How I Became A Papercut Ketubah Artist
The Story of Papercuts By Oren, on becoming a ketubah artist, and a bit about how a ketubah is made
Although I didn’t start out as a ketubah artist, I got started with making art a long time ago. As a child I expressed myself through drawing and by the time I graduated from college, there was no doubt I would make my living as an artist. My fine arts education was classical through and through, and after university, I studied intensively at the Art Students League of New York, where I had the pleasure of learning with some of the best art teachers in the world. This was the foundation that I built on as I shifted focus toward specializing as a ketubah artist.
I became interested in papercutting because I was looking for a low toxicity medium to work with. Turpentine and many pigments are very harmful to be around and pretty bad for the environment, so I started by eliminating those first. As I continued to experiment with cleaner mediums, I eventually got rid of everything but the paper itself. Today I still use some non-toxic watercolors and acrylics, but my main focus is in papercutting since all you really need is a sheet of paper and a blade. As I got further involved in the art of papercutting I learned about its rich tradition and its link to Jewish heritage. I also started working on larger and larger works, some of which take up to three months to complete.
As my wife and I were planning our wedding, our rabbi offered us his stock ketubah. She thought we should have something nicer and asked me to design one for us, so I created something just for her. When she said I could sell papercut ketubot everything just clicked and Papercuts By Oren was born. Here was an idea that would allow me to work in the medium that I had already grown to love and to fully express myself as an artist at the same time. The best part about being a ketubah artist is that it allows me to create something for to the happiest day of a couple’s life. It is rewarding and worthwhile, and it’s something I do with great honor and pride. Every design I create is imbued with a sense of purpose and the joy I take in creating it.
Each ketubah design, whether it is a custom order or made for my shop, starts with tiny sketches. Lots and lots and lots of tiny sketches. I have books full of them, and that’s where I develop my ideas and get my inspiration. When I settle on a sketch I like, I draw it and redraw it until it starts looking like something I like. I make lots of design decisions at this point, including working out the physical structure of the piece. Because in papercutting I’m carving paper out of the whole, it has to hold up when you finally lift it up. Working out the engineering of a ketubah design is like figuring out an intricate puzzle because everything has to be connected just the right way. It is an immensely satisfying feeling that comes from holding a complete papercut — a single sheet of paper that holds an entire design in its very structure.
The final design stage is to import the drawing into the computer where I clean up the lines and adjust the symmetry. The computer is also where I do the typesetting. This is where the ketubah really takes its shape. Thanks to years of design experience, I’m an expert typesetter, and I make sure the text looks perfect every time. I go so far as to adjust the spacing between each individual letter in fractions of a millimeter so that every word takes up exactly the right amount of space. At this point, I can prepare the file for cutting. This entails reversing the image and reproducing it onto the back of the paper. The entire design becomes a series of extremely thin guidelines – so thin they’re barely perceptible without excellent lighting.
Cutting the design is slow and precise work that requires patience and a steady hand. A single slip-up will ruin the entire piece. A completed papercut is an absolute marvel. It is endlessly fascinating to look at and study. The main tools of a ketubah artist are a giant cutting pad the size of my whole work desk, a straight edge ruler, a Japanese NT cutter (more precise than an x-acto knife), and a surgical scalpel. Besides that, I have a good desk lamp and a magnifying visor to save my eyesight. I make each ketubah myself in my studio. I don’t send my designs out to be laser cut. Laser cutters leave jagged pixelated edges and the paper gets burned by the heat and ends up scorched permanently brown. I believe that if you’re ordering directly from the artist, you should be getting something the artist made, and not something that comes out of a factory.