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« The Sketchnote Handbook Kindle Edition | Main | Window of Time »

Creating a Custom Mitchell Leather Briefcase

FOR A LONG YEAR, I worked on my first book, The Sketchnote Handbook.

I spent 3 months writing my proposal and negotiating the contract, 7 months writing, sketching, illustrating, scripting and shooting the book and video. It was the hardest, most demanding project I've ever done.

When it was complete, I wanted to get something special for myself as a reward and a reminder — I chose a beautifully hand-crafted custom leather briefcase from Mitchell Leather in Milwaukee's Third Ward.

Mitchell Leather Compact Classic: Front View

A few weeks ago I picked up my completed compact briefcase, and am thrilled with the quality, the detail and of course the wonderful leather scent!

Specs & Construction

For the majority of the briefcase, I chose Horween leathers: Cognac Dublin, a medium brown leather that's tough, yet supple and classy, and for the darker highlight, Horween Brown Chromexel (CXL), also tough and beautiful. For the internal liner I chose a lighter weight tan leather, and the finishing touch — nickel-plated brass hardware for contrast.

Custom Mitchell Briefcase: Completed Parts & Pieces 8/5

Construction took about 7 months — David Mitchell's skills are so in demand, he's running a backlog for these briefcases and other leather items. You can read about David and his shop, or watch this excellent short video about him, created by my friend, Brian Artka:

The Selection & Building Process

The process began with my order. I spent time with David, selecting my leathers and hardware and telling him how I would be using the case. This case would become my daily carry-all, with enough room for my main items and that's all. I have a tendency to carry more than I need, so this was a way to limit my daily items. I have a Timbuktu backpack for heavy loads when needed.

Daily items included: a 13" MacBook Pro (or Air), power supply, a full-size iPad, one large Moleskine notebook, one or two pocket Moleskine Sketchbooks for sketchnoting events, pens and pencils, space for cords and adapters and enough room for a book, magazine or a folder of papers for projects.

The Mitchell Compact Briefcase was a perfect fit for all of the items I need to carry and nothing more.

Once I had the model, leathers, hardware choices and details settled, David took a deposit and put me on the waiting list.


In August, about 7 months later, I was curious, so I paid a visit to Mitchell Leather. David happened to be starting my case, so we went up to the factory and showed me the raw pieces, getting prepped for construction.

A week later, he sent more images as he finished the case. Here are David's photos of the case in progress:

Mitchell Compact Briefcase: Buckle Step 1

Mitchell Compact Briefcase: Buckle Step 2

Mitchell Compact Briefcase: Buckle Step 3

Mitchell Compact Briefcase: Buckle Step 4

Custom Mitchell Briefcase: Shoulder Strap Hinges

Custom Mitchell Briefcase: Completed front inside panel

Custom Mitchell Briefcase: Sewing on the pen and business card holders

Custom Mitchell Briefcase: Completed Parts & Pieces 8/5


The final piece turned out great — colors, leather weight, and of course, that leather scent really sealed the deal.

Compact Classic Horween Cognac Dublin with Brown CXL 010 12in.jpg

Mitchell Leather Compact Classic: Interior View

If you'd like to see all of the photos from the construction process, check out the complete Mitchell Briefcase Flickr set.

Having the case for a few weeks now, I'm finding it's a perfect size for what I really need and nothing more. By getting the size just right, the case has kept my load light and manageable.

My challenge: to accept the normal wear, tear and markings on the leather that will give the case personality and character. Starting with a perfect case makes this hard, but as I see the case getting worked in, I'm loving it even more.

Reader Comments (4)

Aloha! I somehow came across a photo of your sketchbook notes from the World Domination Summit. I had to trace the photo back through a few links to find your site here just to tell you that your sketches are awesome! Do you make fonts?

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTiare

Tiare - thanks! Glad you enjoyed the WDS sketchnotes. I do have a typeface - just look a few posts back.

August 30, 2013 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde


Great post and pictures of this excellent briefcase. I was wondering if your 13" Macbook pro can fit comfortably. After checking the internal dimensions, it seems this briefcase should not be able to accommodate the macbook?

October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlacrity01

The 13" MacBook Pro and Air both fit just fine. :-)

October 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterMike Rohde

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