oil tanning was even used in conjunction with dyes to give pieces a nice look while also strengthening the material. The 14th century brought along with it a more modern way of tanning with chrome salts. The range of leather products expanded from clothing and armor to chests, books, and furniture. From the 1900s on, drum dyeing and other methods were developed to accelerate the leather tanning process and propel it into the present day. In the past it would take months, if not a full year to tan a hide. Today, the process can be completed in as little as a few days. Learn more about the basic history of leather here

Now that that’s settled, let’s talk about paint…

For the most part, the way that leather was colored or decorated was with dyes or tanning. The ancient Egyptians were coloring some of their leathers, likely using organic materials like berries to do so. While painting certainly wasn’t the most common way of coloring leather, you may find that the tradition dates back further than you think. 


18th Century Gilt leather. Courtesy of PatrickBaty.co.uk 

As early as the middle ages, painting was prevalent from shields to walls, though the process was often more complicated than anything we would do today. Varnish was a common ingredient in adding color to leather. Perhaps the most luxurious paint-like method was

gilding (gilting). As far back as 1380, this method was used on hangings. These gilded hangings were an extravagant alternative to tapestries and wallpaper. The process chiefly used silver leaf, varnish and ink in an intricate process that produced opulent works of art. Gilding was also a popular way to color book spines. 

In Sir Charles Lock Eastlake’s 1847 book Material for a History of Oil Painting, he describes a method for using leather as a ground for painting wood with oil paints. “Such a parchment preparation, covered with a gesso or plaster of Paris ground, is sometimes found in English tempera pictures of the fourteenth century. The darkly varnished Byzantine pictures are frequently painted on leather glued to the wood.” 

Gesso, it turns out, often includes something called milk paint in the formula. Milk paint is 

a natural, non-toxic, water-based paint made from a combination of milk and lime. While it can be used as a base for painting when combined with gypsum, it is also usable as paint itself.

Generally sold in powder form, this paint can be mixed for use as a stain or a finish and it works just fine on leather. It can give off a more worn affect and is a fairly permanent way of coloring things. Milk paint is said to be oldest form of paint and was even used in cave drawings

The short and sweet answer…


Leather was painted with oil paint, milk paint and gilding. These paint options have been available for varying amounts of time, with milk paint being the oldest and pre-dating recorded leather use by thousands of years. While we have no verifiable evidence of paint being used on leather before the Middle Ages, it is very possible that leather was painted before then! 

I need a black 7×8 grade leather sholder

I’m not totally sure what you’re asking for. What grade specifically are you wanting? Is that 7×8 in inches or feet? If it is 7×8 ft, we wouldn’t have one in stock that size. A double shoulder generally averages 12-14 sq. ft. and our only black shoulders are singles. We have a lot of leather so you’ll have to be a bit more specific if you’re wanting a recommendation. In general, I suggest checking out our website, springfieldleather.com, and searching some of the terms you’ve provided here. Of course, you’re welcome to provide a bit more information and I’ll see what I can do! 

Finding Your Fit | An SLC Profile with Cameron Stacy

SLC is a unique place to work. Our small group of team members work diligently at a job (or three) around the clock to serve customers on a variety of platforms. 

One of those team members is Cameron Stacy,  our resident laser engraver, master of the leather dies and

custom stamp extraordinaire! Cameron has been part of the SLC team for nearly five years and, like many employees, it took him a bit of time to find his place. 


His connection to the leather company began at a local Culver’s where he worked for several years. When SLC owner Kevin, Rusty and the gang came in, Cameron took their orders. 

“I knew their orders and that Kevin preferred a raspberry sundae…or something like that.” He had a roommate who was leaving SLC for Portland and decided to apply. “I came in before a shift and as I was filling out an application, Kevin saw me. I went to work at Culver’s right after. They came [into Culver’s] that day and I took their orders.”  

A week later, Cameron was working in the shop clicking leather shapes, making belts and wallets. 


Around the same time Kevin purchased a laser engraver for the shop. Initially, they had Clayton, who now heads the Research and Development department, operating the machine. Clayton interjects, “Fun fact: I ran the laser first! I wasn’t very good at it.” 

With his superior Adobe skills, after six months, Cameron began running the laser full time. Later on, he began ordering custom stamps for customers and ordering all of our leather dies. He adds, “[Our custom stamps] are really nice because they’re a really good price. They’re magnesium and run [much cheaper] than most stamps you’ll find.” 


He says that the job is pretty easy now and his biggest challenge is, “juggling everything…coming up with new ways to operate the laser and keep it clean.” 

Otherwise, he just struggles a bit in the morning. “I’m not a morning person. I prefer to be called after 10:30.” Of course, we open at 9 am, just don’t tell him we told you! 😉 

In his free time, Cameron plays the guitar in his band Justice Adams Band and makes holsters. It seems kismet that he should appear on our holster kit, doesn’t it? The sample happened to be just his size. 

Contact Cameron by phone at 800-668-8518 or email to learn more about leather, glass, wood and/or plastic engraving, custom stamps and more! Learn more about all of SLC Production offerings by clicking here