Susan Brooks smiles when she talks about her move to Berkeley nearly 30 years ago from her native New York.
Brooks, who creates unique paintings and jewelry, says she came to the city to be near friends and never regretted the move.
Growing up, both of Brooks’ parents were working artists. Her father, Bert Brooks, was a toy designer and is now mostly a sculptor. She calls him a “renaissance man.” Her mother, Anne Brooks, is a painter.
Brooks gives her deeply artistic family a lot of credit for her success as an artist. She says she looked around as a child and saw all her parents’ artist friends making money and simply assumed that all artists could make a healthy living. Brooks says this ideology definitely had an effect on how she viewed being a professional artist.
She attended the Parson’s School of Design in Manhattan, studying illustration and graphic design. Fresh out of school, she did commercial work such as posters and business-card design into which she incorporated her artistic flair. Brooks did some poster work for the Keystone Berkeley, a rock ’n’ roll club on University Avenue in the ’70s.
At the same time, she worked on her paintings, which she produces in a paint medium called “gouache.”
“I love the quality of the paint. I work on thick, hand-made papers. I started with watercolor, but (gouache) is a heavier pigment,” she said.
Primarily, Brooks’ paintings depict human figures and animals. She says one particular piece, that appears to be a dog, is actually a portrait of her father as a cat, disguised as a dog. She says she looks for color combinations, mixing all of her own colors. She says she knows color intimately.
Brooks likes to work in series, recently completing a series of paintings which use bugs as their theme. “I am drawn to bugs because they are segmented, structured, and textural.” This love of texture and pattern play a part in how she came to make jewelry.
When Brooks was 6 years old, she was exposed to working with the tools her father used as a sculptor and says she’s always been able to use them. She holds up a hammer she says her father made when he was 16. She uses the hammer, along with what are called “chasing tools” to create ornate designs and textures on her jewelry, which include everything from earrings to intricate broaches.
Brooks said she only started working with gold and silver to create jewelry, which she calls “art to wear,” 15 years ago, teaching herself, but says she needs to do both painting and jewelry making. “Jewelry has such a monotone quality. My eyes crave color. When I’m in a painting phase, I feel renewed and fresh. Then I feel ready to go back to jewelry.”
Brooks says her work changes slowly over time and as she learns more she refines her work. “All artists do that,” she says. She says she looks at work she did 15 years ago and it’s different from what she’s doing today, but its got her unique artistic mark on it.
Brooks says she has a loyal base of customers who like to see what she’s doing and she sees this as a mandate to constantly change her work and try new things.
She decided 10 years ago that a good way to achieve this goal was to organize an event to outreach to prospective customers for professional Berkeley artists.
The result was Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios, which runs several weekends before Christmas and ends Sunday. The Open Studios features the work of 100 Berkeley artists in their home studios. “It’s an opportunity for the public to meet artists and it demystifies the process of making and
Art in every medium is available at the 38 studios throughout Berkeley. Anyone interested can pick up a map at Brooks’ studio at 1250 Addison St. #214, or can download the map at www.berkeleyartisans.com.