Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931 · TOTALLY WIRED!
elizabeth berrien's bbc wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.



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for The Manila Bulletin - Philippines

LET'S get real. If the only piece of artwork you can draw is a stick figure with a skirt and people think it's an umbrella, don't you think it's about time to quit that artistic dream? Elizabeth Berrien disagrees. A pioneer in the field of wire sculpture for 38 years and a recipient of many awards, Elizabeth Berrien shares with Youth and Campus Bulletin how she overcame her artistic block to become the leading lady of wire art that she is today.

YCB: Of all the art mediums available for expressing your talents, why wires?

Because of all the art media that I have ever tried, wire has been the most responsive to me personally - I could never express the feelings I wanted by drawing or painting. All the things I loved doing as a child - knitting, weaving, and lace-making, found a way to be combined within my wire sculptures. The more I practiced, the better I got... until eventually, wire sculpture truly became my forte.

YCB: What age did you develop your interest in wire art? You mentioned in your artist's bio that you were frustrated in your attempts at drawing because you were lefthanded, how has this affected your interest for making wire art?

When I first experimented with wire I was 17, a senior in high school. I believed I had no artistic talent, because I thought "real" artists could draw naturally and expressively on paper. I, being lefthanded but drawing with my right hand, could not draw or write freely. By comparison, wire can be worked with either or both hands. There are no rules - you just do what feels most natural! I give my life to wire because of the absolute creative freedom it gives me...

YCB:. What are the pros and cons of working with wire?

Wire is cheap, very important to a young artist or hobbyist on a budget. It requires no special tools, equipment, or training... so long as one respects the rule "Don't Poke Your Eye Out", any person can pick up wire and make something out of it. It's very flexible, so if you don't like the way a line works out, you can change it till you like it better!

Wire can be exasperating, too. Sometimes it feels too soft, too hard, too slippery or too scratchy. You can cut, scratch or poke yourself with wire, so be careful! If you get hooked on wire and work with it for hours on end, you can get blisters or callouses on your hands.

YCB: Do you have a complete finished picture of your subject in your head and then fashion the wire to conform to that vision? Or do you work spontaneously and let the "spirit" move you?

I start with a general idea of what I want. If I decide to make a sitting cat wire sculpture for a gallery, I may "freestyle" from my knowledge and memory of my own cats. Maybe I'll even have my own cat in my lap, "helping" by swatting at the wires as I twist them. Sometimes I feel the sculpture changing as I work - I may end up with a standing cat, and the tail may be straight or curled a bit.

If it has to be a "just so" sitting cat wire sculpture for a client who orders something specific (like a portrait of their own cat), I will set out several photographs to use as references, to make sure that the animal's anatomy and expression are completely accurate.

YCB: How important is mentoring to a beginning artist?

Mentoring and encouragement are incredibly valuable. My most memorable mentor was Kenneth G. Curran, my high school art teacher. He did not believe in telling students how to do things, step by step. His method was to encourage us to explore by trial and error, to make discoveries from our "mistakes." His quiet encouragement gave me the confidence to explore the possibilities of wire sculpture at a time when the medium was virtually unknown.

YCB: How have your creative friendships nurtured your love for your art?

Because I was self taught, for many years I considered myself just a hobbyist, somehow not a "real" artist. Over time, classically trained artists befriended me and gave me validation and support as an artist and wire sculptor. With their encouragement, I entered fine arts competitions - and won! Once of my closest friends among artists was Susan Seddon Boulet, a wonderful painter of spirits and nature. When we worked in a studio together, I would share what I knew about animal anatomy with Susan, and she would share what she knew about myths and legends with me. Any time artists share resources, their works are greatly enriched...

YCB: Taking care of animals and working with wire seem to be two diverse hobbies. How do you manage to do both and devote enough time for each?

Sometimes, it's not easy balancing the two. Since wire sculpture is my livelihood and profession, I always have several wire sculptures in various stages of completion. This month it's wire dog sculptures - a Great Dane, a Dachshund, a Portuguese Water Dog, two English Setters, an American Eskimo, and a Miniature Pinscher. Also a Giraffe, Hippo, Horses, a Swan, Cats, and some birds.

I work on a wire sculpture with all my attention. When I feel my focus slipping, I put that wire animal down and pick up another, so I can stay fresh. After a few hours, I need to step away from the wire. This is a good time to walk outdoors and see how things are with the farm animals. Do the chickens, ducks, geese and horses have plenty of food and water? Are the fences in good repair? Does my horse need a hug, or a scratch behind the ear? After I've spent good time outdoors with the live animals, I'm excited about making wire animals again.

When I have important deadlines, I spend all my waking hours working with wire. Since nobody else can do my wirework, my husband, daughter, friends and neighbors make more time for me by helping out with the animals.

YCB: Don't your animals get stuck in your wires?

I'm not sure I understand this question. Do you mean, it looks like I create my sculptures by wrapping the wires around a real animal? It's a very flattering concept, but I think wrapping wire around a form would make a very stiff, predictable and un-innovative kind of wire sculpture. I prefer free-style - I wrap my wire around the thin air of an "invisible" animal that I can see in my mind's eye.

YCB: What would you advise aspiring wire sculptors in the Philippines?

The sky's the limit! Pick up some wire and mess with it - just don't poke your eye out! Also, my mentor stressed the importance of trying not to be influenced by any other artist's work. The only wire sculpture I'd ever seen in 1968 was by Alexander Calder, so of course I had no wish to mimic his style - in doing so, I would only deprive myself of my own style.

I would also say: Don't torment yourself trying to be a perfectionist! I don't... I just try to make each wire work the best I can, for now... and the next one, perhaps just a little bit better. That way it stays fun... and if you?re having fun, everything goes faster and easier! And the more you practice, the better you?ll get...

YCB: Is there a way that wire sculptors can reach you? Do you give advice?

I invite wire sculptors to visit my website at www.WireLady.com. It has hundreds of images of wire sculptures, a directory of wire sculptors from around the world, wire sculpture tutorials and lesson plans, FAQ?s for wire sculptors, and even a section on how artists can make a better living from their work.

Wire sculptors can find answers to most of their questions by exploring the WireLady website. If they have further inquiries, they are welcome to contact me at wirezoo @earthlink.net.
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World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2009 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Oct 22, 2009 · this page valid HTML 4.01

elizabeth berrien's bbc wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.
CLIO 2008
elizabeth berrien's wire sculpture illustration wins two coveted cannes gold lions in 2008.
Cannes Festival
Double Gold
elizabeth berrien's wire sculpture illustration wins two coveted ADC gold cubes in 2008
Double Gold
elizabeth berrien's wire sculpture illustration wins the coveted Obie Best of Show award 2008.
Best of Show
elizabeth berrien's wire sculpture illustration wins two coveted Andy gold awards 2008.
Andy Double Gold
elizabeth berrien's wire sculpture illustration wins one show gold pencil awards 2008.
One Show Gold Pencil
elizabeth berrien's wire sculpture illustration wins double grand awards at London International Awards2008.
London International
Double Grand