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Such a stilted phrase, that.  I suppose it’s a more polite way of saying ‘trade secrets’ — same thing, different rhetoric, more syllables.

Earlier this year I attended an artist’s reception at the Bella Perla Gallery for Duncan Regehr — he does amazing work, strange little narratives and vignettes that grab my attention and demand that I puzzle out the rather cryptic stories and their symbolism.  Sometimes the symbolism is subtle, and sometimes it’s “Hit You over the Head” blatant.

And I love the way he achieves those lovely textures and really crunchy colors — love it so much I brazenly asked him point blank how he did it.  After a couple of minutes of listening to him trying to not answer the question while at the same time trying not to offend, I suffered a pang of empathy.  I’d realized I’d put him on the spot, and decided to let the poor guy off the hook.

The pang was this — folks frequently ask me how I make my leather masks.  And not just how masks are generally made from leather, but how I get the particular results that I do,…

Candidly, wrangling wet leather isn’t nearly as exciting or kinky as some might hope.  It’s time intensive physical labor, and cuts, calluses and blisters are inevitable.  And you can forget all about having a decent looking manicure.

But if you’re not willing to invest your own blood, sweat and tears into learning how to sculpt and mold the leather, you’ve got no business picking up a pair of leather shears, much less demanding that ‘proprietary information’ from any mask artist.

Every year I get a dozens of e-mails from people wanting my ‘trade secrets’ of making masks from leather. I give some information to spare useless expense and needless suffering, and chitchat back and forth with the occasional kindred spirit.  But every now and then I get some nitnoid who blows smoke up the skirt and plays at becoming my newest bestest buddy, just to schmooze my “secrets” out of me.

They get coy.  They push.  They push harder.  They nag.

I give what information I can, but these people just don’t get it.  They don’t understand that art is a journey that you have to walk with your own feet.  It’s like they want to paint a portrait, but they want me to create a paint-by-numbers kit for them so they can pretend at being artists.

And honey, if it comes in a kit, then it ain’t gonna be art.

A few claim they understand if I don’t want to “share” my “secrets”, but they continue to harry me anyway.  Again, I give what information I can — after all, how many pearls of wisdom am I expected to cram into an e-mail?  They demand to know how I get those results — the only answer is “time”.  I give each mask the time it needs to become what it wants to become.  Mojo is involved.

I suppose what bugs me is when the naggers pick my brains [instead of using their own], and that they rarely says ‘thanks’.

Many of those who’ve asked have been gracious and thanked me for my input and my time, and some of them have later proudly shown me the results of their labors — and I’ve been impressed by these first efforts.

It was suddenly remembering many of these moments that made me wince on the inside as Mr. Regehr was verbally shuffling his feet in response to my question of how he creates those delicious textures in his paintings.  At that point and in chagrin I asked him another question: “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

He paused and gave me a cautious smile.  “It’s like a magic trick — do you really want to know?”

Short answer:  Yes, dammit.

Long answer:  No — because I really want to figure it out for myself.  That’s the only way I’ll make it mine.