Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fresh ideas I can relate to: Ketubah Love by Toby Simon

Soul Delights Anniversary Print
I bumped into Toby on one of my etsy searches to see what new ketubah artists had emerged while I was away travelling. I was interested to see if there were any new trends emerging that would inspire me.

When I saw Toby’s “Soul Delights Anniversary Print”, I was smitten immediately. You all know how much I love patterns and fabric design. Well, here is someone, who often makes her own fabric and THEN creates beautiful fabric art compositions, with this fabric and THEN adds her own calligraphy to create magnificent ketubot. Now that is a fresh idea I can relate to! My heart was bursting!

I knew there had to be an interesting story behind this multi-talented woman. I contacted her almost immediately to congratulate her on her original work and ask her if she would be willing to be interviewed here.

I could tell right away that she was a thoughtful person. I provided my questions and she carefully crafted her answers. The resulting interview, I hope will give you an insight into the passions and process of this amazingly talented lady.

Tree of Life Ketubah

With no further adieu, may I introduce Toby Simon!

Q. Hi Toby. Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

A. I’m an artist in San Francisco whose creative interests range from drawing, writing calligraphy, playing the violin, and quilting. I live with my very vibrant and inquisitive daughter, Mona, and husband, Dave, whose interests are equally as eclectic as mine (everything from beer making to quilting to gardening to pickling). While my full time job is raising my daughter, I am an innately creative person and aspire to turn my art into a sustainable income.

Q. Now let’s hear about the creative part in a bit more detail. Tell us about your three passions — Judaica, calligraphy, and fabric arts.
Merging calligraphy with illustration is a really fun technique that can bring life to words and depth to an image. This tree is filled with the words “Etz Chaim” and “Chai” which I laid out to give texture to the leaves and dimension to the trunk.

This gesture of a Hannukah Menorah was painted with an old stick of mascara . I used colored pencil to strengthen the form and illuminate the image.
A. Having grown up with bits of Judaica throughout almost every room in my parents’ house, designing Jewish art was always on my radar. After graduating college I began applying my English calligraphy to a stationery business (my other Etsy shop), but still kept an eye on what Ketubah artists were doing since it was an art form that always excited me. For me, and, I would venture to guess, for many Jewish calligraphers, designing Ketubot is a natural direction to explore after discovering Hebrew calligraphy; it is a wonderful way to showcase your love for lettering.

It wasn’t until some time in ’08 that I finally decided to try my hand at illustrating and painting a Ketubah. I was not happy with the results and felt extremely discouraged. It looked forced and plain and didn’t hold a candle to what was out there. I knew the only way to compete with the countless talented artists in the field was to find my own artistic voice. It was particularly designers like Melissa Dinwiddie whose beautiful work I used as motivation to improve my own standard.

Q. But Toby, how did you dream up combining all three?

A. It wasn’t until a few years later when I discovered my knack for combining fabrics and patterns did I realize I finally had an art form worthy enough to apply to the world of Ketubot.

Combining the three elements was actually the easiest part. There’s a satisfaction we get in bottlenecking our passions into one solid direction. I had the Judaica theme to guide my new art form; A Carte Blanche aesthetic (“painting” with fabrics) with a theme I loved (Judaica art with lots of room for lettering). It was a relief.

Q. “Painting with fabrics” is a beautiful way of describing what you are doing. Are you printing your own fabric?

A. Yes, I’ve begun designing and printing my own. At the moment I mostly use ready designed fabric scraps that I’ve collected from stores, quilting festivals and over-the-hill clothing. However when I can’t find a particular pattern in my stash I will create it myself. Another reason I’ve begun designing fabrics is because it allows me continue drawing, painting, and experimenting with writing tools; skills I’ve been building since college. The drawing table is my happy place and I really don’t want to abandon it!

Written with flat edged pen fountain pen and shaded with colored pencil.  I repeated and staggered the block of letters to create this fabric
 Q. Are you willing to share your secrets? Can you tell us how you do it?

A. Sure! Designing a fabric starts with an illustration or motif that I scan and repeat in Photoshop. I then print it on my ink jet printer onto C. Jenkins Miracle Fabric Sheets. You simply feed the fabric sheet through the printer, press it with a warm iron, and then peel off the paper backing. It’s genius if you only need small swatches of patterns. I’ve also sent some prints to Spoonflower when I wanted to have a ½ or full yard.

Q. How long have you been developing this completely unique style?

A. For about two and a half years I’d say. Right before my daughter was born, my husband surprised me with a sewing machine. I’d been making him little patches by hand as birthday presents – cutting animal shapes and sewing them on hats and scarves – which took a very long time, and I think he was curious to see what I would make with a machine. I went searching for reading material on sewing basics, but then I would get sidetracked by books about patchwork and fabric collage, and I ended up delving into that art form and running with it.

Q. I imagine, I am not the first to shower you with accolades about your work. How is your work being received?

A. Thanks! I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback about how they are unique and not a style people have seen with Ketubot before. I also receive a lot of comments such as “I wish I could get married again so I could order a Ketubah from you” or “I wish I was Jewish…” For this reason I've started selling several of the designs as art prints without the Ketubah text so that anyone can enjoy them.

Tree of Life Art Print

Q. I see that your ketubot on etsy are prints of your fabric art with calligraphy overlaid. Have you ever created a fabric ketubah with hand lettered text right on the fabric? If someone wanted to commission you to do that, would it be possible?

A. Yes I’d be happy to discuss creating a commissioned Ketubah. While I probably wouldn’t write out that large a body of text directly onto a piece of fabric, I can easily scan a large body of text and print that onto a Fabric Sheet and sew that into an original quilt. To inquire about a fully commissioned Ketubah people can get in touch with me through my Etsy shop or directly through my website at www.ketubahlove.com.

Q. How do you see this developing over time? Do you see this evolving into other Judaica one of a kind pieces?

A. I do have big plans for Ketubah Love. I’m working on evolving it into a Judaica shop with fabric goodies and stationery for Jewish holidays and Simchot. Mona has just started preschool and I have a baby boy due in November, and I plan to use the time before his arrival to churn out some exciting work.

WOW! The more I learn about Toby, the more amazed I am.

To find out more about Toby and her creations, you can visit her ketubah love etsy shop, her Savor the date etsy shop and her website (where you can see actual video of her process). And if you head to, and “Like” her Facebook page you can be included in Rosh Hashanah give away to one of her new Facebook fans really soon. I recommend coming back often to check up on her. I expect great things from Toby. She is a true artist with a passion, and very high standards for herself and her work. The sky is the limit on what fresh idea she will come up with next.

Thanks Toby for sharing your story with us! And best of luck with Ketubah Love!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Toby's art combines several of my faves too: the use of text as a decorative element in applique and quilting. Beautiful!