I've spent the last few days working on Tooled belts.
The tooled impressions are much deeper and cleaner if you have an unyielding surface under the leather -- I have this piece of granite that I call Big Block. It works exceptionally well for what I do, but you wouldn't want to drop it on your toes!
Water is used to moisturize, or case, the leather so it will take an impression. Then I choose stamps from the racks you see behind Big Block and start pounding with my 12oz rawhide mallet.
The stamps can be arranged into an almost infinite variety of patterns. Geometric and floral designs are a mainstay in my inventory.
Lots of pounding -- most of my tooled belts are impacted hundreds of times before they're done. I like the flow of a complex design!
Some are a bit more understated, like this flower chain I'm building.
When I'm working on a pattern I can see (in my mind's eye) what it will look like once it's dyed and that often affects the progression of the design.
Two more steps add to the "finished" look of the belt before I let it dry -- a beveling tool is used to take the corner off the edge and then the entire edge is compressed by rubbing it briskly with a hard plastic disk called a slicker.
Last but not least, of course, is color! I use a top-quality professional Oil Dye for the black and brown, usually 2 coats. For the bright color I get great results using ceramic-grade acrylic paint. Some highlighter to enhance the designs, my own secret 3-layer finish and a quick buff with my trusty shoe brush, then holes, snaps and buckles and I now have a pile of belts!
No doubt about it -- there's something very satisfying in any creative endeavor!