Don Berry Illustration logo


An Artist's Journey

bio index....................previous chapter


Chapter 9: More Teaching, Remodeling and a New Relationship


In the summer of 1985 I learned from Patty Dietz, a production artist at Wettstein, that the Advertising Art Department of Pima Community College was seeking part-time instructors. She referred me to Ken Gardiner, the department head (and her future husband). After meeting with him, I was hired and began teaching an advertising design and an illustration class that fall semester.

Also that fall, the tenant then in the front house moved out. With new reliable income from teaching, I decided to stop renting out the house and use it as an art studio and home office instead. This was a much more affordable option than building a new space, especially since I had never liked the building as a house. It was cramped and stuffy with continuous plumbing and electrical problems. I began remodeling.

At about this time I was shopping for new blinds for the casita and met Debra Webster, an interior decorator. When she came over to measure for the blinds we found much to talk about, discovered that we had common interests, and began dating. She wanted to start her own business and I helped with encouragement and promotional graphics. 1986 began with those three new developments along with the usual flow of freelance work.


Assorted freelance assignments


I continued working for the Wettstein/Bolchalk agency, too.



The conversion of the front house into an open studio space began in the fall of 1985. The first stage was to completely gut the interior. That process took several weeks of demolition work that filled 3 huge trash bins with rubble. The containers were dropped off and picked up by a big flatbed truck as I filled them. It was exhausting, dirty work.

I built a new beam system to support the roof. The two 6x6 posts in the center of the space serve as a trunk from which the beams radiate like tree branches. I installed the beams in sections as the old interior walls were removed. It took careful planning to keep the roof supported as the demolition process continued. The interior space measures about 26x26 with a 5x11 alcove--about 730 square feet. The ceiling is 13' high in the center.


I made three identical benches from leftover lumber.

The existing floor was irregular so I unified the entire expanse with a redwood deck. The walls were lined with 1" thick sheets of foam insulation board, then I built new perimeter walls with standard 2x4 framing filled with fiberglass insulation and covered with drywall. This allowed space for rewiring to replace the antique electrical system. Windows on the east and west walls were eliminated.

The former bathroom was simplified to create a free-standing toilet room.

I built a counter that wrapped around two sides of the toilet room. A sink was installed in the counter opposite the window.


The ceiling and gable ends were insulated and covered with old lumber. Friends who worked for a fencing company dropped off fence sections they had torn down. It saved them a long trip to the city dump and provided me with the raw material for a rustic ceiling. I installed a skylight to brighten the upper space.

Although I did most of the work alone, I had crucial help from friends with the rewiring and drywall installation.

The open beam ceiling is similar in spirit to the space I was striving for in the models.

French doors replaced a south window. They face the casita, about 45' away.

One winter day Debra and I teamed up to begin creating a moose sculpture. She was originally from Vermont and had an affinity for moose.

The moose began with an understructure of copper tubing, foam and coat hanger wire. He was wrapped with cotton batting to build up the body parts and antlers.

He was then covered with fuzzy and smooth fabrics for his body, hooves and antlers. "Fillmore" lived in my studio for a while before moving in permanently with Debra.

Another personal project sprang from an idea for a simple geometric puzzle based on the equilateral triangle. I gave it the working title "Don's Triangle" and devised a way to make it using black and white foam board.

The idea occurred to me in 1985 and I made the first prototype.

By 1987 the concept had evolved to a product made from a single piece of hinged black and white foam board. It included a poster of possible solutions that folded to a square brochure. The board and puzzle pieces were designed to flip from white to black so that the player could work on a white or black background with either white or black pieces or combinations of both, either inside or outside the triangle.

I made dozens of them, hand cut from foam board, and made a counter top display. Debra got them placed in a few shops in town to try out the idea in the marketplace. I researched toy and game companies to try to sell the concept and found only one in the entire country that would even look at outside product ideas. They looked and declined. A few were sold and many given as Christmas gifts.

Meanwhile, at Pima College, Ken asked me to create a cartooning class for the Advertising Art Department. With his encouragement and help I submitted a course outline that the school accepted, and I began teaching Cartooning I in the fall semester of 1987. It was an immediate hit with students and became my main teaching focus for several years. It eventually expanded to Cartooning II and III for returning students.


bio index.................previous chapter