Susan R. Kirshenbaum

art and life - both the cherries and the pits

Lessons Learned in Year One

Susan KirshenbaumComment


After many years of yearning, I changed my life from being a part-time artist to going into full-time art-making in February 2016. I created several bodies of work, website, gallery packet, press kit, art CV, bio and artist's statement, and I participated in several shows. Now I'm taking a look back to consider what I've learned and what I need to do next to continue making progress.


During the build-up to my transition one year ago, I co-founded a creative agency for arts marketing called Stir. Before that I enjoyed a productive stint in non-profit marketing and design with my agency, Cherry Tree Creative. Both were businesses I founded after working as the marketing creative director for the JCCSF for seven years. Before that, and for many years, I ran a creative agency in North Beach called Kirshenbaum Communications. And throughout this time, I drew a model every week. Now with the support of friends, husband, and art coach, I began this new journey into art – cultivating a different way of being, seeing, and doing. 

One thing that happened in my first year of enthusiasm and experimentation was that I have confused many people about my goals, so I will try to clarify them here and now. My plan is to make art, show it, and sell it. I'm working on getting bolder, bigger, stronger conceptually and technically to become an exhibiting visual artist, getting into better and better juried shows, galleries, and other quality venues. 


I've been concerned about semantics and terminology and what to call myself and my art business. I started out calling my art site Cherry Pits Art and my card title started out as "Artist", morphed into "Artist and Designer" and now I've settled on  "Visual Artist". I've shifted the name emphasis on my website away from the Cherry Pits brand to my own name, because that now seems particularly critical to being an artist.

I've been thinking about design vs. fine art, art vs. crafts, fashion vs. artwear, decorative art and ceramics vs. sculpture, products vs. art merchandise. And the term "making". Where does that fit in? Even as I'm writing this I can't decide what terms to use. Fine Artist vs. Visual Artist. One source says: Current usage of the term "visual arts" includes fine art as well as the applied, decorative arts and crafts, but this was not always the case. Hey, I know!


I love what I've discovered so far - the world of making art using textiles that I make. The tricky part of this new thread is that I confused people about my direction. Working in the digital design industry for so many years it was exciting for me to be able make things that are tangible and useable. But suddenly I found myself explaining that I'm not a fashion or product designer now...but a fine artist.


So, now I'm re-working my website after a helpful portfolio review with three SF gallerists, thanks to SFAN, at Arc Gallery this month. I want to be really clear about my artwork and let people (especially gallerists and jurists) see what they want as easily as possible. So, I've rearranged my site nav, and moved the photo section into a subsection of the blog, because it's not my artistic thrust. I've also removed the many art products that I made and were shown in my store (now called "Available Works" and is comprised of my prints on paper). I might maintain an active sideline elsewhere though I haven't decided yet.

Now I have to apply everything I ever learned about PR, sales, and marketing to myself and my art. And I have to remember that people will not know what I have in mind so I must preface and explain. This is a good place to start.

A friend recently asked me (on our way to a textile arts event) if I wanted to be the next "Vera", a fashion emblem and iconic artist of another era, known for her signature silk scarves. I understood that she thought of me as a designer of wearable art. I have made my own brand of figurative silk scarves (see photo) and I will continue to do so. Figures are my subject, so what we put on our bodies is also of interest to me. All things figurative are. But becoming a fashion designer is another story. Not for me.

As I back away from non-wearable products I think bigger and bigger and in context. I will create large-scale installation pieces filled with my figurative soft sculptures and my patterns will be papered and upholstered throughout. Wait and see!


That's where year one has led me into soft sculpture and silk scrolls. I want my next scrolls to reach from floor to ceiling and not be attached to walls but to ceilings. I want us all to be able to walk through my work, like walking through a crowd.

Sunset walk for inspiration in the hood, in San Francisco, CA. I'm big on urban hiking. I'm wearing one of my art dresses too.

A wall of my pre-digital life drawings. Made the switch to the Apple iPad in 2013 and never looked back. Photo taken in my home studio.

Last year I was dabbling in making textile art merchandise - cocktail napkins, tea towels, and placemats - but I probably won't continue making these products. I have a tiny amount of stock left - so contact me if you are interested!

One of my handmade silk scarves - the only one that I made into a product that is also a silk scroll.

One of my handmade silk scarves - the only one that I made into a product that is also a silk scroll.

Blue Woman with Pink Posey is my first large soft sculpture in a planned series. I started with a small prototype.