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Open Studio Tour: HarrieteEstelBerman

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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:


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!

  • tinahdee

    tinahdee says:

    Wow! That is truly spectacular. Thanks!

    6 years ago

  • voleurdebijoux

    voleurdebijoux says:

    Fabulous article! Thank you so much for sharing your studio with us, Harriete! :)

    6 years ago

  • WearableByDesign

    WearableByDesign says:

    Delightful! It's always wonderful to get an insight into an artists processes.

    6 years ago

  • CatherinetteRings

    CatherinetteRings says:

    Stunning work . You are very talented .

    6 years ago

  • dogties

    dogties says:

    Great stuff!

    6 years ago

  • elizabethwren

    elizabethwren says:

    So creative, I love it!!!

    6 years ago

  • ModernMetalJewelry

    ModernMetalJewelry says:

    I really enjoyed the article as I have been a fan of Harriete's work for a long time!

    6 years ago

  • worksandfinds

    worksandfinds says:

    Oh wow! Thank you for sharing.

    6 years ago

  • olliegraphic

    olliegraphic says:

    Love this!

    6 years ago

  • Karmacrochet

    Karmacrochet says:

    Great article! I love that stuff!

    6 years ago

  • niTeBecOmEsdAy

    niTeBecOmEsdAy says:

    i love that teapot! thanks for the great article!

    6 years ago

  • pattihaskins

    pattihaskins says:

    Very interesting and informative. Thanks to you both.

    6 years ago

  • artsharkdesigns

    artsharkdesigns says:

    Great studio and article!

    6 years ago

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations says:

    She has always been such an inspiration!!! I love her work and her books. So happy to see this article :)

    6 years ago

  • DeNovoStyle

    DeNovoStyle says:

    Great pieces! Truly amazing creations from found things!

    6 years ago

  • softandcozy

    softandcozy says:

    Hey! The lady who made the tin whistle out of coca cola bottle caps lives in my tiny little town!! :) This is inspiring to me, seeing Harriet's workspace. I just purchased a used cabinet on craigslist that I'm VERY excited about... it'll be my first area designated solely for crafting. As of now I sew anywhere and everywhere.

    6 years ago

  • sherrytruitt

    sherrytruitt says:

    I've loved Berman's work for a long time, nice to get a peek into her studio.

    6 years ago

  • dragonhouseofyuen

    dragonhouseofyuen says:

    wonderful article thanks! yes, every single minute is put to use! how apt, and I also love old tins and metal. Great to see littleblackrabbit in the mini treasury above, all such beautiful work, all collages (assemblages) with metal! just super

    6 years ago

  • ChocolateBeachFlower

    ChocolateBeachFlower says:

    what a fun article!!

    6 years ago

  • BPyarns

    BPyarns says:

    Thanks for the peak into Harriete's studio!

    6 years ago

  • lucybluestudio

    lucybluestudio says:

    It is great seeing bits of someone's studio. Thanks for sharing!

    6 years ago

  • worksofwhimsy

    worksofwhimsy says:

    So interesting, I can't wait for the next in the series.

    6 years ago

  • MGMart

    MGMart says:

    Great article!!

    6 years ago

  • KiraFerrer

    KiraFerrer says:

    Great stuff!! Fantastic interview!

    6 years ago

  • theaxx

    theaxx says:

    What an awesome place to be!!!!!! It looks so juicy colourful and fun in there. and the curator picks are so funky and personality-packed. Thanks for the article! thea. xx (www.forthevisionaries.tumblr.com)

    6 years ago

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu says:

    Very special and interesting!!

    6 years ago

  • schOOLLOcker

    schOOLLOcker says:

    So inspiring! I adore studio tours; looking forward to more articles in this series.

    6 years ago

  • pogoshop

    pogoshop says:

    What wonderful variety in her materials and in her art! I hope we'll get to see Harriete's pencil sculpture when it's finished. I love the concept.

    6 years ago

  • yaelfran

    yaelfran says:

    wonderful article!!!!! Thank you two, frucci and Harriete!!!

    6 years ago

  • asundrynotion

    asundrynotion says:

    Found objects are the best! That iron collection reminds me to go list my vintage 50s chrome travel iron right now. Congrats Harriete!

    6 years ago

  • CeramicsbyMarcelle

    CeramicsbyMarcelle says:

    Great article! Harriete has been a friend and neighbor for several years and is very inspiring to be around. Fabulous art!!

    6 years ago

  • EpicBones

    EpicBones says:

    nice! i love the open studios series!! Harriete seems awesome, it's great she's using recycled materials!

    6 years ago

  • MyJunkyTrunk

    MyJunkyTrunk says:

    I love these articles! Gorgeous and inspiring work!

    6 years ago

  • miccicohan

    miccicohan says:

    So creative! I love every item and love seeing her space!

    6 years ago

  • artwithallie

    artwithallie says:

    Cool stuff - If I'm not creating in my own area I'm keen to snoop around in others!

    6 years ago

  • uncharted

    uncharted says:

    great article... I love finding new ways to use vintage materials! Harriete does a great job!

    6 years ago

  • PipocaHandmade

    PipocaHandmade says:

    Truly unique and inspiring! I love the range of pieces.

    6 years ago

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez says:

    wow, nice article...thanks 4 sharing! what a fun looking studio

    6 years ago

  • Rose442

    Rose442 says:

    Wow! What unusual and fun stuff!A true Artist of imagination and persistence!

    6 years ago

  • Rose442

    Rose442 says:

    I'd like to see the pencil sculture when it's finished!

    6 years ago

  • 3squares

    3squares says:

    fabulous work!

    6 years ago

  • FoundVintageStyle

    FoundVintageStyle says:

    love the chair piece... it's great to see someone take their art that far!

    6 years ago

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm says:

    Thanks for sharing your world with us~ like your shop and studio~ great article frucci and harriete~!

    6 years ago

  • bellasparty

    bellasparty says:

    Great work! Very creative.

    6 years ago

  • adamsonart

    adamsonart says:

    As an artist using both garage and dining room, I can totally relate to your space constrictions. I'm so glad my kids grew up and live in their own space now.... I stole one bedroom for my other etsy shop LOL. I'm so happy how it all worked out. It can only get better from here :) On with the rest of it! Wonderful article. Thank you.

    6 years ago

  • MetroGypsy

    MetroGypsy says:

    Great article! Very very interesting items too...

    6 years ago

  • jnoriginals

    jnoriginals says:

    Great article! I think folks are always interested in how other designers work. There was a recent post about this topic in the BBEST blog here: http://boomersandbeyond.blogspot.com/2009/02/creativity-and-your-design-environment.html

    6 years ago

  • marcelostworld

    marcelostworld says:

    Interesting article, very creative artist! Thanks for sharing.

    6 years ago

  • 5gardenias

    5gardenias says:

    harriet--- i salute you, your wonderful work your continual creativity!-- you have the true grit and commitment it takes to stay working at it as an artist. it IS hard work, and you're so right---it is NOT romantic!! but it is a way of life we artist folks wouldn't trade for the world!

    6 years ago

  • 5gardenias

    5gardenias says:

    p.s. ---great article frucci-- thanks!

    6 years ago

  • bunnyboutique

    bunnyboutique says:

    I can tell that I'm going to love this series of articles like the "Quit your day jo0b series". I'm also in the midst of trying to find space to create a fine jewellery workshop. Unfortunatly the garage is a gym. My current studio is the spare bedroom, and there's definatly no more room in there. Thanks Harriette for sharing, it was very helpful.

    6 years ago

  • novadesigns

    novadesigns says:

    I really enjoyed this article! I always love seeing other artist work spaces :o)

    6 years ago

  • ManoCelebrates

    ManoCelebrates says:

    Very nice work, lot of hardwork and creation.

    6 years ago

  • jurphy

    jurphy says:

    Wow, I am in AWE! Amazing work and very inspiring!

    6 years ago

  • Lunatiger

    Lunatiger says:

    I'm always flabbergasted at the amount of creativity found on etsy. It never ends...and I don't want it too!

    6 years ago

  • sunshinerivers

    sunshinerivers says:

    hi, i'm new to etsy and already i feel connected to a new community... the artist community. reading this article made me feel right at home, the creativity, passion, dedication. awesome work!

    6 years ago

  • Rhiannon228

    Rhiannon228 says:

    I WANT that teapot.

    6 years ago

  • zombuki

    zombuki says:

    You should come by my studio, I just posted some weekly photos on my blog @ http://pbrigitte.wordpress.com/ :3

    6 years ago

  • khamm75

    khamm75 says:

    wow i love taking a peek inside the artist's world!

    6 years ago

  • EvesArt

    EvesArt says:

    I love the reusing/upcycling/refabricating!

    6 years ago

  • thestapeliacompany

    thestapeliacompany says:

    Such neat pieces! I love these studio tours.

    6 years ago

  • azurejoy

    azurejoy says:

    Very interesting and encouraging. I have my little studio and love spending time working in it... now if I could just have more time, I might get something finished!

    6 years ago

  • meebees

    meebees says:

    What a great artist! I appreciate her honesty in talking about her work. I, too, have constructed my studio from things off the side of the road. An old kitchen cabinet, a window pane, and more!

    6 years ago

  • littleblackrabbit

    littleblackrabbit says:

    thanks - she is amazing!

    6 years ago

  • HarrieteEstelBerman

    HarrieteEstelBerman says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments and interest in my artwork. It's great to meet all of you online. You are welcome to visit my website at www.harriete-estel-berman.info or ask your professional question and read my past blogs at http://www.askharriete.typepad.com.

    6 years ago

  • sandali

    sandali says:

    I absolutely love it !!! It makes me want to Charleston ;)

    6 years ago

  • BlueTerracotta

    BlueTerracotta says:

    I've seen her work and love it! It's nice to get to see the artist, how and where she works.

    6 years ago

  • primitivepainter

    primitivepainter says:

    I wish my studio looked so nice, and colorful too.

    6 years ago

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose says:

    How interesting and what a fantastic medium!

    6 years ago

  • jodieflowers

    jodieflowers says:

    Awesome!

    6 years ago

  • A2SeaCreations

    A2SeaCreations says:

    Hi Harriete! What an innovative and unique idea! I appreciate you 'letting us in' to your creative life and sharing that part of yourself. I wish you all the best in your journey and best of luck with that pencil sculpture! Sounds intriguing! Micki from A2Sea Creations & A2Sea Photography

    6 years ago

  • TreeHuggerStudio

    TreeHuggerStudio says:

    Neato speedo !!!!!!!

    6 years ago

  • BluCille

    BluCille says:

    Great ideas for recycling.

    6 years ago

  • JMNPOTTERY

    JMNPOTTERY says:

    I love how colorful everything in your studio is!

    6 years ago

  • Shroompiloop

    Shroompiloop says:

    Love all the amazing color tones -- makes me want to munch all the beautiful wrappers ;)

    6 years ago

  • Eclecticclayworks

    Eclecticclayworks says:

    Thanks for opening your studio up to all of us......so great to see how other artist do thier thing....great stuff, very cool!

    6 years ago

  • 8PawsCollars

    8PawsCollars says:

    How cool to see in your studio. I agreen that staying organzied is key to a smaller space. And revisiting the way is organize is key every couple of months. Thanks for sharing!

    6 years ago

  • safarisister

    safarisister says:

    Harriete, thx so much for taking the time to share your workspace and more! I had the pleasure, many years ago, of having had several classes with you through Mariyln DiSilva's metal department at CCAC now CCA...1990-1991. I always enjoyed your work and my hat is off to you for the work that you continue!!! best regards, Jacky Powell -- Michigan then California and now Mexico City LOL

    6 years ago

  • dafnadagan

    dafnadagan says:

    it is realy a magic

    6 years ago

  • simplylovlee

    simplylovlee says:

    Love it!! Too cool!

    6 years ago

  • Ladybrook

    Ladybrook says:

    AWSOME!!! So much color!!! Thanks for sharing!!

    6 years ago

  • gilstrapdesigns

    gilstrapdesigns says:

    Great article. My studio is the dinning room but it's my little space and I love it. It's our workshop.

    6 years ago

  • BlessedRepublic

    BlessedRepublic says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. You are such an inspiration!

    6 years ago

  • moxiesisters

    moxiesisters says:

    Really cool stuff! So original and fresh.

    6 years ago

  • sineminugur

    sineminugur says:

    Love it!

    6 years ago

  • dovegrey

    dovegrey says:

    Great studio pictures! I have a small studio at the back of my house, it was a summer kitchen/sunporch but now it is all my own! I seem to be in need of more space, may have to take over one of the spare bedrooms!

    6 years ago

  • riorita

    riorita says:

    How very bright and colorful. I love the Obverse Obsession Chocolate pot and the Johnny Robot Pin is very cute!

    6 years ago

  • LondonParticulars

    LondonParticulars says:

    Love the colors!

    5 years ago

  • Gamut

    Gamut says:

    Atelier. I had to look it up. It simply means an artists's workspace or studio. Hmm-pretty sure I am not the only one who didn't know it's definition. Artists said that the choices (atelier, lair, etc...) didn't fit how they saw their workspace. When the word atelier fit how they saw it perfectly. I would reword the question. Thanks-Karen

    5 years ago