Meet The Artist: Sharon Rotman

© Sharon Rotman

Born just outside of Toronto, Canada, Sharon moved to Israel when she was 17 and was immersed in the culture. She finished high school, the military, and attended Shenkar College for Graphic and New Media Design. After working for a period at an advertising agency, Sharon decided to return to Canada, where she worked in the Graphic and User Experience Design Industry for 15 years.  

She worked in small design studios, large advertising agencies and in-house in a corporate environment prior to starting North Hill Judaic, an Etsy shop selling handcrafted Judaica art prints.  Her products range from home blessings for your sister’s first apartment to an heirloom Ketubah for your wedding day, Sharon looks at the collection of our customs and traditions and interprets that into a Judaica art piece.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Ever since I was a young girl I’ve been creating. I would make handmade gifts for friends and family, I would get an idea or see something interesting and try to make it. I’ve always had more ideas than time to pursue them. I am passionate about creating, I am passionate about design. I have worked as a designer in both Tel- Aviv and Toronto in numerous positions. Throughout the years, I have felt a desire to go back to crafting things by hand, something where I could decide on the creative language and the direction my finished product would take. Using what I have learnt as a graphic designer but softening it and adding those hand touches that make a handmade item so unique.

I am very traditional by nature and find family values to be one of my highest priorities. A few years ago, my father became sick and it made me think a lot about my childhood, how my brothers and I grew up and all of the traditions that we followed yearly. Now, that I have my own children I see how important it is that they speak Hebrew, they understand their culture, heritage, holidays and what their cultural background is all about. Every holiday and tradition has its own special elements; the songs, the food, the family, the togetherness. Whether you are an Ashkenazi Jew or Sephardic, reform or conservative, practicing or not, I feel strongly that being Jewish ties us together.

When I first came up with the concept of my shop I had an idea that I could take all of these thoughts and tie them together using my skills as a designer and create Jewish items. This idea has developed and evolved into a collection of customs and traditions, which I am slowly growing while I explore and create contemporary Judaica. As much as I want to encourage tradition, I also understand that people want beautiful things in their homes, and I hope that my shop will inspire and give them a new view of what Judaica can be.

What inspired you to become an artist?

There’s a picture of me, I’m about 3 years old, we’re at a festival. I’m wearing a smock and painting away at an easel, I’ve always loved creating, I’m a maker at heart. I feel like there is this figurative tool box of skills that you develop through life, constantly learning new things, adding them to your toolbox. I think an artist is a person who is full of ideas and understands how to choose the right tool in order to implement that idea; “create their vision”. I also teach design at a local college where I try to give my students these basic skills (or start to fill their toolbox). It’s really up to them though, to envision their concept and create it. I love to create, I love to sit in my studio and have all of the components of the art piece spread out in front of me and then to put it together like a puzzle. Completing a piece, being able to look at it and say yes this is what I saw in my mind, gives me a feeling of accomplishment and I feel very grateful that I can do this work on a daily basis.

© Sharon Rotman

What is your specialty?

I would say my specialty is intricacies. I make very detailed, very ornate pieces. I often work with layers where each layer has its own special element. I love working with gold foil, I love working with paper cutting. I don’t do paper cuts the way it is often seen today, I tend to have multiple small elements that I put together to create the whole. My paper cuts stand out from the page, flowers that are individually cut and layered together. A foreground with Magen David’s cut out, a gold layer with a large Hamsa cut out, a background with the blessing focusing on the elegant text, together creates the art piece.

How and where do you work?

I have a home studio where I create the majority of my works but I always have a sketch book with me as creating the initial concept for a piece can happen anywhere. I think it’s really important to start by sketching an idea on paper, formulating your idea, creating drafts and iterations and understanding how this piece should take form. Following this concept phase, I’ll start working on the computer, creating artboards for each layer of the design. Sending this to print is by no means the end phase, the paper quality is very important to me and I’m always looking for the richest quality to work with. And then, probably the most enjoyable part for me, putting it all together. Adding those hand touches, the embellishments, the hand painted elements, the foil, all the best parts that make a handmade piece unique.

What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

I have just bought a set of water colours that I’m absolutely loving, I keep coming back to them again and again. That and my Wacom tablet which lets me draw directly into my computer, it allows me to create a really organic natural drawing digitally.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?

I’m a collector of inspiration, I’m very visual, I see inspiration everywhere. I take photos of things I see, I keep packaging, clippings, bits of paper, and of course Pinterest boards. I have boxes full of resources that give me a glimmer of an idea. My prime tools are my mood boards, where I take a large page and fill it collage style for a specific project. It’s a jumping off point whenever I’m starting my creative process. Israel is my go to for themes, it’s such a rich culture with so much depth. I’m currently exploring the nature that is often present in the Jewish motifs; pomegranate fruits, olive trees and the wildflowers of Israel.

What projects are you currently working on?

I often balance working on multiple projects at the same time.  Working on a larger piece and a smaller piece in parallel allows me to conceptually step away from a project and return with fresh eyes. This can give you a new perspective and some insight which can really improve a piece. I am working on a Ketubah design with a multi-layer pomegranate background. I am also working on a Birkat Haesek (a blessing which is placed at the entrance to a place of business). I’m trying out a new theme of mandalas in this piece.

What is your favourite item in your current collection?

I would have to pick the Jerusalem Moroccan themed Ketubah as my favourite piece. I was very pleased with the cut out of Jerusalem that has a hint of shimmer and the words “I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine” in gold foil. This alongside the ornate border creates a striking balance, in my opinion. I am also quite fond of a paisley patterned Birkat Habyit (Jewish home blessing), I love pattern and try to include it in whenever I can.

How do you know when a piece is finished? 

I start the project off with a clear vision of where I want to go with a piece, this doesn’t mean that it will always follow that exact path. Sometimes plans change, but for the most part when a piece hits the original idea then it’s time to assess whether it is complete, whether or not there is more to be done. I sometimes have to stop myself from doing any more, it’s important to take a step back and understand if I do any more it will be overdone.

Do you do bespoke work?

Yes, I’ve had people approach me, having seen a different project of mine but they had something slightly different in mind. Then we work together to fulfil that vision.

What was the first artwork you ever sold?

I think it was a set of Hanukkah gift tags. Along with creating Ketubahs and Blessings for the home or life events, I like to create some smaller pieces for the holidays. Greeting Cards, place Cards, Challah covers etc. This gives me a variety of creative outlets, I have the opportunity to create different styles or techniques on smaller scale.

Which project have you enjoyed working on the most so far?

I enjoyed most working on the Lily of the Valley Ketubah, I incorporated paper cuttings that literally jump out of the page. But the reason I found this piece so special is the water colour portion, I ended up using a white iridescent paint that gave the flowers a very unique quality.

What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?

I have a simple goal of creating beautiful pieces that will allow me to explore my creative expression. I feel very gratified when individuals choose to display my pieces in their life. 

Where can we find your work?

I have an Etsy shop you can also find me on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook @northhilljudaic

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