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Open Studio Tour: HarrieteEstelBerman

Mar 12, 2009

by FrucciDesign

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 said 7 years ago

    Wow! That is truly spectacular. Thanks!

  • voleurdebijoux

    voleurdebijoux said 7 years ago

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

  • WearableByDesign

    WearableByDesign said 7 years ago

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

  • CatherinetteRings

    CatherinetteRings said 7 years ago

    Stunning work . You are very talented .

  • dogties

    dogties said 7 years ago

    Great stuff!

  • elizabethwren

    elizabethwren said 7 years ago

    So creative, I love it!!!

  • ModernMetalJewelry

    ModernMetalJewelry said 7 years ago

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

  • worksandfinds

    worksandfinds said 7 years ago

    Oh wow! Thank you for sharing.

  • olliegraphic

    olliegraphic said 7 years ago

    Love this!

  • Karmacrochet

    Karmacrochet said 7 years ago

    Great article! I love that stuff!

  • niTeBecOmEsdAy

    niTeBecOmEsdAy said 7 years ago

    i love that teapot! thanks for the great article!

  • pattihaskins

    pattihaskins said 7 years ago

    Very interesting and informative. Thanks to you both.

  • artsharkdesigns

    artsharkdesigns said 7 years ago

    Great studio and article!

  • EJPcreations

    EJPcreations said 7 years ago

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

  • DeNovoStyle

    DeNovoStyle said 7 years ago

    Great pieces! Truly amazing creations from found things!

  • softandcozy

    softandcozy said 7 years ago

    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.

  • sherrytruitt

    sherrytruitt said 7 years ago

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

  • dragonhouseofyuen

    dragonhouseofyuen said 7 years ago

    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

  • ChocolateBeachFlower

    ChocolateBeachFlower said 7 years ago

    what a fun article!!

  • BPyarns

    BPyarns said 7 years ago

    Thanks for the peak into Harriete's studio!

  • lucybluestudio

    lucybluestudio said 7 years ago

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

  • worksofwhimsy

    worksofwhimsy said 7 years ago

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

  • MGMart

    MGMart said 7 years ago

    Great article!!

  • KiraFerrer

    KiraFerrer said 7 years ago

    Great stuff!! Fantastic interview!

  • theaxx

    theaxx said 7 years ago

    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 (

  • odiliafu

    odiliafu said 7 years ago

    Very special and interesting!!

  • schOOLLOcker

    schOOLLOcker said 7 years ago

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

  • pogoshop

    pogoshop said 7 years ago

    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.

  • yaelfran

    yaelfran said 7 years ago

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

  • asundrynotion

    asundrynotion said 7 years ago

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

  • CeramicsbyMarcelle

    CeramicsbyMarcelle said 7 years ago

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

  • EpicBones

    EpicBones said 7 years ago

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

  • MyJunkyTrunk

    MyJunkyTrunk said 7 years ago

    I love these articles! Gorgeous and inspiring work!

  • miccicohan

    miccicohan said 7 years ago

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

  • artwithallie

    artwithallie said 7 years ago

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

  • uncharted

    uncharted said 7 years ago

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

  • PipocaHandmade

    PipocaHandmade said 7 years ago

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

  • bhangtiez

    bhangtiez said 7 years ago

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

  • Rose442

    Rose442 said 7 years ago

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

  • Rose442

    Rose442 said 7 years ago

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

  • 3squares

    3squares said 7 years ago

    fabulous work!

  • FoundVintageStyle

    FoundVintageStyle said 7 years ago

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

  • baconsquarefarm

    baconsquarefarm said 7 years ago

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

  • bellasparty

    bellasparty said 7 years ago

    Great work! Very creative.

  • adamsonart

    adamsonart said 7 years ago

    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.

  • MetroGypsy

    MetroGypsy said 7 years ago

    Great article! Very very interesting items too...

  • jnoriginals

    jnoriginals said 7 years ago

    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:

  • marcelostworld

    marcelostworld said 7 years ago

    Interesting article, very creative artist! Thanks for sharing.

  • 5gardenias

    5gardenias said 7 years ago

    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!

  • 5gardenias

    5gardenias said 7 years ago

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

  • bunnyboutique

    bunnyboutique said 7 years ago

    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.

  • novadesigns

    novadesigns said 7 years ago

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

  • ManoCelebrates

    ManoCelebrates said 7 years ago

    Very nice work, lot of hardwork and creation.

  • jurphy

    jurphy said 7 years ago

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

  • Lunatiger

    Lunatiger said 7 years ago

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

  • sunshinerivers

    sunshinerivers said 7 years ago

    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!

  • Rhiannon228

    Rhiannon228 said 7 years ago

    I WANT that teapot.

  • zombuki

    zombuki said 7 years ago

    You should come by my studio, I just posted some weekly photos on my blog @ :3

  • khamm75

    khamm75 said 7 years ago

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

  • EvesArt

    EvesArt said 7 years ago

    I love the reusing/upcycling/refabricating!

  • thestapeliacompany

    thestapeliacompany said 7 years ago

    Such neat pieces! I love these studio tours.

  • azurejoy

    azurejoy said 7 years ago

    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!

  • meebees

    meebees said 7 years ago

    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!

  • littleblackrabbit

    littleblackrabbit said 7 years ago

    thanks - she is amazing!

  • HarrieteEstelBerman

    HarrieteEstelBerman said 7 years ago

    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 or ask your professional question and read my past blogs at

  • sandali

    sandali said 7 years ago

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

  • BlueTerracotta

    BlueTerracotta said 7 years ago

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

  • primitivepainter

    primitivepainter said 7 years ago

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

  • Waterrose

    Waterrose said 7 years ago

    How interesting and what a fantastic medium!

  • jodieflowers

    jodieflowers said 7 years ago


  • A2SeaCreations

    A2SeaCreations said 7 years ago

    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

  • TreeHuggerStudio

    TreeHuggerStudio said 7 years ago

    Neato speedo !!!!!!!

  • BluCille

    BluCille said 7 years ago

    Great ideas for recycling.


    JMNPOTTERY said 7 years ago

    I love how colorful everything in your studio is!

  • Shroompiloop

    Shroompiloop said 7 years ago

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

  • Eclecticclayworks

    Eclecticclayworks said 7 years ago

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

  • 8PawsCollars

    8PawsCollars said 7 years ago

    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!

  • safarisister

    safarisister said 7 years ago

    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

  • dafnadagan

    dafnadagan said 7 years ago

    it is realy a magic

  • simplylovlee

    simplylovlee said 7 years ago

    Love it!! Too cool!

  • Ladybrook

    Ladybrook said 7 years ago

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

  • gilstrapdesigns

    gilstrapdesigns said 7 years ago

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

  • BlessedRepublic

    BlessedRepublic said 7 years ago

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

  • moxiesisters

    moxiesisters said 7 years ago

    Really cool stuff! So original and fresh.

  • sineminugur

    sineminugur said 7 years ago

    Love it!

  • dovegrey

    dovegrey said 7 years ago

    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!

  • riorita

    riorita said 7 years ago

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

  • LondonParticulars

    LondonParticulars said 7 years ago

    Love the colors!

  • Gamut

    Gamut said 6 years ago

    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

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