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WHAT LEAD YOU TO BEGINNING YOUR WORK WITH KETUBAHS? HOW DID YOU FIRST ESTABLISH YOUR BUSINESS TALLULAH KETUBAHS?
I created my first ketubah when my husband and I were married in 2009. We decided to have a ketubah, even though it wasn’t legally necessary, because we appreciated the ritual of the ketubah as a contract between two individuals joining as one, signed by our witnesses, people whom we loved and respected and trusted to hold us accountable to the vows and commitment we were making.
When we began looking for a ketubah, we couldn’t find anything that we liked. My husband and I are not very religious and so we didn’t want a traditional ketubah. We wanted something that felt meaningful to us, and so as an artist it only made sense that I would design one for us.
When I officially launched Tallulah Ketubahs in 2014, I decided to create a collection that would speak to people like us, couples that identified as Jewish but were looking for something different, something contemporary that would fit in with their art collection and that they would enjoy looking at each day. I thought about the many people in our lives that have some connection to Judaism- some of them are both Jewish, and some of them are Interfaith couples, some of them are same sex couples, and some of them grew up Jewish but now identify as Agnostic or Buddhist. I decided to create designs that would hopefully appeal to these people and more.
From 2009 – 2013 I made ketubahs as a side business. I created 3 or 4 custom ketubahs each year for friends, family members or friends of friends or family. I always dreamed of running the business as my primary job, but wasn’t sure exactly how to make it happen. In 2014, one year after moving to Philadelphia from Baltimore, the circumstances were perfect for taking the leap into official small business ownership. I launched my online store with 6 initial templates, each of which is a print of an original hand painted design, and I have continued to add designs to the collection. I now offer 11 ketubah designs plus an additional 5 designs that can be customized for house blessings, anniversary pieces or quotes.
WHAT IS THE PROCESS LIKE CREATING CUSTOM WORK FOR YOUR DESIGNS? WHERE DO YOU GRAB YOUR INSPIRATION? WE’D LOVE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR DESIGN PROCESS—CHOOSING MATERIALS, AND DESIGN DEVELOPMENT.
For my collection of template designs, I get a lot of inspiration from textile patterns, architecture, and nature. I like bold bright colors and both modern and vintage design. I take my sketchbook with me to botanical gardens, to museums, and of course whenever I travel. I often decide on a color palette first and will sketch several rounds of designs until I stumble upon one that clicks. Each piece is hand painted using designer gouache paint. I then take each piece to Profiles Studio (www.profilesstudio.com) in Chestnut Hill, owned and operated by Mike and Janine Zaikowski. They scan each piece and perfect the colors to create high quality digital images. I also work with them to create the archival giclée prints I sell. Each template I offer in my online store can be customized with the text of the couples choosing, or I can work with couples to create an original text in English and Hebrew if they choose.
TAKE US THROUGH YOUR TYPICAL PROCESS OF CREATING A CUSTOM KETUBAH?
I was trained as a fine art painter. I have a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art and an MFA from American University. For many years, my work was primarily figurative and landscape based, and I bring the same sensibility to many of my ketubah designs. I begin each custom ketubah by having a face-to-face or phone conversation with the couple I’m working with. I like to get to know them a little, learn about them as individuals and hear about their love story. Often couples will already have a few ideas about the design themes or motifs they would like to incorporate, so in our first conversation we discuss everything that they have in mind and I may toss out a few other ideas that make sense to me. I then create three initial design sketches, each with a distinct composition and color scheme. From these first three designs, the couple chooses one that stands out to them and requests any changes they’d like to see. I then create a second more detailed design sketch, and will insert the text into the design so that they can see the size and layout of the final ketubah. At this point they will have the opportunity to request any final changes that they might like. Each text is an archival giclée print on smooth 100% cotton Arches watercolor paper, and I hand paint the final design around the text.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST DESIGN YOU EVER MADE? HOW HAVE YOUR DESIGNS EVOLVED?
For my wedding I designed a ketubah that featured a peacock and a peahen nestled together under a Cyprus tree. The illustration is very stylized and not super naturalistic, the beautiful blues and greens are so vivid and I used a brilliant gold in the elaborately painted peacock feathers. The birds are a stand in for us, looking beautiful and regal together. I chose the Cyprus tree because my husband and I had travelled a lot in the Mediterranean region (Italy, Spain, and Portugal) before we were married and we loved that landscape.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT KETUBAHS? WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CREATION EXPERIENCE?
I truly enjoy working with couples on the very special occasion of their marriage. It is such a sweet time when couples are reconnecting with their families and circle of closest friends, taking time to think about all the couples who came together before them and to produce them, arranging all the little details of what is to be a beautiful, meaningful and memorable ceremony, hopefully one of the best days of their lives. The ketubah is not only a detail of that day, but is a beautiful lasting memento of the commitment that these two individuals make to each other, and a reminder of their purest intentions for their relationship. That is what I really love about it!
Last year I had the pleasure of working with an interfaith couple from Portland, Oregon. They met during a semester abroad in Prague and wanted to incorporate the art nouveau architecture of the Jubilee and Spanish Synagogues. I got to spend days looking at pictures of these beautiful Synagogues, the gorgeous architectural ornamentation, and I got lost imagining how romantic it must have been for them, to be in their early 20’s, in a lovely historic city, falling in love with each other while falling in love with the place. The final piece was so unique; it reflected the bold blues, greens and oranges of the décor in those synagogues and was laced with delicately flourished golden vines. They were so happy with how it turned out, and I was so happy to be able to put form to their vision. Read more about the process of creating their ketubah here.
DESCRIBE YOUR AESTHETIC.
Bright and colorful, clean and contemporary, timeless.
HOW DOES LIVING IN PHILADELPHIA INFLUENCE YOUR DESIGN STYLE?
The grand old trees, luscious gardens, and the mix of colonial and modern architecture of my Mt. Airy neighborhood is endlessly inspiring.
WHAT ADDITIONAL SERVICES DO YOU OFFER?
This year I began offering handwritten calligraphy for custom orders as well as envelope addressing, place cards, escort cards, table numbers, menus, seating plans and signage for weddings, mitzvahs or special events.
TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING EXTRA SPECIAL THAT YOU’RE CURRENTLY WORKING ON!
I am working on a series of designs for children, for blessings, quotes or fine art birth announcements. I hope to add these designs to my online store later this year.
WHAT ARE YOUR COMING PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I am working on launching a larger company, with which I can offer a broader range of products, including custom wedding invitations and fine art prints and original paintings that aren’t related to a specific ritual or life-cycle event. Before becoming a mom I had an active studio practice as a fine artist (www.rachelsitkin.com) and I am working on a way to combine these two endeavors into one commercial business.
Thank you so much for the interview, Philly in Love! Check out their site for more information on the many talented wedding vendors, gorgeous venues, and fabulous inspiration that Philadelphia has to offer!
All photos by Brittani Elizabeth Photography.