It’s just thirteen more days til my wedding day! Which means thirteen more days to finish making my ketubah.
Yes, Miracle Man and I are getting married on December 28th, which makes me smile, and also shake my head with wonder. I’m rather baffled, in fact, because I never thought I’d get married again.
I never thought I’d want to get married again!
Almost twenty years ago, my first wedding was, rather unfortunately, the repository of all my hopes and dreams for my marriage, and my life. On an unconscious level, I think I believed that if I could make The Wedding perfect, then my life would be okay. If I could make The Wedding perfect, then maybe the flawed relationship would be okay, too.
Of course it didn’t work out that way. And yet with hindsight I can see that planning The Wedding was not only a very convenient excuse for putting off deciding what to do with my life for seven months, it turned out to be the ideal crucible to help me find my path.
Not only was The Wedding an incredibly creative production (my first really big creative effort after what felt like a lifetime of creativity-quashing academia), but it gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with people who were making their livings in all kinds of interesting and creative ways.
When I met with caterers, I thought to myself, “Gee, if only I knew how to cook, I could be a caterer…”
When I met with florists, I thought to myself, “Gee, if only I knew how to design flowers, I could be a wedding florist…”
When I met with photographers, I thought to myself, “Gee, if only I knew how to take photos, I could be a wedding photographer…”
And when I met with the six or so ketubah artists we were considering to make our Jewish marriage contract, I thought to myself, “Gee, if only I had any artistic ability and knew how to do calligraphy, I could be a ketubah artist…”
The sad thing is that I was so stuck in a fixed mindset back then that it didn’t occur to me that I could learn to do any of those things.
If you know my story, you know that I did eventually figure out that I wasn’t the un-creative, un-artistic oaf I thought myself to be. I ended up doing a deep dive into the art of calligraphy, and spinning that out into a long career as a professional calligrapher and ketubah artist, which continues to this day.
And now, almost twenty years later, I find myself confronting the very surprising opportunity to make my own ketubah, and honestly, my first response was, “No freakin’ way!”
Why not? Well, the obvious reasons:
First, Miracle Man is not Jewish.
(Um, reality check: probably at least half of my ketubah clients are “interfaith” couples themselves. And I, of all people, know that you don’t have to be Jewish to have a ketubah, or ketubah-like-document.)
And second, we’re not having a Jewish wedding.
(Um, reality check: probably at least a fifth of my ketubah clients are married by someone other than a rabbi or cantor. And I, of all people, know that you don’t need to have a Jewish wedding to have a ketubah, or ketubah-like-document.)
Still, for weeks I stalled out. Maybe I’d turn our vows into a calligraphy painting after the wedding, I thought, but I was not making a ketubah.
You’d almost think I was jaded, after seventeen years of being a ketubah artist! (She says, with a facetious glint in her eye.)
Not surprisingly, my “We’re not having a ketubah” position elicited a lot of shocked looks on the faces of people who know me. And I noticed that I felt rather weird about it, and somehow… incomplete.
Maybe I did want a ketubah after all. Maybe my resistance wasn’t about being jaded or MM not being Jewish or us not having a Jewish wedding (ya think?).
Maybe I was dealing with Resistance with a capital R.
In fact, as the wedding day drew ever nearer, I realized that my resistance wasn’t resistance to the idea of a ketubah. It was the kind of Resistance you feel when you really, really want something, but are afraid.
Afraid that you’ll mess it up.
Afraid that you’ll never be up to the task.
Afraid that you’ll disappoint yourself.
Afraid, in short, that you’re not, and could not ever possibly be, good enough.
Ah, yes. Those were the true source of my Resistance: the voices of gremlins, good old self-doubt and self-criticism, disguising themselves as Truth and Wisdom and Rationality.
The great thing about gremlin-whispering is that once you’ve got the official Gremlin-Whisperer Tool Belt you can tackle all sorts of Resistance.
Including “I don’t want to make a ketubah for my own wedding” Resistance.
I realized I was approaching my ketubah like a client project. I was spinning on a perfectionist line that had nothing to do with what I really wanted, and everything to do with the bride I was twenty years ago.
Back then, The Wedding was everything (case in point: when my best friend reminded me in the weeks before my first wedding that as long as we ended up married at the end of the day, nothing else really mattered, I had to kind of think about whether I thought that was true or not). Back then, everything had to be Perfect, or the sky would fall.
But I’m not living back then!
I’m living NOW, when the relationship is where the gold is, and the wedding is a small entertainment that we’re doing because it gives us pleasure to do so, and it gives our families pleasure, and that, in turn, gives us pleasure.
I realized that I was angsting over my ketubah as if it were the repository of all my hopes and dreams for my ENTIRE LIFE WITH MM. As if it had to be and say EVERYTHING, for ALL TIME.
Oh, for goodness sake.
No single piece of art can do that. Sheesh, knowing me and the way I change my mind, I’ll probably be bored with whatever I make within three weeks of finishing it anyway.
And I’m an artist, after all! I can make as many new pieces as I want! I don’t have to invest so much importance in any single piece!
Twenty years ago it felt as if everything depended on the absolute perfection of one dress, one ketubah, one flower arrangement. I’d only have that one opportunity, after all.
Well, I refuse to accept that flawed logic anymore. I get to have as many beautiful dresses as I want. If I want a pretty bouquet, I can darn well buy (or learn to make) a pretty bouquet any time I want! And if I want a meaningful piece to hang on my wall, I can make a new one anytime.
So rather than approaching my ketubah like a client project, clearly all I needed was to approach my ketubah like a Creative Sandbox project!
And that, dear reader, is exactly what I’ve been doing.
Instead of an anxiety-provoking pressure cooker, this project has become a total blast!
I don’t have pics of the ketubah to show you yet, because beyond coming up with the overall design concept and the text layout, I haven’t actually started it. However, I’ve been playing with test pieces, to try out some of the materials and techniques I plan to use with the ketubah. Here are pics of an 8″ canvas that’s been a lot of fun, and which I’m pretty pleased with.
First, I primed the canvas with watercolor ground. After that was dry, I wetted a small palette of various shades of purple that I’d used for some previous project, and added squares of color around the edges with a flat brush.
While those were still somewhat wet, I roughly traced around the squares with light blue watercolor pencil.
Then I re-wetted the center of the canvas and allowed the colors to bleed into one another, splashing some water droplets on for an extra measure of randomness.
Here’s how it looked after the canvas was mostly dry again:
Next I tore a 5″ square of Arches 140# hot press watercolor paper, and painted it with several washes of different shades of purple, blotting with a paper towel before each wash had time to dry.
This created a textured, “parchment-like” finish that I really liked!
But what to write on it? The obvious thing, since this was a test piece, was to use the text from our ketubah. But why not make this piece something in its own right, rather than a test that I’ll simply gesso over later?
Calligraphers love lists (great for practicing our letters!), so I figured why not write out a list of purple words? Up I went to thesaurus.com, where I found a bunch of synonyms for purple, and even discovered two words I’d never heard before (can you guess which ones?)
I didn’t do any copyfitting, no lining up, no measuring — I just dipped my pen in Ziller Wild Viola Violet (find it here, too) and started writing at the upper left. I got a bit nervous when I was half-way through that I’d never pull this off, but miraculously (and no doubt thanks to 18 or so years as a calligrapher), it worked!
This is one of the things I love about modern, irregular lettering: lots of room to stretch and shrink letters as necessary!
Here’s the newly calligraphed square (still curvy from getting wet with the watercolor washes) resting on the painted canvas:
Next step: collaging the paper to the canvas.
This one had me in fits. There are so many ways to adhere two things together, but not all of them are archival, and not all of them will result in a flat finish.
For the ketubah I may resort to Beva 371 film, a heat-activated film and one of my favorite adhesives, which I used to make this ketubah, and this ketubah, and this one, and this one, too. I’m going to consult with a conservator before I decide.
For the test, I tried out using Golden Soft Gel (Gloss). First I fixed the canvas and the front of the paper with Spectra-fix. After that was dry, I painted a thin layer of Soft Gel on the canvas, and on the back of the paper, to help increase adhesion. (This post explains the process.)
When those preporatory layers were dry, I painted fresh layers of Soft Gel on the canvas and the back of the paper, and rubbed like mad to get them to stick together.
Because I didn’t want to stretch out the canvas, I flipped the whole thing over, and burnished from the back of the canvas. (Make sure the surface you put your art on is clean! A sheet of palette paper would work great for this.)
Here it is after collaging:
When I posted this in-process pic on my Facebook page, I got comments asking me why I’d want to add to it. It looked done to them.
Well, I kinda liked it too, but again, the purpose of this piece was to test out things I might want to use for the ketubah. And I had a lot more I wanted to test!
First, I pulled out a jar of Golden Clear Granular Gel that I’d just picked up at the art store. It looked fun, so I added a layer over the darker violet squares in the painted border. The white squares are the Clear Granular Gel — like Elmer’s Glue, it’s white when wet, but dries clear.
I also started stitching around the edges of the paper, using waxed linen thread in a serendipitously perfect shade of violet:
Sewing through 140# paper and canvas takes some effort. A thimble is pretty much required if you don’t want to stab yourself with the back end of the needle while trying to push the eye through!
I also use needle nose jewelry pliers to grab the needle and pull it through from the back:
You can see the Clear Granular Gel has dried clear, adding some rock-sugar crystal-like texture, which I like a lot. The stitching was, as usual, the most tedious part of the process, but it’s also sort of meditative. And I just love the texture that it brings to the whole.
Next step: The finishing layer(s).
Since my goal is to end up with a piece that I don’t need to frame under glass, and since I know paper will degrade if left out on its own without protection, and I know that acrylic is porous and will also become damaged over time by tiny bits of dust collecting in the pores unless it’s varnished or sealed, I want to seal the piece somehow. But I don’t know yet exactly how…
Thankfully, I know a conservator, Karen Zukor, whose workshop on adhesives and collage media back in 1996 is what taught me about Beva 371 film. I’ve got an email in to her to ask her advice on the best way to seal the piece, and she said she’d get back to me on Monday. I’ll keep you posted.
And in the meantime, onward with the ketubah! And thank goodness for the Creative Sandbox!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!