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How BIG Hearts are Made in SF with Artist Todd Berman

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Every spring, myself and a handful of other professionals with careers across art and multi-media volunteer our time to mentor students at Washington High School’s Multimedia Art Academy in Fremont. As part of this program, mentor’s introduce themselves and talk about what they are working on with a group of students over Zoom. I babbled on about my new tiny art gallery – but the coolest part was when I got to know Todd Berman and had my first glimpse of how he created his SF Heart sculpture for the project “Hearts in SF” organized by San Francisco General Hospital Foundation.

Having lived in SF for so long, I’ve seen lots of hearts cycle around the city. Large welcoming hearts people love to take photos in front of and bring joy to those who walk by them. I was fascinated and asked if I could interview him more later about his heart experience.

brightly colored heart sculpture sits in front of the erry Building

Todd Berman’s heart in front of the Ferry Building

We were able to sit down a week or so later to talk about his experience. This year was the 3rd time Todd had applied to be an SF Heart artist through their website and when he was accepted there was a huge problem he was faced with. Where could he put a 400 pound heart sculpture as he worked on the art piece. Using facebook groups, a neighbor Todd had never met before offered up their barely-used 2 car garage for the project and soon after the heart was delivered by a professional art delivery service, Ship Art.

large white heart sculpture being taken out of a truck and sketching started on it in blue ink

delivery of Todd’s SF Heart

Todd’s art style is perfect for an SF Heart. The vibrancy of the colors he uses and the electricity in the lines in his work makes his work fun to explore and look at. His work has been shown all over the world but you may have recognized his co-created project called “City of Awesome” on on SF Muni. When thinking of what he wanted to create on his SF Heart, Todd wanted to honor his love for San Francisco. Along with California poppies, native lupine wildflowers and brightly colored SF buildings, four known SF towers including the Grande Water Tower in Bernal Heights that Todd likes to call “Little Coit Blue”.

A tower that symbolizes SF landmarks that are known likely by locals only & also symbolized the neighborhood the heart was created in. He calls it “Four Hills, Four Towers, Flowing Fog, Native Flowers”. The heart took Todd a total of approx. 50 hours and a month of nearly full-time painting.He visited the borrowed garage 3-4 times a week during the day so he could work with the garage door open and natural light. For materials, he used acrylic paint in both brush and pen format on his heart sculpture.

4 different flower designs created by Todd Berman

flowers depicted in Todd’s SF Heart

The whole project felt like a community supported project to Todd. With special help from his “special-lady-partner-person just to make time in the day and The Taylor family. He would alway leave the garage door open and neighbors would come check on the heart’s process. When an artist works on such a large project with a short deadline, having community support is the secret sauce to finding that extra energy needed to get the job done. During Bernal Art Stroll, he even met a father and kid duo who consider themselves avid Heart Hunters: folks who love to find and track where the hearts end up around the city.

three people in masks show peace signs. Todd stands on the left and a father and son stand on the right of the large heart sculpture

Todd and two Heart Hunters

He did have one other “uh oh” moment right at the end. The type of varnish that he needed to do pulled up some of his paint as he was applying it. When using the recommended Precita Eyes’ special blend acrylic co-polymer sheer coat to shield against weather and graffiti, the black outlines in some areas started to smear and Todd had to think fast to figure out how to fix the issue. It felt so relatable. All artists have been there… It’s the 11th hour and you have to get creative to make sure you can get your work done in time.All in all, talking with Todd about the power of community and about his own passion for sharing art with others, I left wanting to encourage all artists to try and participate in more public art projects.

If you want to get to know more about Todd yourself, and a deep dive into the whole heart build out, you can learn about his work with SFUSD, the Awesome Project and more on his website: The Art Don’t Stop or his Instagram.

Todd Berman in frot of his finished heart sculpture

Todd’s heart is going on display at the Ferry Building starting February 8th and then will be put on display in Union Square later. Then it will be sold to benefit the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation which supports innovative public health programs. 

It can now be seen on the SF General Hospital Foundation Heart Gallery and will likely be featured in the online fund-raising event on February 10, 2022.

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.