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Owls with Smiling Eyes

Updated: Dec 12, 2019


In 2017, an attempt was made to put my character designs in very simplified format with a focus on cute or elegant targeted for women's wearable accessories - primarily lady's leather handbags - targeting the Japanese market.

There were three of us involved: a leather handbag/wallet craftsman, a salesman already active in the Japanese market, and myself - who was not certain my stuff could even be printed on leather surfaces. (I never did find out if an totally successful print on leather strategy was accomplished or not).

In the end, nothing went to market. At that time, there was lot of message sending up and down the chain from my contact (leather designer man) to his contact (Japan market salesman) to his contacts (Japanese marketers/retailers).

I was asked to design something cutsie and I'd throw out a few sketch concepts. It'd go up the chain and back down with comments about what was liked and what could be changed or what other thing similar I could put together. So, I'd whip up some more. They'd repeat. And even scrap their initial suggestions altogether and start with a whole new idea and ask for sketch comps of those.

Patience. Lots of patience.

Patience in the hopes that the right idea will ring true with all the parties involved and a consensus reached. And that happened a handful of times, but the barriers of technicalities ultimately stopped these cartoon character designs from being placed on high quality custom made lady's handbags and other holdibles/wearables.

Print didn't seem to be working on the leather material surface in a permanent sense. I never got to see it, though.

And, ultimately, things that were once gaining momentum came to a grinding halt. The attempt was abandoned.

Even the highly skilled Korean leather designer (whom I had known for a decade) shortly thereafter had health issues due to the highly stressful nature of doing business in Korea and decided to retire his business even though he had a factory connection in China, leather connection in Italy, and points of retail in Manhattan.

So, in the end, I was left with quite a few finished and semi-finished cute and/or elegant character design pieces.

And now, some of them have ended up on wearable and utilitarian merchandise at my shops at Threadless, Redbubble, or Society6.

Like these owls perched above.

Which brings me back to the title, "Owls with Smiling Eyes".

This was a cross-culture experience. I being an American artist, the leather craftsman and his salesman acquaintance being Korean, and their Japanese contacts - so many unexpected things came up during the time.

For example, we discovered that certain animals are sacred in Japan. Actually, I already knew that Japanese culture is animist and highly ritualistic, perhaps superstitious (Animism: the religious belief that objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence), but I had no idea which animals were sacred and thus forbidden to be purchased and used on one's person - like a fox, for example.

Another time, when I was creating variations on these owls, one request was made to make the owls have smiling eyes, but I couldn't grasp what was meant by this term and I kept drawing squinted and curved eyes as though the owls were giggling.

It turns out that smiling eyes meant giant round owl circles that real owl species have and that nearly all printed cartoon owl designs have in common. Well, that's what they wanted so that's what they got.

All in all, this design project was a hoot. And I was compensated with a very large sports bag to carry my Kendo armor equipment since the leather designer and I were also Kendo club members. It was his way of saying thank you even though the project didn't make it to market. ~fin~