Steve Ferrera
Steve Ferrera at work on one of his art pieces. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Ferrera

The work of sculptor and filmmaker Steve Ferrera, whose studio and home is in West Berkeley, crosses many disciplines, including television, animation, children’s books and collectible toys. He has collaborated with Sony Pictures and HBO, and exhibited at the California Academy of Sciences and the ProArtsGallery, among others. Through July 31, Ferrera is the artist in residence at the de Young. While there, he is offering visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the multimedia production of a children’s book in the museum’s Artist Studio. Berkeleyside caught up with Ferrera to ask him what inspires him to make his often curious and sometimes absurd creatures, and what’s up with his one-eyed cat.

What do you do?

I teach glassblowing, ceramics, and sculpture part time at Palo Alto High School. My art is my other part-time job. My background is in traditional sculpture. But I’ve worked in a variety of art-related fields — everything from running a glassblowing studio to working on films and commercials at a visual effects and animation studio. My art is kind of a synthesis of all the skills I’ve acquired doing those things: sculpture, film, animation, storytelling.

How long have you been living and working in Berkeley?

My wife and I moved into the Tannery at Fourth and Gilman in 2003. We share a studio in our house.

What does the inside of your studio look like?

It’s usually filled with a handful of small to large-scale sculptures — creatures and characters in various stages on completion. Often I’m making silicone molds and casting resin; also, miniature sets and puppets for a children’s book I’m working on. An assortment of oddities clutters the studio — animal bones and human teeth, old doll parts, obsolete machinery — weird stuff I embellish my sculptures with. There are usually two or three cats lurking around.

Inside Steve Ferrera’s West Berkeley studio. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Ferrera

Why does one of your cats only have one eye?

We call him the one-eyed cat because usually his left eye is swollen shut from what the vet thinks is caused by a bad allergy. But we’ve recently found a medication that seems to be helping, so hopefully he’ll return to a two-eyed cat soon.

Tell us about some of the work or projects you have most enjoyed.

I’m really enjoying the children’s book project. All of the images in the book will be photographs of puppets and sets. I love all the different aspects of a big production — from story development, to illustration and concept, to engineering and building, all the way through photography and final production. I like the chaos of trying to put it all together and developing the look of everything: the treetops, the sun, the buildings, and mountains. I get to obsess about every little detail. And then I have this pantheon of characters that I’m constantly adding to. This is probably what I enjoy working on the most — designing, sculpting and painting them.

A piece by Steve Ferrera who finds inspiration in old-world fairy tales, folklore and mythology. Photo: Courtesy the artist

What inspires you?

I love old-world fairy tales and folklore and mythology. A lot of my characters and stories are reinventions of common archetypes and themes: creators and destroyers, guardians and protectors, the hero’s journey.

Some of the pieces on your website, that you sell — the snake and dragon clan figures — manage to be both cute and convey a sadness. Why is that?

I think that “old world” aesthetic can have a sort of melancholy and sadness to it. It can be a bit dark- but the figures are also rooted in the toy world, which can make them cute. I like that contrast. They also have a connection to astrology and totems, so it’s great if they can project a range of expressions and symbolize different characteristics.

Some of Steve Ferrera’s creatures, photographed in his West Berkeley studio. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Tell us about the de Young residency — what can people expect if they swing by?

All of the work for the children’s book will be on display in various stages of completion. The idea is that it’s a glimpse into an artist’s working studio. So visitors will get to see a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff on how everything is made — the techniques and process that go into each stage of planning and building,  from the initial concept sketches all the way through the final photography. There are a small handful of artists collaborating on the project and also displaying their work. Towards the end we will be photographing a handful of finished sets for the book. And, we set up an interactive sky set, where visitors can create cloudscapes for the set.

“Steve Ferrera, To Touch the Sun” is at the Kimball Education Gallery/Artist Studio at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco de Young Wednesday-Sundays, 1-5 p.m. through July 31. Visit the de Young website for details. 

A child encounters one of Steve Ferrera’s works. Photo: Courtesy the artist

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...