What first ignited your spark of passion for creativity? Do you remember the moment, or the person, who fostered a love of photography in you?

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For 11-year-old James LeFebvre, his love for creating was fostered by his father, Michael, who in turn found his love for artisanship in a garage filled with workshop tools that had once belonged to his grandfather. Michael found himself intrigued by the tools, and spent many an afternoon exploring the different ways he could use them on various materials, including metal, wood and leather. Fatherhood provided him with a new way to explore his hobbies, by sharing his enjoyment with his five children. James, he says, has shown a particular interest in the various handcraft skills like woodcarving, metal and leatherwork.

Michael and his wife, Heather, both enjoy creative arts. Their home is filled with homemade solutions to family needs (as both a cost-saving and self-help measure). Family art hangs on the walls, created by professional artists in their extended family. Computer game time is limited, and they do not own a television, though there are numerous books to choose from at any given time.  Michael says, “It has often been said: skills can be taught, but creativity has to be caught. In these and other ways, we try to foster an appreciation for beauty, for thoughtfulness, and for creativity in our home.”

For his part, James has taken to leatherwork with a keen attention. His favorite thing to make with leather is medieval suits of armor, and he draws his inspiration from photos. When asked how he learned his craft, James let us know that while he has gleaned some information from his parents, he is a motivated self-study. “My dad gave me a few pointers and my mom taught me how to sew, but mostly I just work on my own and figure stuff out or ask people for help, sometimes. I had a book that had a picture of armor in it. My first armor was made with cardboard from that picture. But then I got into leather, and then a little bit of metal working.”

personal-projects-Leatherwork-U-KISS-Books_0006That, though is an ability he shares with his father. “James are I are pretty much self-taught in the various crafts we pursue. I learned bookbinding by taking apart old books and seeing how the covers were assembled. I similarly learned woodworking by experimenting with tools, reading magazines, and occasionally talking with other craftsmen. Likewise, James is figuring things out mostly on his own, with tips from me as I can give them, and with occasional books. We don’t have a lot of discretionary funds for purchasing professional classes. But I am okay with that. For the moment, I am mostly keen on his developing the “can do” attitude of exploration, discovery, and creativity. If he ever decides to pursue one or another of his crafting skills more seriously, professional apprenticeships or classes can be found at that time.”]

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James would likely forge right ahead on his own given the chance, but his dad does step in from time to time when the need arises. “I often introduce James to a basic tool or set of techniques (from what limited skills I have), but then I set him loose. He is very much a self-motivated and patiently meticulous worker. There are some steps in his projects which require my help. For example, when he decided to create his leopard head staff, he drew the outline of the leopard head onto a chunk of basswood himself, and then I ran the bandsaw to cut out the basic form. But then he did all the hand carving and so forth. I have not yet trained him on the heavy duty power tools, so he requires my involvement in drilling and major cutting. But he does all the handwork himself.”

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Creativity is a skill like any other, though some believe themselves to be born without it. The truth is, it can be nurtured, as Michael and Heather do with their children. “When my children are young, I like to spend time looking at things with them and asking questions with them. We might look at a flower, or at a car engine, or a photo of an airplane. While looking at it, I like to point out parts and pose questions and hopefully help my children develop an alertness and appreciation of the world around them. I think that alertness to the world around us, and an inquisitive mind are important for creativity. My wife is very creative with needlework and one of the grandmothers is a professional artist, so we try to spend time with the children developing a sense of art and an ability to create from childhood. And of course (as in the case of James), when an area of interest is stumbled upon, we do what we can to support and encourage it. I suppose these are fairly simple ideas, but I think they help to stimulate and draw out the creativity which is innately there waiting to be nurtured.” And it’s not just about making beautiful things for the LeFebvres. “What is most important is for him to learn to think creatively: to be able to conceive of an idea, design it, and create it. Whether or not he works with these same exact media in the future, I expect his developing an ability to solve problems and create working products from scratch will be of value to him in his future vocation and family activities.”

Michael and Heather’s other children, for their part, are no slouches either. With talents for things that run the gamut from baking to drawing and computer animation, their household bustles with creativity, which they take care to nurture in small and large ways, every day. “At the end of the day, all we can do is try to create an atmosphere for creativity. Different children will develop different interests according to their bent, and we want to give them room to flourish accordingly.”

We at KISS Books can’t see what James comes up with next. We are so honored to be able to contribute to his creative journey by donating our leftover leather scraps to him.