In this Open Studio Tour series, we’ll be snooping around artists’ creative spaces to find out how they set them up, when, why…even how often they clean them! We really want to know all about our artists, and maybe get a bit of inspiration!
This month for our studio tour, I’m visiting the California based artist Harriete Estel Berman, a living legend in the field of found object art and more…definitively a role model for many artists! (Check out her contribution to the Gallery Go-Getter Series here.)
What’s your name and what kind of craft do you do?
My name is Harriete Estel Berman. I work with recycled materials, primarily recycled tin cans with printed images, to make a range of objects from jewelry to lawn size sculptures.
The tin cans are opened and organized by color, pattern, or subject matter (such as standing women, sitting women, words, candy, chocolate, tea, and crackers, moth balls, etc.). The use of tin cans is not just about recycling; the tins also make a statement about our consumer culture and how branding and marketing affect our identity. These are recurring themes in my work.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a sculpture that will be constructed from thousands of pencils. This sculpture will take the shape of a bell curve 27’ feet wide and about 12’ high as a commentary about the national focus on standardized testing. The pencils have been sent to me from all over the United States (and Europe, and Japan) from students, teachers and individuals who wanted to lend their voices to this project. I have been visiting high schools in my area to encourage students to participate in the assembly of this sculpture.
When did you decide that you needed a studio? How have you set it up?
I’ve been dedicated to creating art for as long as I can remember and have always had a studio of sorts. My first studio was the breakfast room, then the living room, then the dining room, then it graduated to an entire bedroom. When my children were born, it moved into the garage. Each time I had more space which was quickly filled with more material, more tools and more equipment. I think it is very important for artists and makers to dedicate a space for themselves — “A Room of One’s Own” to borrow the words of Virginia Woolf.
It might start out as just an extra table in the kitchen, the basement or the garage, but it needs to be your own creative space, and it needs to feel good. No one else can use your space. You can’t clean up every time you need to stop working… Your creative space needs to be ready for ten minutes of work any time you have ten minutes.
Did the studio set-up impact your budget?
I keep the monetary investment in my space as modest as possible. I have constructed my own work tables or found the tables on the street. It is amazing what you can find, when your eyes are open to “grabbing” what people leave out as unwanted.
How big is your studio?
My studio is a two car garage. That’s it, nothing fancy…but the car hasn’t fit into the garage for a very long time…about 16 years. I use every nook and cranny, including hanging dollhouses from the ceiling.
I have outgrown this space long ago, but with the current economy and the cost of rent in California, I need to continue to make this space work for me. Recently, I reorganized the entire space and filtered through the accumulation of 21 years. Soon, a glass garage door will arrive to give me more light in my work space…This will be wonderful and the first big investment in my studio space.
Which is your favorite tool?
My favorite tool is my pinking shears, which I use to cut the tin cans. This is not easy to do, as the pinking shears are really designed to cut fabric. Cutting tin cans with pinking shears takes very strong hands and is very fatiguing.
Do you want to share with us one secret of your studio?
The big secret is masking tape and rags. I can’t afford to make a mistake or mark up the recycled tin cans so every working surface has rags or towels to avoid scratching the tin. Masking tape is also really helpful for “marking a line” since there is no buffing out a scratch or mark. Extreme care and careful planning during fabrication saves me time.
How many hours do you normally spend in your studio?
I usually think that if I get 24 hours in my studio during the week, I am doing well. This is in addition to all the time I spend working on secretarial work which includes:
- Writing the Professional Guidelines
- Writing my blog, ASK Harriete
- Working on the Professional Development Seminar
Is there anything you would add to your working space?
Definitely MORE SPACE, AND MORE STORAGE. The space is well organized but it is definitely pretty tight. As soon as a few items are out of place, you are tripping over something. If there are two people working, then we have to walk around each other.
If you had to choose one synonym for your studio which one would you pick: atelier, family room, lair, lodge, nest, playroom, retreat, sanctuary, shelter, darkroom, or showroom and why?
I don’t really think that any one of these words apply to my studio. My studio is just that — my studio. It is my creative space. For the last few years, though, I did set up part of my living room as a gallery to showcase work. (My husband and I made my own pedestals.)
And last but not least how often do you clean it?
I clean my studio every time I start working, but I don’t clean the whole space. Usually, I do a little cleaning as a “warm-up activity” to get the creative juices flowing. Before I know it, I have totally forgotten about cleaning and shifted into making.
Once every couple of weeks to months, it gets a more thorough cleaning because of a visiting photographer, interview, TV crew or something special planned.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I don’t want to give the impression of the romantic artist working in the studio. Being an artist is hard work. You must be very determined. I work every minute possible either on my work or promoting my work or on the many facets of career building. I also do silver repair and restoration using my technical skills for additional revenue.
Thank you, until next studio snooping, ciao!
If you have an interesting studio or workspace and some tips to share, comment below and you may be next in our Open Studio Tour series!