Sarah is a studio artist who draws and paints customized ketubah designs and fine art for her patrons. She attended the Ontario College of Art and Design and SUNY Albany, and holds a Master’s Degree in Fine Art from Montclair University. She has taught drawing, painting, and contemporary Art and Aesthetics to students up to the Master’s Level in University.
She has acted as a consultant for various cultural and historic restoration, educational, humanitarian, environmentally conscious, and creative initiatives. Sarah has been the recipient of numerous art awards, including The Roanne Kulakoff Award for Painting and the Bradley Smith Award for Sculpture. She has exhibited her paintings in the U.S. and abroad, including shows at Denise Bibro Fine Art/Platform Gallery in NYC, Pratt Institute, Janet Kurnatowski Gallery, the Chautauqua Institution, Sideshow Gallery, BLAM, and Stephen Romano Gallery. Recent publications include ONandOnScreen, IPMM, InsideOut Magazine, Lost Sparrow Press, and Apex Magazine. Her first art book, Riddled With Spots, was recently released by A. Keck Press, and is currently available at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’m Sarah, from Beloved Ketubah. I’m a classically trained visual artist with a Master’s degree in Fine Art, but I have a slightly unusual history for a ketubah artist. When I was a kid, I got lucky and won a spot in an old-fashioned Renaissance style caste drawing apprenticeship. It was love at first sketch. From there, I studied everything from still life, landscape and portraiture to surrealism, impressionism, contemporary mixed media arts, music, poetry and literary theory, oil painting, calligraphy, and fairy tale inspired illustration. I actually started my art career as what they call a ‘ghost painter’, which means that fine artists would commission me to create their artwork for them, in their own style, to sell in galleries with their signature on it. It was an amazing way to learn and grow, since I got to try so many interesting techniques and learn from some truly phenomenal painters!
The result of this diverse early training is that I can now make customized paintings and heirloom ketubot in many different styles. I currently create oil painting commissions and ketubah designs from my studio and ship them worldwide. Over the last few years, as ketubah and life cycle art has made a strong return into contemporary culture, they have become a bigger part of my studio practice. I love that young couples are now commissioning paintings of their first homes together, Harry Potter style family trees, portraits of loved ones and animals in absurd situations, and personalized wedding vow artwork that celebrates elements from their own unique histories. Living in a time when art is accessible to more people than ever before is a gift for which I am immensely grateful.
What inspired you to become an artist?
Although inspiration constantly swirls and shifts around us like mist, being an artist wasn’t something I was ever inspired to do because it was never a choice… Have you ever been in a dark place, or just closed your eyes and seen those little phosphene sparkles of light, even though no light was actually entering your eye? One night, when I was 3 years old, I saw those sparkles of light, and they seemed to be falling off of me and disappearing into the darkness. I was too young to understand optics, so my 3-year-old mind came to the conclusion that those glittering particles were my imagination falling off. I knew only that this could happen to adults, and that I wanted no part of it. So I went outside under my favorite tree, looked at the stars, and tried to imagine all the pictures, songs, and stories that I possibly could, to stop my imagination from disappearing. I must have drifted off at some point, but when I woke up the next morning, my imagination seemed to be intact. I think of that as the night I “woke up” and realized that I was an artist. Since that moment, creating has been an important part of my life.
What is your specialty?
Customized narrative art. Drawing, painting, and reading have always been central to my practice, but my real hidden specialty as an artist is close reading. Most of the people who contact me to make art for them communicate with me by email, and they often share intricate life stories with me. This is fantastic because it allows me to go over every nuance of their words with great care. It helps me learn about their voice and style so I can visualize a work of art that is intricately inspired by the subtleties and details they choose to share with me. A great painting mentor of mine once said that “Art is an act of abbreviation.” So the more details I have to start with, the more creative freedom there is in the act of abbreviation. I love details, and I know that an artwork is a success when my patrons tell me that the image seems to have grown right out of their own inner world.
How and where do you work?
The Where: I’m a New Yorker, and for years, my art studio was based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Two years ago, my love and I decided to have a grand adventure, and build our dream studio spaces in an old abandoned chicken coop on his family’s land. So I packed up my fine art and ketubah studio and moved it all from NYC to the breath taking mountains of the Upper Galilee, in the North of Israel. After clearing out all the cobwebs, and stripping the crumbling building down to its frame, the two of us have spent the last year climbing all over the structure with hammers and saws, rebuilding it with our own four hands. Now it is complete, and we have finally been able to return to our studios and create again!
The How: I like to start every ketubah commission with an email conversation about the couple’s life together, how they fell in love, and what their hopes and dreams are for the world they are building together. Then I take all the imagery and inspiration and weave it together into a few narrative design ideas. I present these to my clients, and once a design and text are selected, I go into the studio and pour focused joy into the creation process. I feel very fortunate to work with couples from all walks of life, and welcome all the kind souls who include me in their celebration of love, regardless of gender, race, religion, or location (I gladly ship worldwide).
What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
Big windows, and tiny brushes! The natural light here pours into the studio like honey, and the views of all the gorgeous plant life and birds provide endless imagery for my paintings.
Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?
There is something incredibly inspiring about creating art for people who are in love. The energy and excitement they emit is an incredible source of inspiration, and focusing on love makes life so much sweeter. Birds and trees appear often as themes in my work and drawing is a dominant element, but right now, I’m really focused on creating what I call narrative ketubahs (the Americans synonym for ketubot). Custom Narrative Ketubahs draw inspiration from everything that makes each couple truly special by incorporating meaningful imagery from their love story. I really want to elevate the craft of making marriage certificates to a contemporary art. To use the document as a starting point for more and more exhilarating imagery. I believe that it’s so important for couples to actively curate their own reality, and I want the ketubah to empower them to do just that.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a watercolor olive branch ketubah shaped like a Jewish star, a portrait of a woman (an oil painting), and a whimsical family tree with a surrealist flair.
What are your favourite items in your current collection?
It’s hard to choose favorites… I love the mixed media ketubahs because of the combination of painting and printmaking techniques. Those textures look really rich and lovely on the surface of the paper. I love the Rose Wreath Ketubah, because of the way the washes of watercolor pigments overlap in dreamy harmonies. The family trees and fine art prints over on my Etsy shop are all really close to my heart too, as a populist gesture. I guess my favorite thing is whatever I’m working on at the moment or just about to begin.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
It’s like love. When it’s right, you just know.
Do you do bespoke work?
Yes! Almost all of my work is bespoke. The couples who choose me to create their custom ketubah artwork are usually looking for something that speaks to their personal shared history, evokes their dreams for the future, and sets the tone for the world they are building together in their new home. They are looking for a way to honor Jewish tradition, but approach it with an awareness that this is the first real work of art they will select as a couple. If you’re going to get a personalized work of art made to celebrate your love, why not make it intimate, meaningful, and fabulous?
In addition to wedding vows, I also do custom oil paintings. These can be landscapes with special significance, paintings of first homes, wedding portraits, ancestor paintings, pets, family trees, or more conceptual works of art based on the particular aesthetic of the couple.
What was the first artwork you ever sold?
When I was a teen, my high school purchased a figurative Raku sculpture from me. The first painting I ever sold was a self-portrait in oils that I made a few years later, in art school.
Which project have you enjoyed working on the most so far?
Sometimes, my patrons want a personalized work of art in the style of a famous painting they already love, and those projects are always really exciting challenges. It’s always fun to dust off my ghost painting robes. But my absolute favorite ketubah project was the first one I did after moving to Israel. A filmmaker contacted me to create something for her extremely original Gatsby style, circus themed wedding, which was right up my alley. (Vintage, unusual, and extravagant? Yes, please!) This one was a Luxe Narrative Ketubah with all the bells and whistles, so I got to use all my tiny brushes. She was one of the sweetest and most brilliantly expressive brides I’ve ever had the pleasure of collaborating with, and her magical telling of their love story had me so inspired I was bursting with happiness the entire time I worked on that ketubah. I heard afterwards that the Clintons attended their wedding, which was full of aerial artists, and all manner of dreamy circus-themed spectacles. The entire experience was surreal.
What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?
I’ll focus on the ketubah art here, since there are so many things I want to achieve… I would like to create more pieces for couples like the ones who have been finding me recently, looking for unusual or very personalized artwork. I hope to make custom ketubot accessible to less traditional couples who are looking for a way to honor their history while doing things their own way, and making the traditions their own. For example, I would love to create a ketubah that looks like the interior of a museum, for a gallery-hopping couple. The works of art on the wall could feature important elements from their love story together, mixed in with favorite real paintings, with the text rising on a scroll in the center of the palace-like interior, or ‘inscribed’ on the marble base of a central sculpture. I hope that looking at these types of works will remind people of all the love they have for each other and help them remain connected to their own sources of inspiration as they continue building on the work of art that is their shared reality.
Where can we find your work?
I just finished building our new custom ketubah website, BelovedKetubah.com. Our Etsy shop has a small selection of our customizable ketubot along with some other works of heirloom art, and we sometimes have sales there on one of a kind items. We love connecting on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook (where we have a brand new page), so feel free to stop in and say a virtual hello! If you want a more visual peek behind the curtain, you can see the structure we designed and built for our studios here: https://artsterminal.com/, or have a gander at my fine art website, to get an idea of some other art things you can commission for your home or business.