Meet Susan Harbourt of Luster Metal Works in this Vintage Karma artist interview. The St. Joseph resident’s eco-fabulous copper creations have been seen on celebrities Christopher Heyerdahl and Tinsel Korey of The Twilight Saga, and on Iqbal Theba of Glee.
Q: How long have you been creating? How did you get into making your creations?
A: I have been creating in some fashion my whole life … from creating the most amazing messes when I was little like plugging the hole of the dryer with Play-Doh to cracking all of the hollow eggs of a decoration my mom had to help “let the baby birds out.” I stole my mom’s hose to secretly cut up so I could weave her endless supplies of potholder squares. I finally got a little older and started making more useful items like a coffee cup table for my grandmother.
When it was time to go off to college, I studied materials engineering, and that landed me a job in product development where I got to create fun items for a sporting goods company. That lasted for about seven years until my life path lead me down a different road when my husband and I moved back to Illinois. At that time I made my best creations, my two sons James and Mark. But after leaving my career behind I was missing the satisfaction of creating and completing projects, because as we all know as a mom, your job is NEVER done.
So the proper short answer to your question is that about six years ago is when I got into the “creating” mode I am in now. And that was purely by chance. We were updating the electrical system in our Edwardian-era house, and I found myself surrounded by bits of gleaming copper that we had removed from the walls. I absent-mindedly picked up some and was twirling it and made a lovely bracelet. You could say that was the defining moment for me. I gathered up all that copper and put it in a box and have been creating with it ever since!
Q: What was your first piece? What inspired you to create it?
A: Well, technically my first piece was a wedding band for my husband about 14 years ago. I carved a wax form with a wave design and had it cast into his wedding band. That was so much fun to do, but I didn’t really do much more in the way of jewelry design until many years later when I started making lovely beaded necklaces to wear to work. But my first metalsmith items were copper stacking rings featuring a variety of textures made with different hammers we had in our workshop.
Q: Describe your creative process.
A: I don’t have a hard and true creative process. Normally it’s more about words or feelings all scribbled down on a piece of paper. Sometimes images come to me in my dreams and I have to wake up and sketch my ideas, so there is always a pad of paper and pen by my bed with the most random chicken scratches all over the pages. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder what the heck I was trying to draw or write because it will be completely illegible. I also now use Pinterest to scroll around and look for inspiration.
But for the most part my creative process involves me going out to my shop and just doing it. I start with a general idea and then I let my hammer guide me on a journey. Often the resulting items are nothing like what I started off intending to make, but if I didn’t allow myself that stream-of-conscience designing style, I would never have come up with the amazing design. I enjoy that free form designing method a lot, but as I am getting more skilled in my metalsmithing, I find it is easier now to actually sketch a design and go make it as I had intended it to be.
Q: What drew you to your chosen medium?
A: It chose me I didn’t choose it … It was all just from that fateful day of absently-mindedly playing with the copper wire! I guess that is part of the reason I enjoy allowing myself that unstructured design time. When I let go of preconceived ideas my best work can occur … and some of my most amazing failures as well.
Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part?
A: My favorite part is the actual making of the items. I love taking some piece of “scrap” and watch it turn into a lovely piece of art. My least favorite part is the business and administrative end … the marketing of yourself, the keeping paperwork, paying taxes monthly, making sure the item gets shipped, the product photography, the listing the item to sell, the maintaining the websites …
Q: What keeps you inspired/what inspires you?
A: The need to create keeps me inspired. I also find a lot of inspiration from nature and the world around me.
Q: What do you do when you’re not making art?
A: When I am not making art I am chasing after my two little boys, ages 3 and 6. Sometimes I round them up long enough to get them to help me work in our veggie garden. But late at night, when it is quiet and still in the house, I like to curl up on the couch with my Kindle and a cuppa hot tea and a few cookies and let myself be transported far, far away by a good book.
Don’t forget to visit Vintage Karma to check out Susan’s Featured Artist display!