Over the last seven years, Sergey Stamps have become synonymous with quality and detail in the leather crafting community. The man behind them, Sergey Neskromnyy–a Kazakhstan native, now creates, machines, and produces his stamps along with his former students (now colleagues) in their workshop in Varna, Bulgaria. A former professional typographer for 15 years with a degree in graphic design, Sergey started his own successful handmade paper business before gaining an interest in book binding and, eventually, leather working, which led to him developing and starting the first leather workshop in Kazakhstan at the time.
Over the years he has relied on his expertise and experience to create beautiful brass stamps with incredible details that come together on a piece of tooling leather like some sort of magical leather jigsaw puzzle. The ILJ got a chance to talk to Sergey via email to learn more about him and the process behind his craft.
My name is Sergey Neskromnyy. I was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan. I have a degree in graphic design and I’ve been doing professional typography for about 15 years. But I always wanted to create something exclusive and I became interested in paper molding and opened my own atelier where I used to make handmade paper of the highest quality under the name of the brand “Neskromnyy’s Handmade Paper”. I used to really enjoy the process, so with my team I created personalized sheets of paper for commemorative notes, invitations to important events, diplomas and awards.
I was looking for the exclusivity and significance in each piece and wanted to emphasize it with the very material used in the making process. It’s just that after working in typography, where there is a lot of repeating of the same things over and over, I wanted to make unique things, and as it turned out, there was also a huge demand for them among my customers.
Work in typography led me to being interested in bookbinding and restoration. Book binding and leather working turned out to be closely connected to each other and of course I got into leather working with great enthusiasm.
Back then I was struggling with finding tutorials or any information about leather working at all because in my country it wasn’t a very popular business and I had to collect the information bit-by-bit from the internet. I stumbled upon the Leatherworker.net forum and it became my main source of inspiration and information for a while. I bought a few courses, watched master classes and lessons about various techniques. I remember a course about creating a saddle really well, I even made one!
And that’s how I came to the leather business.
People started coming to me looking for a teacher, so I started giving lessons. In Kazakhstan, I have been doing this for more than 8 years. I created the only leather workshop in my country at that time, where I gathered the most talented of my students and we used to take commissions for leather goods, bookbinding and restoration, and handmade paper casting as well. We used to have many customers and we became pretty popular. I even created my own Kazakh style of ornament for engravings in the leather.
So, my family and I decided to move to Bulgaria to the city of Varna – the sea capital of this country. I took some of my tools and materials with me of course. (By the way, I left my good old workshop in Almaty under the supervision of my friend and my student, and it is still working to this day.) But in a new country I was completely unknown to anybody and there were not many orders for leather items. So, I had a lot of free time and I started experimenting.
Almost immediately I ordered my first (for the new workshop) CNC machine – I thought it would be for my personal use only. In Varna, I also gathered a good company of students, they got better and better with time and quite soon started working on some leather commissions. Once they didn’t need my help that much anymore and started taking their own commissions, I became interested in 2D and 3D graphics and started making 3D models for the stamps. When I made the first 15 stamp models, I decided to share them on my Facebook page. Interestingly, at that point I already had a lot of FB friends – leather workers from different countries. So as soon as I showed my stamps there, I immediately received my first orders from my friends who wanted to have the same tools. And once again I was attracted by a new business idea. I learned 3D modeling in detail, I started drawing and making sketches everywhere: at home, at work, on a tablet on the beach, I was so into this! My students (who are now my colleagues) and I opened our first and still very popular Etsy store, created a website and entered other selling platforms. And in seven years our company has grown into what it is now.
We now have over 1,000 items in stock and to be honest it’s getting more and more difficult for me to find new interesting designs!
In the very beginning, I launched some ready-made stamps that I had for personal use in my workshop, but then I started looking for new cool textures and subjects to turn them into stamps. That’s when I realized that we are actually surrounded by different ornaments and patterns in our everyday life.
I never paid attention to them before, but I started to notice them literally everywhere, for example, I’ve made stamps inspired by paving slabs, origami, wicker baskets for berries, there are some of my own ornaments that I invented, I remember drawing them and modeling on my tablet every evening. And I have to say that not every ornament makes a good stamp, this is a time-consuming process to figure out how to make them match and work. Only one in a few variations ended up being added to the stock.
For example, it often happened that when I thought I was making a masterpiece (in my own opinion of course), the stamp ended up being really unpopular, but a sketch drawn in 5 minutes as a quick warm up became our best selling item. You never know!
I model all of these stamps in a 3D program, this is the most time-consuming part of the whole process. First, I create a design in 3D, I try to take into account all the nuances, but when I cut a stamp on the metal, it turns out that it does not fit or there are some unexpected problems, then I redo the file again and sometimes it takes up to 20 test versions of the stamp before I get one that I’m satisfied with.
All of our stamps are CNC cut, and to me it is the best technology because this way each stamp has the same amazing quality and sharpness, unlike casting, where with time the quality of the mold is eventually getting lost during the copying process. Also, CNC machines are capable of cutting small enough elements that are not available with casting. Each stamp is being polished, washed and its number is being engraved on the handle with a laser.
Looking back on my life, I believe that I have developed a unique set of skills for making tools: I am a graphic designer, I have been doing printing for a long time and after working with leather for years I had all of the needed skills to start this business and these skills gave me a good start and knowledge for the production of stamps.
Around the year 2000, I first learned about and became interested in the leather business. As you know, the internet was quite a different place back then and there was little to none information about leather yet. For a long time, this hobby became a way of life, work and business. I looked at the world through the eyes of a man who is trying to create something original. I was interested in designing bags, purses, backpacks, and belts. I saw literally every handbag, and in my mind I tried to “disassemble it” into sewing patterns, looked for original ornaments, learned how to draw them, and at that time created my own style for leather engraving which I called the “Kazakh Baroque.”
Then for six months I’ve been learning to make leather shoes, from a good master, and I created 5-6 pairs of shoes, and this gave me a very good experience in working with leather.
And it was extremely exciting that I created the only opportunity to make a leather studio, and I had a lot of orders from influential people in Kazakhstan.
I devoted 10 years of my life to leather art and its development in my country. I had a school from where many of the very talented leather workers came from, who still reach this level of craftsmanship. And I hope that in some way they will also influence the history of leather making in this country.
Of course, I do believe that new technologies allow us to create better and more detailed tools, thanks to which we can get more interesting products. Also, thanks to the development of computer modeling, we can create more and more new designs. If we compare the CNC technologies from 15 years ago with the modern ones, then this is like earth and heaven as we say.
Technology allows us to improve the quality of the product, but at the same time we save more time, and this can lower the price, which will allow us to sell our product to more people. This applies to both leather tools and leather products themselves.
In no way do I want to “remove” the “handmade” statute, in any case we make unique and one-of-a-kind products, we put our soul into each product, which makes them precious in their own way. The use of technology only makes our lives easier and frees up time for something more important. For example, our families.
People have been using leather since ancient times. This is a very reliable material; leather products can be worn and used for years or decades and they do not lose their functions and appearance. It’s a 100 percent natural product after all. During the years that I was engaged in leather working, I saw how much this art has grown, initially it was popular mainly in the United States, but now it has developed in so many countries and now there are so many talented masters around the globe.
As for Kazakhstan, I put a lot of work and effort into the development of this business there, many talented students came out of me. I think that our business will develop further and further, of course thanks to new technologies and the Internet, where we can easily get information and lessons. This craft is not easily affected by the quick fashion changes and it will always stay in trend.
My favorite stamps are #67 and #163, and these are definitely some of my customers’ favorite stamps as well. For the basis of the stamp #67, I took a picture of a real snake (a viper I believe) and modeled its scales. I wanted the scales to look as realistic as possible. I am really happy with the result and I think that (especially on the belts and straps), it looks like a real snakeskin!
I can also say that our customers are very fond of our stamps from the basket weave and scales series. Our stamp # 62 – “dragon scale” throughout the years from its creation has remained our sales leader, although, as I already mentioned, it was just a quick warm up sketch at first.
We have a lot of unique and unique designs from “my head”. Not a single manufacturer makes our 3D stamps as we do. These stamps give you a complete 3D picture with lots of volume and realism to the appearance. Such stamps are very popular among the dog owners and those producing dog accessories. Fun fact is that the stamp #294 -French bulldog – Édith Piaf is a real Frnech bulldog dog who is a champion of many dog shows. Its owner didn’t mind us adding it to our shop so now the dog’s image is also a popular stamp.
We also have some classic stamps, such as #36. But when creating such stamps, I always want to add some of my own ideas, increase clarity and depth, so that the product with these stamps looks even more beautiful!
Most of our stamps are made of brass, but there are also some stainless steel ones. Brass is a very good and durable material; I know this from the time I had the printing house. Brass is easy to work with, and brass tools do not lose their qualities after repeated use, which is why I chose it as the main material for my tools.
Bikers and manufacturers of motorcycle accessories certainly love our skull collection.
We also produce custom logos and personal stamps. So many great leather craftsmen brand their products with stamps made in my workshop!
I am very pleased and proud to see on Facebook and Instagram posts with wonderful products that are created with the help of our stamps. These are the moments I feel that I am at the right place and on the right track!
Other than stamps, we also produce belt rollers, swivel knives, bookbinding tools and conchos. Any leather worker from any field of this craft can always find something for themself in our store.
Now we have assembled an excellent team that creates stamps, and we are glad that customers appreciate us!
If you think you don’t have any talent, just sit back and wait for it to show up – that’s my worst piece of advice.
Patience, perseverance, hard work and a little luck is all you need for everything you want to work out!
Pick good teachers for yourself and appreciate people who are always there for you!