May 10, 2021

Conversation with Ava of Animal Handmade, MCA Denver Shop Maker


If you’ve been a part of the MCA Denver fam for a while, chances are you’ve encountered Animal Handmade in the MCA Denver Shop, a maker whose work we’ve featured since 2017. The cult favorite leather bags, wallets, clutches, and accessories consider exceptional craftsmanship and imaginative, fanciful design that have utility and also serve as personal adornment. The designs tell a story, and inevitably when you purchase a wallet or bag, you carry that story with you, too. 

We recently had a conversation over email with Ava of Animal Handmade. As admirers of the goods for years now, it was no surprise that our conversation with Ava was just as captivating as the work she creates.

A large white leather clutch with a bold design on it, which includes a large slithering snake or reptile. The clutch is sitting on a white pedestal and has red flowers coming out of the inside of the pouch. the image is captured on a white backdrop.
Image courtesy of Animal Handmade. Photo by Cornelia Peterson.


Hi Ava! First of all, how are you doing?

I am well, thank you.

Your website states, “Animal Handmade is a story of light and dark”. Can you elaborate on this story?

Animal’s goal is to articulate the contrasting sensations of living. The pains and glories that often occur in tandem. It’s about how bad it can feel to do something good (and vice versa), how we’re built to seek answers to impossible questions, and how we manage to find beauty in the shitshow of it all.

A black leather paddle with an intricate design on it that features hands, flowers, and fruits. A hand is holding the paddle on a textured gray background. Light is seeping into the frame and creates a diamond shape, which frames the paddle.
Image courtesy of Animal Handmade.


When did you start Animal Handmade and what are some guiding philosophies in your work that have remained from the genesis of this line of leather goods?

I started Animal in 2014. In the beginning I just wanted to experiment with technique and texture. I wanted to make something that blended my love for 2D art and functional goods. My parents ran a kid’s clothing company so I grew up learning about construction and materials. Thanks to this accidental training, it has always been essential to me to make well-made, long-lasting work. I still want to experiment with materials and see how far I can push them. At my happiest, I’m just a dad tinkering in the garage.

Is there risk involved in translating a design to a finished product? Can you walk us through your creative process from ideation to completion? 

My creative process is different every time. Sometimes the imagery comes first, sometimes the material, sometimes the concept. I call it The Hunt. I start out with a faint idea of what I want to find, not its shape, not the weapon I need to catch it, not the terrain where it lives. I might use familiar tools at first, but every damn time, I realize this hunt requires something new. So then I flop around trying to learn what that is. Maybe it's in research, or a new way of drawing, or a new technique. I always throw a temper tantrum at some point. But then I catch sight of the tail. It only takes the tiniest glimpse of the thing I've been hunting to recognize I’ve found it. From there I run like hell and wrestle it to the ground, maybe try feeding it, and push and knead until it congeals. Because I have come to understand how little ownership I have in translating an idea, from the ether to the final, I see no risk in losing its' purity in the process. It is inherently tainted. And better for it.

A design in blue and white. The design features a large bird with an arch shaped beak standing on one leg. Around the bird are some stars and dots, thick straight lines, and plants.
Image courtesy of Animal Handmade. 


The material you work with—the highest quality Wickett and Craig leather—was once alive. Do you consider this, among other aspects of your process, cyclical? Is the intention to recycle, reuse, or give new life to the materials and concepts you work with? 

The intention is to respect the material and everything that went into it arriving on my workbench. I do this by trying to make lasting pieces and only what my market will bear. 

Your designs are deeply tied to the landscape, animals, and elements in the natural world. The figures on your leather goods also have a regal feel to them. What inspires the very defined visual identity of Animal Handmade? This could be mother nature, other artists, etc. 

I’m sure this is a very trite answer but I find interesting lines, colors, patterns, shapes in most corners of life. I love textile design and traditional art but also the shapes on the crappy old Mazda parked on my block. I think my job is just to keep my eyeballs really wide open.

Several red wallets and clutches placed in a circle and photographed on a blue colored floor which looks like it could be a tennis court. On the left side of the frame is a shadow of two arms, which look like they tossed the red wallets and clutches on the tennis court.
Image courtesy of Animal Handmade. 


The Death is a Door series is your most recent project within the Animal Handmade collection. The description of this collection reads, “A story in four chapters, this collection explores the phases of personal evolution. The ways we fight and seek and surrender to the venture of living.” Did this collection start during the pandemic? What is your relationship with this series having lived through this time? 

Death is a Door came out the summer of 2019. A lot of the messages can be applied to 2020 but it was not built to address something so globally traumatic. Death is a Door is about practicing moving through death everyday. It can be small losses and undesired change. It can manifest on a massive scale like we’re experiencing now. Letting go of what has gone is a lifetime’s work. 

Do you have a vision for the future of Animal Handmade you might share with us? 

I want to get into new materials and applications. I love processes more than maybe anything so I want to learn new techniques to bring Animal into a full technicolor of textures and pieces. Leather forever, yes, but also everything else I can get my hands on.


Black zip wallet with mystical design and a flower tucked inside the wallet. It’s photographed under harsh light, which casts a shadow on the pink velvet backdrop the wallet is photographed on.
Image courtesy of Animal Handmade. Photo by Luca Venter. 

Shop Animal Handmade when you visit the MCA Denver Shop and keep up with them on Instagram