Meet the Artist Making Luxury Leather Bags Her Canvas
Olga Saldivar has always been creative, but she only started painting 15 years ago when someone asked her if she could. "I was like, sure," the Houston-based artist says, despite her work being limited mostly to drawing and crafts at that point. She did, and she never looked back. "Ever since then," she says, "I've been painting every day."
More recently, she began experimenting with a new canvas: leather. Under the brand name blackhummingbird, Saldivar employs her visual arts background to hand-make luxe leather bags with a distinctive twist, be it unique embellishments or actual painted designs.
This month, she'll launch a new line of clutches. Houstonia caught up with the designer to chat about her love of leather and what sets blackhummingbird apart from other makers.
How did you transition from painting to making handbags?
I really love leather. I would buy little scraps; I would do small things. I fell in love with it and began looking for places that sold bigger pieces. I just started doing it for myself and then people would want to buy it, so that’s when I opened an Etsy store. My biggest item was personalized leather luggage tags and totes. I started doing different designs and opened my own website. Etsy is really good, but it’s also a lot of, 'who can make it cheaper or faster?' I felt like I needed my own shop.
Where do you source your leather?
I have a wholesaler, and they source it all over South America. They have a store here, so I pick it out myself. Each piece, literally, is different. It shows on the leather.
You’re creating clutches and portfolios now. What do you have planned in the coming months?
Totes are the bestsellers—I have them in different colors, and it’s an easy bag to throw everything in—so I’m always going to have the totes. I feel like people want something smaller for going out and just something more unique. Sometimes I do little prototypes and I use them to see if they're going to work. For the clutches, I plan to put some embellishments, some different hardware, like pearls. I want to paint on them and make each clutch unique.
What kind of paint do you use?
Leather paint. It’s actually acrylic paint, so it’s easy to work with and it’s very durable. It’s great on the leather.
Where do you find inspiration for your bags?
I love everything Gucci has done in the last three years. That’s kind of my inspiration for the clutches. I want to draw on everything different. I love hummingbirds, snakes, and insects. I’m definitely going to include that along with the embellishments.
Speaking of your hummingbirds, how did you come up with the name of your brand?
It was probably 2010, and I wanted a good name for Tumblr. I did an interview with a magazine and they described my art as beautiful but slightly eerie and filled with mystery. I wanted something pretty with a dark edge and I was like, what about black hummingbirds? I draw a lot of flowers and pretty faces, but I always like to include something a little creepy and a little dark. I felt like the black was describing that side. Then it stuck. I used it for Tumblr, and Instagram started to become a thing. Now a lot of people are like, “Are you blackhummingbird?” They don’t even know I’m Olga.
What else should the world know about your aesthetic?
I always want to include my art into my leather. I want to show my artistic side on something classic. That’s why I started to paint on the leather. A lot of people have started doing hand-made leather accessories. I think what I’m offering is very unique.