Friday, May 7, 2010

An Interview with Harriete Estel Berman

Spotlight *Guest* Member for May 2010
Harriete Estel Berman:  The Interview

It's only appropriate that Harriete Estel Berman be our Spotlight member for May, when she has taken so much time to answer our group member's questions in the below interview.   A guest to our group, she is a world reknown artisan who ironically uses recycled tin in her work. (Resume Here)   Aside from having her art in permanent collections in museums worldwide, and having been featured in more books than I can fit on my bookshelf she has been a dynamic force to be reckoned with. 

The reason I really love her is that she helps fellow artisans with helpful advice--not many others do such a thing.  She offers free advice on her AskHarriete blog, which I read frequently to find out new information and you should too.  Harriete has been working with different organizations to better artisans everywhere, but is known for her "Professional Guidelines".   These guidelines have helped artists for years, and I too have used them.  She has now announced there are helpful videos, podcasts, and slideslows available which is wonderful news to us all. 

Official Announcement From Harriete:
Not Just Another Pricing Lecture: A Dialog About Pricing Your Work was the featured program at the 2010 Professional Development Seminar held recently at the SNAG Conference in Houston. The PowerPoint Presentations by our speakers and the Question and Answer Discussion with the audience were recorded. These audio recordings were combined with the SlideShare Presentation so you can experience the same PowerPoint presentations that our audience saw in Houston. The Podcast is a continuation of the discussion with our speakers and the audience (audio only.)

This is the Professional Development Seminar's inaugural attempt to record the program and share this valuable information with a larger audience. The audio has been carefully edited by Harriete Estel Berman. We sincerely hope that this information will prove useful to any artists who access either the Podcast or the SlideShare Presentation .

~ Both are now available on line for free at these two locations:~

Professional Development Seminar page on the SNAG website:

Professional Development Seminar page on Harriete Estel Berman’s web site.

Learn more about pricing your art or craft in a continuing series of articles on ASK Harriete at:

From Harriete Estel Berman's Lips to Ira Mency's Ears....

Question #1: From Don @ DoLoBoJewelry:  Many artists go through their entire life never making it a profitable career—some possibly not having been marketed properly or not having enough faith in themselves. Some are only discovered by others when they are dead. If you could give one piece of advice to a starving artist, what would it be?

ANSWER: It seems that artists make work either for their vision or to make money. If you want to really pursue your unique vision, you must extend yourself without anticipating what other people will like or buy. The outside influence of the marketplace, whether it is Etsy, a gallery, or a museum curator dilutes the artist’s unique vision.

The most important issue is to pick your priorities. Maybe some work can be focused on making money and separate work can be for being the best artist you can be. It is rare the that same work can achieve both results at the same time. I am not very successful at this combination. I do silver repair, lead exercise classes, teach professional development workshops, lecture, and teach as an artist mentor for earning additional income.

Question #2-#3:  From Adrien @ AdrienArt : Do you find your work to be a way of dealing with the frustration of a disposable materialistic society, or is it arising out of inspiration at all the amazing things out there that people just toss out?   What is the essence of what you want people to receive from your creative gift?

ANSWER: My work is inspired by BOTH. I try to raise awareness about the costs of our disposable, materialistic, wasteful society. I am also inspired by the cultural value revealed by the tins/trash that people throw away.

Question #4:  From Anna @ AnnaBGreen:  How did you get started with tin (tin cans?)

ANSWER: .Starting in high school I collected tin cans. At the time, it was just so I had a tin to store my pins and needles, or art supplies, maybe flour and sugar in my kitchen when I started cooking.

This collection of tin cans served both a practical purpose and awakened an interest in vintage advertising.

Years later (in 1988) with the birth of my son, I radically changed my work and started using tin cans, and vintage steel dollhouses as my raw material

Question #5: From Cheri @ 
ChersPassion What is the #1 most effective way to promote your shop/product?

ANSWER: Selling on Etsy is a tough way to gain visibility, same issue with tweeting, and on line social networking. There are just so many other vendors and a mixed brew of messages bombarding people. While I feel, that the online community offers amazing opportunities, I also think that you are better off developing visibility for your work at other venues, exhibitions, books, volunteering for local art organizations, teaching and activities at local non-profit opportunities. Join local groups, help organize a show, write an article, volunteer, people get to know you and your work somewhere else. Then your Etsy shop can be a way for people to buy your work after a show or after meeting you.

My personal experience on Etsy is that most people who buy my pins or earrings, find out about my work somewhere else, and then go to my online Etsy shop as an opportunity to own a piece of my work. Very few purchases are made because they “discovered” me on Etsy.

Question #6:  From yours truly @  RetroChalet and RetroChaletStudio  Where do you draw the line between crafting what you love to craft, and what others will buy. Should you ever sacrifice your style and what is in your heart to appeal to others wants and needs (and if now, how do you make your product desirable to others?)

ANSWER:   I get really upset at myself when I make/craft something to appeal to an audience. My work is always better when I make EXACTLY what I love. If it doesn’t sell, I can at least know I followed my heart and my intuition.

It is very hard to put on your blinders and follow your inner core, your heart, your own intuition, but anything else seems to always turn out bland, conservative, or inferior.

The Below questions #7-#12 come from TranzendentalArts and Manique Depression (Cyn has great questions!)

Question #7- #8:  Where do your initial design ideas come from? Are they concept first or do you visualize raw materials, color and form then discover their meaning after the project is complete?

ANSWERS:  I usually think about how and why I am going to make a piece for years, YES, years. Sometimes it is working out a technical problem, thinking about how it will go together.

My sketchbook is full of ideas that I accumulate research and information about a particular project over time.

Major pieces may gestate on a nugget of an idea for months to years. Only when I am ready to start the actual fabrication, do I start making the decisions about materials. My focus in recent years, more and more, is to let my ideas dictate the appearance and choice of materials, rather than letting the materials dictate the outcome.   See example videos

The Fulsome Game, courtesy Harriete Estel Berman  
Sterling silver charm bracelet with framed gameboard display. Frame constructed using pre-printed steel from vintage doll houses and recycled tin containers with 10k. gold and aluminum rivets.......

Question #9-#10:  What are your thoughts on designing something like, say, the Bermaid/Bracelet board game (PICTURED ABOVE or read full description HERE) and then having it mass produced? Would it appeal to you to have the sentiment spread further?

ANSWERS: I have never been particularly interested in production or even limited production. I make only one of a kind…even in the April Flowers group of work, each flower represents a separate set of decisions.  

Harriete's Tin "April Flower" Brooches - See the full set and individual details by clicking HERE.

Throughout the series, the flowers are assembled in different ways. After I sell these (at least, I hope to sell them), I have new ideas for how to fabricate different flowers. My work constantly evolves.  See more examples in my shop HERE, or by clicking the FLICKR set HERE.

One of the many gorgeous tin flower brooches.

I really don’t think about repeating something that is popular. Instead, I want to think of how to build upon ideas and create something even more unusual. The act of making a one of a kind marks the work’s place in time and it will remain unique. The fact that only one exists is a strength.

Question #11: Where/how do you collect your tins and how much time do you spend "finding" materials to recycle?

ANSWER: Rarely do I go looking for tins. ….but I can’t help myself if I see something interesting in a “Scrap” place. My studio now contains 1,000’s of tins. People still give me tins, so I will never run “dry.”

   Harriete'sStudio with  Wall of Tins

Question #12:  I loved watching the video on the making of the grass - what a joy to have all those people to help get it done! I assume a few were apprentices and/or students? What are your suggestions on inspiring others to help out on such a large scale project?

ANSWERS:  I am so glad that you liked watching the video, but working on large projects like that are a real challenge. To get people to help, I advertised at local colleges within 90 minutes of where I live. I paid everyone $50. to work for the day. Some friends worked for free, but not many….most people were paid.

It was the most tiring two days of my life. My assistant, emiko oye *helped the two days…slept over and kept on working. It was an expensive and tiring undertaking. Making the grass took over a year of cutting. Most of it was paid labor. 

*Interviewer Note: Be sure to check out Emiko's website HERE which also upcycles common elements into gorgeous wearable jewelry.

Harriete's Grass aka "Gras".... took over a year in the making and was very labor intensive.  Pardon the pun but I think it's very "cutting edge" and gutsy, an inspiration at that!

The whole project sent me to the therapist. Spending so much money and time on one project was really scary.  You have got to be a little “nuts” to work on a big project like the Grass/gras.  
I still show the Grass/gras about once a year if I can find an exhibition space that will pay for the shipping. Just taking out each of the 36 panels and blowing off the dust after exhibiting is a grueling day.

There is little inspiration with a big project, it is nearly all perspiration.

I am doing another big project with pencils, weaving a gigantic bell curve 27 feet wide and 12 feet tall… thousands of pencils, tons of time, and money. I think that I must be insane to do this over and over. Here you can find information about this work in progress.

Question #13:   From Erin @ ABeachBreeze  Can you describe your design process? It takes me several prototypes and sketches before I get the design I want. I was wondering if “real” artists have a better process.

ANSWER: I have thumbnail sketches in my sketch book but when it comes to making the work, and it is an important or bigger piece, I make models out of cut up cereal boxes and hot glue. Sometimes I will spend weeks making models….which is very frustrating…but I know from experience that it will save me time and precious materials later during the actual fabrication in metal.

Question #14 -#15 come from Lindsay @ BuffaloHeart, but also 10 other members of our group were wondering the same thing.  I want to know if it is hard to stay motivated sometimes, and if so, how do you stay motivated as an artist?  How do you maintain your creative vision after so many years and come up with new ideas all the time, what is the secret?

ANSWERS:  It is really hard to stay focused. Usually, I work on several things at the same time….just so I have time to think and reevaluate during the fabrication, and keep on working. I don’t like to be rushed into making decisions without time to consider the choices.

My sketch book is filled with ideas for “dry” moments . If I ever feel stuck, I work on cleaning my studio or finishing incomplete work. Eventually or all of a sudden, I am back to work inspired.

It is a terrible phase to be in,….when there are no ideas in your head. This is the time to “experiment” without any expectation for an outcome. DO NOT LOOK AT BOOKS AND OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK to get ideas. The ideas need to come from inside your own head.

Think about the book/movie Harry Potter. Remember how the Wizard pulls the “thread” of an idea or memory from his head? You have to be able to do something like that too. While it may not be easy to pull that thread from your head, you can do it if you work at it. It gets easier with practice.

Creativity is like exercise. If you aren’t exercising those muscles, then they will get out of shape.

Question #16 from Elizabeth @ SerendipiT  What was the turning point when it was clear that you would make art your life's work?

ANSWER: I have always been this way. There was and never has been a “turning point” when it was clear that art was my life’s work. I am never satisfied and always driven. I have achieved my earlier goals, but new goals are already calling. I am only on a path to success…but never there, at least not yet.

Question #17-#18 from Colleen @ ColleenAttaraStudio I would be curious to know how much of her time is spent creating versus the business of art (marketing, planning etc...).Also, was there one event for her that changed everything; for instance, the first time her work was in a museum. ie: Was there a defining moment when she knew she was successful...

ANSWERS: There is no defining moment of success. My definition of success is always evolving to another goal.  I spend at least half my time, at my desk, more like 75%. This is still with the help of a part time secretary 8 hours a week. The desk work is never done.

That is simply what it takes to do the paper work, work on my web site, work on the Professional Guidelines, work on ASK Harriete, and more. There is a lot of paperwork that goes with exhibiting your work. Artist statements, descriptions, reaching out to curators or exhibitions spaces, proper packing, condition reports and more.

I also give a lot of my time to volunteer services in my neighborhood, or community of artists, etc. This is what I think comes as a responsibility to pay back or “pay it forward.” Not enough people realize that they need to do this too. Everyone has something to contribute.

A new Slide Share presentation with audio and a separate podcast about pricing your work are available now--I taught myself how to do all the audio editing to edit the Professional Development Seminar at the last SNAG Conference titled “Not Just Another Pricing Lecture: A Dialog About Pricing Your Work.”  See them here on the Professional Development Seminar page on Harriete Estel Berman’s web site--or at the Professional Development Seminar page on the SNAG website here:

*For supplemental information and pricing information, visit the Ask Harriete blog. .

NOTE FROM Interviewer IRA MENCY: I received over 30 questions for Harriete, and some were redundant or similar to others, therefore the most concise were taken. Thank you to Harriete for helping us out with this interview. If you have additional questions, or yours was not covered here, feel free to read and / or ask her on her AskHarriete blog .


42 things said...

FAbulous interview. Thank you Harriet for taking the time to share some of your knowledge with us.

Cynthetic Styles by Tranzendental Arts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cynthetic Styles by Tranzendental Arts said...

Thank you, Harriette, for taking time to give such thoughtful and insightful answers! It has been a great joy getting to know you and your art as well as receiving your perspective and knowledge. I look forward to tracking your future projects (especially the pencils... wow, just wow!).

Best wishes to you in all you do!


Janet said...

I love your answer to question 6 !

soulartonetsy said...

Has been a pleasure reading this interview! awesome work and a great personality behind it, thanks for sharing!

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