Setting The Table With Berry Stein

setting the table

Setting The Table With Berry Stein

Berry Stein, teaching artist and founder of Art Life Practice, is a huge proponent of casual, creative play. Whether it’s painting, arranging flowers, or designing a stunning tablescape, find out how she infuses beauty and creativity into her every day.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

I am a former art museum educator at the Whitney Museum and the Met, and a teaching artist at Inner-City Arts, and now devote most of my time to building, Art Life Practice, experiential art making and premium art supplies curated into convenient kits. Art Life Practice lives at the intersection of art and wellbeing: Science has found - and proven time and again - that there is a powerful connection between art-making and fulfillment, emotional grounding and mental clarity, so we are on a mission to help people expand their creative reach and cultivate joy and well-being in their daily life. When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time with my family and friends, enjoying time outside, entertaining friends, and going to museums and galleries to experience art. 

How did Art Life Practice come to be?

It started very organically – when I moved to LA I converted my garage into a creative space and I would have friends over to make art, eat, drink, hang out, and at some point a friend encouraged me to formalize it a bit. I knew that I had been wanting to create an experience for people that was unique and just something different than going to a bar or restaurant and that’s it.

As an art educator I knew the benefits of creating every day, and I wanted to share that with my peers and beyond. So the in-person events grew from casual afternoon art-making with friends to bringings brands’ communities together, and we've worked with a range of private groups and corporate wellness programs to create beautiful art-based experiences. Next came the art kits to take the guesswork out of the experience of buying art supplies.  

The journey of Art Life Practice continues to unfold in new and exciting ways, but the mission remains singular: to make casual creative play a part of your everyday life in order to foster a more joyful, nourished society. 

What does creativity look like in your day to day? 

I love this question because I think there are so many opportunities to be creative throughout the day, and so many people don’t even realize they’re being “creative” when they do things like get dressed or make a meal. For me, day to day creativity can be anything from arranging a small bundle of flowers foraged from a walk around the neighborhood or local floral shop (arranged in a Year & Day bud vase, of course) , to taking 20-30 minutes to doodle using watercolors, colored pencils, or drawing with scissors. As I mentioned already, I love hosting meals for friends and loved ones and I find that entertaining is such a fun and generative way to be creative.

What's the one tool or item you can't live without in your creative toolkit?

The Art Life Practice Guided Sketchbook! The Guided Sketchbook features twenty-five creative play prompts relating to the elements of art and different art genres, as well as artist references for each prompt. I have been through at least three Guided Sketchbooks at this point, and I love approaching the creative play prompts differently each time. If you only have 5-10 minutes to work on it, you can still reap the healing benefits of casual art making. 

What's the best piece of advice you've received about creativity?

In an article written for his column in the Atlantic, Arthur Brooks writes that we need to “Treat art less like a diversionary pleasure and more like exercise or sleep or loving relationships: a necessity for a life full of deep satisfaction.” There are so many important takeaways in the article, but this notion of considering art just as important as sleep, exercise and relationships is a bold statement, and one that I too firmly believe in. Beyond that, finding beauty and/or moments in the day that require pause and presence, make you smile or fill you with wonder will ultimately make your life deeply meaningful. Cultivating this practice - of finding beauty and capturing it in some form or nation - is ultimately the mission of art life practice. 

And what piece of advice would you give?

If you can, find time for small acts of creativity throughout your day, and always be on the lookout for moments of beauty and inspiration. Whether that means taking a walk around your block and finding something in nature that inspires you, or doodling on a notepad on your desk, taking time to create for as little as 20 minutes - regardless of your skill level - can provide immediate and meaningful support to your wellbeing - and simply make the day better. 

If you could collaborate with any historical artist or creator, who would it be and why?

This was the hardest question for me to answer because there are so many on my dream list! But if I had to choose one artist I would pick Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), the visionary Swedish artist and mystic. She is an endlessly fascinating woman - so ahead of her time in many respects - exploring modernism and abstraction in the early 20th century, years before her better-known contemporaries. 

af Klint was a medium, and all of her work was spiritually charged, reflecting an effort to visually articulate her mystical views of reality. She would hold seances regularly with a group of female artist friends who called themselves ‘The Five’, attempting to commune with spirits and mystic beings that they called ‘High Masters.’ In a dream world, I would time travel to join The Five for a seance and experience af Klint visually translate her mystical visions onto canvas. 

How do you approach creating a tablescape? What does your process look like? 

I love to host, and creating a fun and inviting tablescape and environment is very much a part of what I love about entertaining. My goal is to ensure that guests are comfortable, inspired, and of course having fun. That said, I love creating floral arrangements varying in size, colors and textures, playing with certain colors that are in the table linens. I’ll add candles to set the mood, and then fill in any gaps that may be on the table with either fruits or vegetables. 

Do you have any tips for setting a visually stunning dinner table?

Yes! You can’t go wrong with the flowers in an assortment of Year & Day vases, candles, and fruits/vegetables combinations dispersed throughout the table (covered with Year & Day linens of course). I love all of the colors of the Year & Day linens - they are so versatile and inspiring. I use thin wood dowels to stack fruits on top of each other, or have a long skinny flower coming out of an eggplant. You can create surprising moments of discovery and joy by incorporating different flowers into the fruit and vegetable vignettes. 

Can you describe your dream dinner party? Who is invited, what are you serving, what music is playing?

This is such a fun question, and it’s inspiring me to host a dream dinner party asap. :) 

Who is invited: My friends who inspire me, make me laugh, and bring so much joy and love to my life. 

What I’m serving: To begin, I like to make a big crudite spread with lots of dips and vegetables, another big cheese board with lots of stone fruit and a variety of crackers incorporated throughout. Then for dinner I would make a version of a summer salad with more stone fruit, cucumbers, peppers and fresh feta; a few grilled branzino filets with lots of herbs, Ina Garten’s confetti corn (such a crowd pleaser), grilled bread, and steamed artichokes.  

What we’re listening to: Depending on the mood, I’d choose from one of the many playlists that I make for the Art Life Practice Spotify. I love Happy Summer Groove, but if you’re wanting something more mellow / ambiance music you could go this route - or the always reliable - Aretha Franklin radio. 

You’re so generous with your home. What do you love most about having people over?

I think it is so vital and life-giving to create space and time for people to gather and experience joyful and meaningful time together, and I love being a facilitator for that. So often we get caught in a cycle of being nonstop with work and life obligations, and being able to pause and experience delicious food with friends old and new is what life is about.  

What’s the vibe after everyone finishes eating? Do you linger at the table, play a game, change the setting?

After everyone finishes eating we’ll migrate to the living area and linger/continue conversations from the dinner table. I’ll bring over a few dessert plates (usually just serve a combination of fruits, chocolates, cookies, etc.), and serve more wine, tea, etc. I am a very relaxed host and like to keep the mood very casual and easy, so people feel comfortable doing whatever they want to do.  

Dishes the night of, or the morning after? 

Dishes night of - ALWAYS! No matter what time guests leave, I always stay up and get the cleaning done. Waking up to a clean house/kitchen is KEY.