Story by Sarah Naron
When Spring resident and artist John Leslie’s daughter and son-in-law announced their plans to adopt a child from Uganda in 2014, Leslie was determined to use his skills to help their dream come true.
“Adoption is expensive, and an international adoption is even more expensive,” Leslie pointed out. “I thought that if I could come up with something creative, I could sell them and donate the profits to help fund their adoption.”
The “something creative” Leslie decided on was a line of personalized Christmas ornaments, and he set to work producing various designs from scratch – a process which Leslie described as “the hardest and most-time consuming part” of being an artist.
“I’m also a musician, so I like to think of myself as a creative type of person,” he said. “I love the process of envisioning an idea and then making it come to life through artful design.”
All of the work involved in the initial creation of an ornament design, Leslie explained, takes place on a company graphics program.
“Once it’s complete, it can be engraved and cut on the laser machine,” he said. “Almost all of my ornaments are personalized with a name or a couple’s last name, so each ornament has to be individually designed before it’s sent to the laser for completion.”
Fortunately, the labor-intensive process of ornament creation proved to be a worthwhile endeavor in the end.
“I am so happy to tell you that over the course of a few months, we were able to raise over $30,000 toward their adoption expenses,” Leslie reported. “I’m even more happy to tell you that I now have an incredibly beautiful and healthy seven-year-old granddaughter named Zara.”
In addition to helping add a new member to his family, creating the ornaments has allowed Leslie the opportunity to help other families enrich their Christmas traditions and memories.
“Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect is knowing that every year, families put these heirloom ornaments on their Christmas tree,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve made and sold over 20,000 ornaments, and it just gives me a wonderful feeling knowing that my ornaments are being used to bring joy to thousands of families year after year.”
Throughout his years as a woodworker, Leslie has also produced a multitude of other products along with the Christmas ornaments, starting with “intricate and unusual bowl shapes” which he made on a lathe.
“I loved working on a lathe,” he shared. “However, I began to become allergic to some of the exotic woods and the sawdust produced in the process and had to give up working with my lathe for health reasons.”
In search of a new creative outlet, Leslie set his sights on using a laser and soon began designing women’s earrings out of different types of wood.
“I incorporated them into my website, and sales took off,” he said. “They’re incredibly popular because they are so lightweight and eco-friendly, being made from only reclaimed or renewably wood resources. I have about 60 styles of earrings in various wood choices.”
Leslie also makes assorted gift items, one of the most popular of which is what he calls a Famiyl Celebrations wall plaque.
“You hang birthday and anniversary tags below the individual months,” he explained of the product. “I also make personalized wood gun safes and name signs, and I also sell a line of leather products that are custom engraved.”
Although Leslie does have a physical location designated for working on his creations, his products are available for purchase solely on the Internet.
“My shop is located behind my home and is only about 250 square feet; it’s big enough for myself, all of my equipment, a television, and a beer fridge, and that’s about it,” he explained. “Consequently, I only sell online. I currently sell from my own website – www.johnlesliestudios.com – and also on Amazon and Etsy.
In addition to the challenge of coming up with new ideas for products, Leslie cited the management of inventory and shipping as difficulties he faces in the daily operation of his business. Fortunately, his wife, Mary, is always available to lend a helping hand.
“When it gets to overwhelming, I get her to pitch in,” he said. “We make a good team. We should, we’ve been married for 44 years!”
Like many small business owners, Leslie felt the sting of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout much of the early portion of this year, but is quickly recovering and looking forward to the future.
“Amazon curtailed shipments of nonessential products into their warehouse for several months,” he pointed out. “I was unable to keep up with inventory, and of course, this affected sales. However, today, we are just about back to normal and ready to begin another whirlwind Christmas season!”
For more information or to make a purchase, please visit www.johnlesliestudios.com.