5 Brooklyn Makers Share Tips on How to Create Art for a Living
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5 Brooklyn Makers Share Tips on How to Create Art for a Living

There are a lot of East Coast vs West Coast battles out there. If you thought it was all Biggie vs Tupac, pizza vs tacos and droughts vs snowmageddons, think again. The weekend before SFers were shopping up West Coast Craft, Brooklynites were all about Bushwick Open Studios, a weekend-long art fest where artists all over Brooklyn open up their studios and let the world take a glimpse at what they’ve been working on. We got to check out some of the cool art on display and speak to the even cooler artists who gave us their stories and advice on how others can live their creative maker dreams. (Warning — after meeting these extremely talented makers, you’ll be itching to make something with your hands, like maybe that pineapple outfit Bey wore?)

LIESL PFEFFER // PHOTOGRAPHER + WEAVER + JEWELRY MAKER



Originally from Brisbane, Liesl Pfeffer is not primarily a jewelry maker. Her main focus is actually on photo media and collage, but she has recently found herself branching into watercolors and clay jewelry. She also makes some colorful and gorgeous wool and yarn weavings.

How did you become an artist? 

Growing up I was always very interested in art and artists — I devoured biographies of artists and spent a lot of time in museums — but I did not consider it as a career until I went back to college at age 24 and enrolled in a fine art degree. I majored in photographic art practice and fell in love with the darkroom and hand printing my work. I have been exhibiting in Australia since 2005 and moved to the US in 2012.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue art as a vocation?

Love what you do! Success requires dedication, perseverance and confidence. You need to love making work so much that the studio is the place you would rather be when your friends are off having fun at the beach! There are also financial sacrifices, and you need to be resilient, flexible and innovative in the ways you make money and fund your professional activities, like artist residencies and mounting exhibitions.

When you hit a creative block, what do you do to get over it?

Take a walk with my camera, listen to music, read a book, talk to friends. Taking my mind off my problems always makes them easier to tackle when I am back in the studio.

SHARA HESHIIMU // TEXTILE ARTIST + METAL SMITH



Shara Heshiimu finds beauty in what others might consider garbage. She turns discarded items into art by using ink from things like flattened beer cans and transferring the image to sheer scarves. Heshiimu also likes to experiment with bleach, yarn work and denim, and we fell in love with her hand-embroidered necklaces.

How did you become an artist?

Being an artist is an ongoing journey for me. I’ve explored and studied several different mediums. I grew up in a creative household that encouraged and valued artistic expression. I went to an art high school (LaGuardia High School) that really fostered my love of going to museums. I studied video art in college and then went back to school to study metalsmithing. Now I’ve been working with fabric. The journey has been varied and it’s exciting to see how all of those different interests show themselves in my work. I like detailed, meticulous work that tells a story. I’ve never seen the different mediums as separate or not part of what I’m able to pull from to explore new ideas.



What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue art as a vocation?

It’s important to keep working at your art and try not to judge your creative output. There are many times that I’ve been critical about my ideas or felt disappointed with what I’ve made and then I come back to it and there is something interesting there. Making art is a process. You have to let your ideas and techniques develop and grow and that can’t happen if you are too critical of yourself or judge yourself at every step.

Also, it’s very stifling to make art with the fear of what others think. Trust your own artistic impulses and have fun.

When you hit a creative block, what do you do to get over it?

I like to look at art. I get out to a museum or I take a walk. Walking is great. It clears my head and in NYC there’s endless inspiration, textures and energy.

MARY SCHWAB // SCULPTOR + VISUAL ARTIST

Mary Schwab had a very German childhood, which is the inspiration for her latest exhibit “Welcome to the Bavarian Garden,” which features sculptures and paintings that are both nostalgic and fairytale-esque in their depictions of the artist’s Bavarian childhood memories.

How did you become an artist?

Both my grandfathers were great tinkerers. I spent a lot of time MacGyvering on their workbenches — fixing clocks, jewelry and furniture. I had my own set of tools by age six. I had this miniature tool kit in a big wooden box, with a blue hammer, a wood plane and small saws. I doubt anyone would give a kid sharp objects like this now, but I LOVED it, and I think it made me a more confident life-long maker.



(King Ludwig’s, 2015)

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue art as a vocation?

I’d advise most people not to work as an artist’s assistant, or only do it for a very short period of time. Develop a skill where you can make the most amount of money in the least amount of time. Spend the rest of the time in your studio, going to openings, doing studio visits with other artists. Get involved, curate shows, put your friends in them. Don’t sit home and wait for people to find you.



(Cake, 2015)

One of the best things I have ever done was attend an artist colony. Laura Splan, who started Dose Projects, and I met at the Vermont Studio Center. She created Dose as an alternative art model and originally as an online portal — 50 percent of all proceeds go to the artist and the rest go to the artists’ charity of choice. Mine is UNICEF.

When you hit a creative block, what do you do to get over it?

When I get blocked I take my dog for a walk, take long baths and read poetry. When I’m in a blocked state it’s best to get out into the world and not bog down in social media, movies or web surfing, [but just] being out there or exercising another part of your brain. Lots of time doing landscape drawings does this for me too.



(Franz, Franz Up to the Sky, 2015)

AYALA NAPHTALI // JEWELRY MAKER



Ayala Naphtali is an established artist and jewelry maker based in Brooklyn who works with dyed coconut shell, semi-precious stones and sterling silver. She’s a long-time exhibitor with the American Craft Council, and was gracious enough to give us a live demonstration of how she handcrafts her lovely pieces.

How did you become an artist?

I was born in NYC, where I began making jewelry in my early teens. My family on both sides. in Israel and Greece, have been metal smiths for a few generations. I studied Gold and Silversmithing at FIT and SUNY New Paltz and received my BFA in 1985. My work is an exploration of form and materials, each equally important. I feel firmly rooted in the historical tradition of my craft.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue art as a vocation?

My advice is to never work on [only] one goal. Throw your net wide. Apply to do many things, and then you can always eliminate one if it’s too much. Say yes to every opportunity. You never know what may come of it, and it may not [all] happen right away.

When you hit a creative block, what do you do to get over it?

Blocked? Never. In fact, some nights I can’t sleep because I have so many ideas and not enough time to work on all of them.

KIRAN CHANDRA // SCULPTOR + VISUAL ARTIST



Born and raised in Kolkata, India, Kiran Chandra works primarily with text, drawing, sculpture, and collage. She just completed her first solo show at Wave Hill. The work she was exhibiting at this year’s BOS was inspired by a 1925 book called “The Soul of the White Ant” by a South African naturalist, which studied the groupthink behavior of termites.

How did you become an artist?

The story was a feeling that I followed. [I] am still in the midst of the plot.



What sort of advice would you give someone who wants to pursue art as a vocation?

Stay open and centered, play in the studio, listen to your own voice and let the work guide you.

When you hit a creative block, what do you do to get over it?

Just keep making in other ways and read someone inspiring.

Do you have any favorite artists from this year’s Bushwick Open Studios that we missed? Tell us who in the comments below!