I have been creative, and a geek, for as long as I can remember.
I read fantasy and sci-fi voraciously, played Dungeons & Dragons non-stop with my friends, and spent almost every waking moment imagining fantastic worlds, monsters, and epic adventures.
Then, in November of 2000, I attended a course on wilderness survival which exposed me to the wide world of "Primitive" skills, and my life took a new course.
A passion for ancient ways of doing things took over, and I began to focus my creativity on ancient techniques and natural materials.
A walk in the woods often yields a piece of wood, or bone, that "calls" to me. I might have no idea what it could become. Maybe a club, a bow, or a spear?
Sometimes that piece of the woods sits quietly, for years, until one day it tells me what it wants to be.
In the meantime, I focused on making traditional brain-tanned buckskin for a living. It is an ancient (yet still valid) natural technique to make an extremely soft, supple, luxurious, and yet strong and durable leather.
After a few years, my love for all things geeky began to merge with my love for all things natural and primitive.
I started making bone knives and swords inspired by weapons I saw in movies or by various cultures.
Soon, I got interested in pyrography (similar to woodburning) and started burning all things geeky on buckskin. It actually started with a map of Middle Earth.
To my surprise, art burned on buckskin acquires a three-dimensional look.
I just can’t get enough of it! Every time I finish a piece, I can’t believe how cool it looks. Fortunately, I'm not the only one who likes my work.
Which is why this website exists.
I've been featured on Geek & Sundry's Lore Masters show, in Geek Exchange Magazine, Skin and Ink Magazine, and more.
So, thanks for checking out this site, and I hope you enjoy my work as much as I enjoy creating it! Want a map that isn’t just art, but an artifact? Inquire about a commission!
~ Kfir M.
About the Process
My unique creative process starts with a design stage, which is usually a combination of good old fashioned paper and pencil and digital graphic design to test various compositions, sizes, and so on.
Once the design is finalized, next comes the material itself: Brain-tanned buckskin.
While brain-tanned buckskin is one of the oldest types of leather -- dating back tens of thousands of years -- it remains one of the highest quality varieties to this day, being incredibly strong and luxuriously soft and supple.
Brain-tanned buckskin is named such due to the traditional use of fats found in animal brains to soften the hide. The “tanning” process is a rather simple but labor-intensive one, and the attention to detail necessary to produce good quality buckskin means it’s nigh impossible to accomplish with machines. This is why traditional buckskin is still made by hand today, in much the same way it’s been done for thousands of years.
While I used to tan buckskin myself, I can no longer do so due to an injury. For my art, be it a map, a portrait, or wildlife piece, I select only the softest and cleanest buckskins from professional and ethical tanners.
Since every hide is different in size, shape, color, thickness, suppleness, and other features, I further select the individual hide that fits the particular project I am about to create. This is the same whether I’m creating a single tree on a square inch of leather for my digital map packs, or an entire world map on a full skin.
Next comes the tracing of the design onto the leather in a process similar to the ancient method called “pouncing,” in which I lay the design (printed on paper) onto the skin, and then use a pyrography pen to poke holes through the paper, burning thousands of tiny dots into the hide underneath. This can take several hours, depending on the size and detail of the piece, but at the end I have a “map” of the design transferred onto the leather.
Then comes the main step that makes my work pop: The burning.
Pyrography is the art of “drawing with fire,” commonly used on wood (when it’s called woodburning). I use a custom-made, very fine-tip pen to connect all the dots I created during the tracing, and then begin to burn depth and shapes into the hide.
Being skin, the leather reacts to the heat by shrinking, which I use to my advantage to allow me to “sculpt” it into the various three-dimensional shapes: mountains, trees, rivers, wings, flowers, or whatever it may be.
A close-up of the hummingbird from my Wildlife collection.
The Northern Realms (detail) from The Witcher
One of my most involved and complex creations -- the result of over three hundred hours of work.
The warping of the skin is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it creates the beautiful 3D relief that makes my pieces come to life, but on the other hand, it can be challenging to maintain the shapes and relative position of each of the various elements in a piece. Straight lines are particularly tricky, but it’s a challenge I welcome!
In some cases, when the aim is to create as three-dimensional a piece as possible, I burn, cut, and sculpt separate pieces of buckskin on their own and then attach them to the main one.
Once all the burning and sculpting is finished, if the piece is to be painted at all, I use all-natural powdered pigments which I mix with either water and glue. For especially “primitive” projects, the pigments are mixed with fluid from ethically sourced deer eyeballs, which is an ancient paint base medium. For “brushes”, I use bone, wood, and feather applicators I make myself.
All together, this process is time-consuming and requires a great degree of focus. It can take a dozen hours even for simple projects, and I’ve worked on fully detailed maps that took 200-300 hours to complete.
The same exact process, but in miniature, is used to create the individual assets for my digital map packs. Every mountain, tree, hill, or castle is first made by hand using the same methods and tools. It is then photographed and digitally processed into a standalone object used to build drag-and-drop maps.
If you’d like to learn more about the process, you can watch me work live on my Twitch channel.