Amy Sternberg has taken a different approach to painting. Instead of expressing herself, she expresses the personalities and interests of clients or those receiving gifts.
In her West Bloomfield basement, she keeps a stash of pre-made objects — tzedakah boxes, mail holders, footstools, toys and other household staples and enhancements — ready to be backdrops for individualized keepsakes. As requests come in, she finds out about recipients and moves specified objects to an upstairs studio, where she plans and applies appropriate images.
Charitable-minded people have planned tzedakah boxes to express hobbies and preferences; one, with a person’s name in Hebrew and English, was decorated with a range of safari animals. Mail holders are popular secular items, and she recalls one for a Phantom of the Opera fan, who now opens her bills facing a mask and a rose.
“I buy my base objects from wholesalers, and what I usually design is whimsical,” says Sternberg, who uses both acrylic and oil-based paints. “It’s all fun for me to do. I learn about people as I learn about what decorations they prefer.”
Sternberg, always with an interest in art, launched her business, Artworks By Amy, after her two children were grown. The idea for it came with requests from people who had seen what she had made for friends expressing interests in personalized household items.
A floral-decorated jewelry box is one of the free favors that led the way to earnings-based projects, and she soon displayed samples of her work on online sites.
“I’m always doodling, especially when I’m talking on the phone,” says Sternberg, 51. “I find out what customers are looking for and if they have a special room in mind so that colors can be coordinated.”
Sternberg, whose work can be seen on Etsy, Facebook and her website (artworksbyamy.com), enjoyed art classes while attending West Bloomfield High School and started out as an art major at Eastern Michigan University.
“I decided I wanted to keep art as a hobby so I switched to a journalism major,” Sternberg explains. “Thinking about assignments and grades took away the fun art had been.”
After working for a Chicago publishing company, Sternberg returned to Michigan, where she became a member of Temple Israel. Her bat mitzvah had been celebrated at Temple Kol Ami, and she traveled to Israel with Partners in Torah.
Six years ago, Sternberg established her business and serves customers in and out of Michigan. She is glad that many are return buyers and feels very comfortable filling their orders.
“I have become friendly with a number of customers so I have a strong understanding of the kinds of art they like,” the artist says. “Most of my business is internet-based; people find me online, where I have lots of images of what I do.”
Sternberg is able to decorate larger items, such as tables and bookcases. She thinks of herself as reinventing them. In her own home, she took a more serious approach in painting furniture that had been owned by her grandmother and rejected by other family members. She refinished a pine dresser and painted it white and gray before adding new handles. Her grandmother’s dressing table was painted white and finished off with fun handles.
On a smaller scale for herself, she painted flowers and holiday phrases in Hebrew on a menorah that had been made by her fiance to hold tea candles.
“I get lots of requests for pencil boxes just before school starts in the fall,” Sternberg says. “They also are nice for party favors, which make for an important segment of my business.”
Judaica pieces include mezuzah holders and hamsa wall hangings. She also appeals to Christian customers with Christmas ornaments.
“The work that I do is very special to me because I hear how happy people are when they see the final results of the ideas they communicated to me,” she says.
“I have painted all kinds of themes on all kinds of objects — Paris landmarks on a mail holder, elephants on a child’s bank and superheroes on a mezuzah holder. I can’t wait to find out what’s next.” *
By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer