The Who, What & Why of the Artistic Process
We sat down a few days ago with Betsy Platkin Teutsch, a prominent figure in the contemporary Jewish renaissance, the author of 100 Under $100, One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women, and an accomplished Judaica artist, renowned for her captivating ketubot, ceremonial objects and book illustrations. Our questions and Betsy’s answers, follow:
Q: Why do you do what you do, or create what you create?
A: I create ketubot. For 42 years!!
Q: How long have you’ve been working as an artist? Did you enjoy any other careers?
A: Originally I was a Jewish educator. At this point I am an author, having just published 100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women. It is essentially a curated collection of global Tikkun Olam (“REPAIRING THE WORLD”) projects, and a very beautiful full-color book featuring photographs. My artist’s eye translated very well into photo curation, as you can see.
Q: How did you become interested in the medium/media you use?
A: I fell in love with calligraphy as a middle school student. My teacher had lettered her roll book (remember those?) . When I became a serious student of Hebrew, it lined up. The illuminating came later, kind of an outgrowth of high class doodling.
Q: Did you receive formal training or have an apprenticeship?
Q: Is there anything interesting or unusual in the creative process that you would like to share?
A: At this point in my career I only do lettering, on already lithographed texts. When I set down and start the calligraphy process it is meditative. I actually start to hear music. As my body focuses on the lettering task, which is automatic, I think other parts of my brain become more active. It is quite lovely!! Especially for someone like me who can’t actually carry a tune!
Q: Please tell us about your favorite piece of art you’ve created.
A: My all-time bestseller is Trees of Life. I have done 3 editions, beyond my wildest imagination. So naturally it is my favorite.
Q: Please tell us about the funniest or most unusual experience you have had as an artist.
A: I designed Judaica that has been sent off to remote places. My artwork in the Reconstructionist Prayerbook Kol Haneshamah is, for example, used in Beijing and my daughter’s best friend saw it. One of my nephews reported seeing my tambourine design in Uganda, where he had a shabbat with the Abayudaya Jewish community. This is certainly fun, if not necessarily funny.
Betsy has specialized in illuminated Judaica and Hebrew calligraphy for over 40 years and has designed custom ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) for hundreds of couples. She illustrated Michael Strassfeld’s classic, The Jewish Holidays and was the art editor and illustrator for Kol Haneshamah , the Reconstructionist movement’s prayerbook series. She is the coauthor of The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols. In 1997 she created her first tambourine and eight more designs have followed.
Betsy serves, along with Karen (co-owner of the Aesthetic Sense) on the board of Fair Trade Judaica.