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Doing It All: Designer and Illustrator Elli Chortara

posted by Arielle Angel on February 8, 2012

It’s been a busy couple weeks here at Ketuv: new inquiries and new ketubot! Last week, we introduced you to Will Deutsch, and announced his new Ahava ketubah for Ketuv’s line. This week, meet designer and illustrator Elli Chortara, and check out her totally fresh ketubot!

Elli’s inspiration for these ketubot is “windswept”– the idea of the wind blowing through a specific scene and rearranging it– in this case, a garden and a field. We think it has a wonderfully graphic and even deco-ish feel.

Bird in the Garden

In the Fields

We are so consistently impressed with Elli and how many different kinds of projects she is involved in, so we recently asked her how she finds gigs and projects and manages her time, and how she developed her own signature style.

Ketuv: What are you working on right now?

Elli Chortara: I am currently working on a series of robot-animal-like creatures, and I am also writing a story about each, a story that communicates messages that go beyond the story of the character to tap into something more satirical, ambiguous or hidden. This will develop into a book project and perhaps a compact theme for a solo exhibition. Visual storytelling is something that I would like to work more with. Imaginary creatures and characters fascinate me!

The Sleepwalker

That Report

Recently, I have been commissioned to illustrate poetry for an Ireland-based poetry magazine called The Shop: A Magazine of Poetry, which is something I find very exciting as a more conceptual part of my practice. The interpretation of words and feelings, moods or messages is something that has always been latent in my work.

I have also been pairing illustration and design by doing some poster and banner design for an arts festival and arts-based organization, Rowan Arts, in London.

K: You do everything from hat design to illustration for lit mags. How you find different projects/gigs?

EC: Sometimes, people I already know might commission me for private work. Sometimes, it will be people who have seen the work online. The important thing is to be able to build a network— to make sure that you build client relationships built in trust and mutual understanding. I maintain a blog as another way of keeping in touch with people and making sure people see the work.

I check out art sites like ArtsJobs in the UK and Re-Title to see if there are any magazines, exhibitions, online sites or zines that need illustrators, and that match my style, and I send them work samples and a link to my website. I am a member of several networks like Behance and the Association of Illustrators (AOI), which have valuable resources. I use social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and I often do rounds of emails to potential clients and promote my work on artist websites. Of course, if I get the job, and the work is published, that is also another promotional tool for the work itself.

New Era 90th Birthday Hat Design

K: How do you manage your time for all these projects?

EC: The main challenge is to keep myself organized as much as possible, which is not always easy. At the moment, I have a comprehensive schedule on my calendar and mobile phone combining many different work schedules. Keeping one foot on the ground can save time and make life easier.

The other side of things is about maintaining my inspiration levels, which is very much related to exploring new things. I want to make sure to stay active: listening to new music, having a constructive chat, exploring nature, noting down things, and being the person I want to be, despite the everyday challenges and the limited amount of time.

I must remember to pause and take a moment to reflect inwards, as it is often vital to the success of an otherwise hectic day. The important thing for me is to look at the time and to make time, to always look forward to what’s next on the horizon and to maintain a positive attitude.

Black and White illustration for a book of folktales

K: How did you develop your unique style?

EC: Developing a style takes time. It began, for me, during my MA course in Illustration at the Camberwell College of Arts (University of the Arts London). The research process there helped me decide which direction to take stylistically.

But that was only the beginning. You don’t usually leave art school with a ready portfolio or a commissioned project. It’s the work that I have done since then—the experimentations and risks I’ve taken—that have helped most in formulating my current style. It still is a long, joyful process and I don’t think it will ever really end. The work should consistently be pushed further and developed, based on new influences, research, exploration, feedback, and one’s own experience.

For more information on Elli Chortara, visit her artist page. You can also check out her new ketubot, Bird in the Garden, and In The Fields.

Artist Wishlist: Sam Winston

posted by ketuv_admin on October 5, 2011

We’ve been into Sam Winston for quite a while. He first came to our attention through an interview he gave in Beached Miami. As you can see, he has a wonderful way of deconstructing texts.

From the piece, Orphan, 2010: “Since 1999 I collated scraps of paper, diary notes and typed word document all pertaining to this one idea I was trying to express through a story. And when in 2010 I finally did reach a final draft, I also realised I had generated a history of documents that said something about the process of writing itself.

For Orphan I wanted to present both my final tale and show the archaeology of that writing process. By cutting out the words from my previous drafts I created clouds of text that I could use as the ‘typeface’ for my final draft. It is a book in which you have both the story and it’s history presented on the same page.”

From Made Up True Story, 2005: “The way you navigate a timetable is very different to the way you read a short story. I wanted to take these different types of visual navigation and introduce them to each other: a timetable re-ordering all the words from beauty and the beast, or a newspaper report on Snow White.”

From Rage, one of three works in the project entitled Romeo and Juliet, a work-in-progress: “The images are large columns of text that contain the whole of Shakespeare’s play. Instead of presenting the play in its chronological order however – the text has been divided into the three emotional states – Passion, Rage, and Indifference. Every line said in ‘passion’ forms the first image, ‘rage’ the second and ‘indifference’ the third.”

Of course, we couldn’t help but think: what would it look like if Sam Winston made a ketubah?

Ketubah texts can be a tricky thing. According to who you ask, there is only one acceptable text, and it is written in the ancient language of Aramaic and has not evolved for thousands of years. And then, depending on who you ask, there are a multitude of acceptable texts, and they are constantly evolving to meet the needs of a diverse and modern Jewish community. It seems that Sam Winston’s approach to text, and to creating image from text, could encapsulate both views in a piece that somehow charts the evolving history of the ketubah text, while allowing them both to be present. Or what if the artist chose to mine only one text, let’s say, the Orthodox text, and allowed a new meaning to emerge from his deconstruction of it?

Of course, judging from Winston’s work, this ketubah would be a pretty radical departure from traditional ones. It would almost surely be illegible, at least in part. While this causes significant problems if the couple views their ketubah as strictly a legal document, the couple who looks at the ketubah as a symbolic exchange of vows, will have less of an obstacle. In fact, the illegibility could add a level of intimacy, as only the couple would know what the original text was, and the agreement between them becomes a private, sacred thing.


12 Months Rent: Tim Fite

posted by ketuv_admin on September 12, 2011

Since the beginning of 2011, on the 12th of every month, Ketuv artist Tim Fite releases a limited edition print through his Etsy shop, as part of a larger series called “12 Months Rent,” ostensibly created to fulfill that most dreaded of New York City living expenses. Fite, who lives in Brooklyn and works at the wonderful Center for Book Arts in Manhattan, sells the lino-cut prints at the insanely low price of $25 to make sure that he approaches his goal of selling out all 50 prints, all 12 months (and because he’s a pretty cool dude). To this end, he offers rewards to repeat buyers– “triple threats” who have bought three prints, or to buyers who buy all 12 in the series. Both receive “downloads of unreleased, never before heard, extra-magic Tim Fite musical artifacts” (did we mention Tim is also a pretty accomplished musician?) and buyers of all 12 months receive an original one of a kind drawing made by Tim especially for you (unfortunately, if you’re hearing of 12 Months Rent from this blog post you’re too late for this).

We think this is pretty savvy for an artist who once told us “art is not a business, but selling art is; I’d choose making over selling any day.”

This month’s print is called “DAM BIKES“, and it depicts “a family of bicycle beavers building a dam out of beautiful bicycles.” Tim also adds that “in celebration of the halfway mark of the 12 Months Rent print series, fall has officially been declared – RAMBO SEASON! Any order placed at my etsy store from now until Dec. 12 will be sweetened by a FREE RAMBO PRINT! There will be a new rambo print each month – collect them all!” (RAMBO SEASON? We don’t always know what he’s talking about, but we love him anyway.)

Dam Bikes

September’s RAMBO print

Previous 12 Months Rent print: “Old Friends”

Previous 12 Months Rent print: “Hobble Horse”

One of the things we love about Tim, besides the fact that he signs off all his emails with “Zang” (for those of you non-Wayne’s World fans– and I shudder to think that you are out there– that’s Cantonese for “excellent”), is that he’s always on the move– whether it’s a music show, a new album, a new print, an exhibition or whatnot. We strongly suggest you get on his mailing list.

Straw Hill Farm

posted by ketuv_admin on September 2, 2011

Ketuv artist Rachelle Tolwin and her husband Chaim just left New York City after more than a decade for Sundown, NY, with intentions of developing an inspiring and rejuvenating space for creatives. We thought we’d check in with them and see how the preparations are going.

Our blue mountain home

Greetings from Sundown! Sundown is a magical mountain hamlet located in the southeastern tip of the Catskills Mountains in NY.  My husband and I decided to make the move up here after about 15 years living in and around NYC. Our purpose for obtaining this land was to develop a safe, beautiful and inspiring place where like-minded people can go to unite with nature, rejuvenate, be inspired and create. We feel that there is a strong need for this in our lives and in the lives of our family, friends and community.  We have lived in the mountains for about two months and I am blown away by the beauty and inspiration I experience here. I feel very blessed to be living here and am excited to share it.

Our place is called Straw Hill Farm. There are signs all around the place with the Straw Hill Farm name and we decided to pay homage to its 200 year history and keep it. The day we closed on the house, we discovered why it may have been named Straw Hill. We found endless amounts of tiny wild strawberries throughout the field. There are many such moments of wonder and joy here.

Our goal is to create a home that is as self-sustaining as possible. We plan to build a greenhouse in order to garden year-round, and we also plan to garden on the land.  We are looking into solar and alternative fuel and building options. We are also working on renovating the barn and hosting small art, music, yoga and healing retreats. We believe this is a special place and we love to discover ways it can be a space for creative events.  We are doing a lot of the work ourselves and brainstorming with others on ideas about transforming our new home.

Me with one of our newborn guinea keets. A new addition to the family and they eat ticks, too!


The barn

Barn swallows in the morning

Everyday brings a new learning experience. I grew up in the suburbs and spent the other half of my life living in cities. This has been a considerable shift coming from that culture to a small town. I am embracing this new change and enjoying it too. We are also only about 2 ½ hours from New York City. It’s important to us to keep a close connection to the city, and it doesn’t feel too distant.

As my life takes different paths, I find myself more open to the different paths my art may take. Nature has always been a theme in my work, and being surrounded by it is having an impact on how I think about art and the art I want to make.  I feel like my art is on a new adventure as I transition to mountain country existence.

The first piece I made up here.

We created a website about our new place: It’s fun to keep our family and friends updated on our life up here with pictures and a blog. We also created an online store which will feature art, music and other miscellaneous and special things. Even though we’re only in the beginning stages, we welcome contact, suggestions, moral support on our contact page.

You can find out more about Rachelle Tolwin on her artist page.


So what’s this blog all about?

posted by ketuv_admin on August 25, 2011

Glad you asked! Well, we launched on August 10th and since then we’ve just been getting our bearings, peering into the blinding expanse of social media marketing like little deer in headlights, bringing new meaning to the words “learning curve.” For one thing, if you’ve sent us an email through our contact form in the last two weeks—yeah, we didn’t get it. But now that’s fixed so feel free to reach out again or email us at So what’s next… Blogging! We wanted to give you an idea of what to expect from the Ketuv blog. Of course, this brief list is by no means the extent of it—we plan to cover a range of different topics relating to Jews and art and weddings (and sometimes all three simultaneously). Here are some themes we’ve outlined in our first editorial meetings: Ketubahs 101: Ketubahs are what we’re all about, and on this blog you’ll find valuable information on the history (and future) of ketubahs, as well as how to choose the right ketubah for you. As early as next week, we’ll have guest blogger Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer, author of the Creative Jewish Wedding Book, to check in and drop some knowledge! Remixing the Jewish Wedding: What keeps Judaism relevant is the little ways that Jewish people make the tradition their own. That’s why we plan to feature ways that people are updating/personalizing/remixing Jewish traditions in their own wedding ceremonies. Whether it be a homemade, handmade chuppah, or a rewritten sheva brachot (seven blessings), we want to be a resource for inspiring ways that real people use the Jewish tradition to connect to their identities. Every so often, we’ll throw in remixed Jewish traditions from other holidays and ceremonies, for good measure. And, of course, if you’ve got a suggestion, or want your “remixed Jewish wedding” featured, send us an email at Artist Wishlist: We’ve always got one eye on the art world, since that’s where we’re from! When we see work we love, and especially work that would translate well to a ketubah—whether it be famed artists, or someone’s little sister, living working artists, or old deceased dudes and dudettes—we’ll post it here. Artist Features: Spotlight on our artists, including studio visits, exhibitions, interviews, new work and, of course, new ketubahs. The Biz: We’re figuring out this “small business” thing as we go along, and we’re eager to share what we learn. Maya, who is 1/2 of Ketuv, starts an MBA program this fall, so look out for the fruits of her edumacation. Puppies: Ok, no puppies. But wouldn’t it be nice if that were part of the job? In the meantime, send us suggestions by email at, or on Twitter @KetuvTweets. Enjoy!