New art piece: If I Am Not For Myself, Who Will Be For Me? (2015 Edition)

I’m pleased to report that my Etsy shop, Schultz Yakovetz Judaica, is doing well. Not “quit my day job” well or anything, but I’ve literally sold more art in the last six months than I had in all the previous years—total—of selling via my website. (For that matter, it seems to have raised the profile of my own site, since a few of those recent sales came directly through my site rather than the Etsy shop. And even that was a statistically significant uptick.)

ifiam_originalMost recently, I happened to see a few orders in a row for one of my earliest pieces, a setting of Rabbi Hillel’s famous aphorism in Pirkei Avot:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But when I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?
(Pirkei Avot 1:14)

Fun fact: I first created this piece in a handmade version as a gift for my dad back in 1994. The typeset version was designed some years afterward, but no later than 2001.

In other words, it’s gotten a little dated… especially as typographic decorative art has really come into fashion over the last few years (everywhere from Etsy to CB2 to Target) with a more contemporary aesthetic.

Looking at it with fresh eyes, I decided that it was really time for an update. So I created a new version.

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While I was at it, I posted a downloadable version so that buyers can print their own copy (at any desired size) locally, rather than have me ship them an unframed print. One download includes PDFs of all three pieces.

Carpe diem!

New for 2015: I’m in a book!

Last month, I received an email inquiry from a photographer named Susan Ressler, formerly of Indiana (she is Professor Emerita of Visual and Performing Arts at Purdue University) and now of New Mexico. elements

Susan was preparing to self-publish a book of her fine art photography from a recent trip to Israel, organized (as it happened) into sections based on the elements: Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. She had come across my 2007 piece Elements: The Holy Cities and wanted to include it in the introduction to her book, as a way of setting the stage!

Her completed book, Understanding Israel (subtitle: “Jaffa is More than Oranges”), is now live on a print-on-demand site called Blurb. It’s available in two trim sizes: 8×10 ($45.99) or the more luxurious 11×13 ($99.95), both in a dramatic landscape format. If you click on the title above, you can browse through the entire book. For the curious, my contribution is on page 10 :-) but the rest is well worth a look.

Below is the official Blurb “badge” for the book:

Understanding Israel (8x10
Understanding …
Jaffa is More than…
By Susan Rebecca Ressler
Photo book

 
(And also, since apparently this is my first post in the new year: Happy 2015!)

Designs for the Blue Hill Troupe’s 2014 Ruddigore

As many of you know, for the last two years I have been a Backstage member of the Blue Hill Troupe, Ltd., the only musical theater group in New York City to donate its net proceeds to charity.

Last year, I was privileged to serve as the Troupe’s Marketing Graphics coordinator, as well as the lead Program Designer. Since I’m still catching the blog up on all my projects from Spring 2014, here’s a look at the materials I produced for their April 2014 show, Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore.

[portraits]

The original Act II sketch.

Historically, the Troupe has often based show graphics on the concept sketches of the set design. For this Ruddigore, I was totally enamored of the richly toned watercolor artwork that the set designer (noted NYC architect Byron Bell) produced for the iconic Act II “ancestor portraits” set, so I was keen to figure out a way to work with that.

As a background for text, however, this selection presented some challenges: it’s not only very busy, it’s also highly discontinuous, the dark background being heavily cut by the white grid of the portrait frames. My techniques for adapting to this background included:

  • deepening the color values as much as I could without losing contrast or detail;
  • using white (or “reversed out”) text against the primarily dark background;
  • setting most of the text in the very simple and legible Myriad Pro (except for the ornate title, set in Blackadder) to help counteract the heavy texture of the background;
  • adding a subtle gray outline stroke to the letterforms to create a boundary against the lighter areas of the art;
  • strategically adjusting the composition (via cropping, sizing, and positioning) to create as much neutral space for the text as possible while preserving concrete elements of the stage set (table, candelabra, freestanding portrait) as a visible frame.

The first piece we produced was a 4×9″ postcard. Over the course of the year, I adapted this layout into several more single-sided pieces such as display ads, our Facebook cover page, other web graphics, and an 11×17″ window poster for our Brooklyn workspace. Later, there was a quad-fold 8.5×14″ brochure that included a ticket order form.

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Finally, I also got to serve as lead designer on the program booklet, which is a glossy 136-page perfect-bound extravaganza with a full-color cover. For the cover here, we turned to another of Byron’s sketches: the wrought-iron gates of the tiny Cornish fishing village of Rederring. (This elaborate set piece was incorporated into the overture, then dramatically flown out at the top of Act I.)

The program cover.

The program cover.

Since this was a simple line-art sketch, I placed it on a parchment background, then used a striking red shade to highlight the “ruddy gore” of the title text. This treatment produced a thoroughly different look that still worked thematically for our melodramatic period piece. For consistency, I kept the same title logotype as on the promotional materials, but I wanted the rest of the program to evoke the old-fashioned typography of a vintage newspaper, so I used Bodoni for both body and display text throughout.

Note that, having moved away from NYC to Indiana immediately after the show closed in April, I’ll be an Associate member of the Troupe for the coming year… though I’m still on call for the occasional design project! Their 2014-15 season includes Lucky Stiff this November (for which rehearsals are now in progress) and Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience next April. Break legs, all!

New website project launch: Growing Minds

A good friend and colleague in the Boston area, Dr. Anya Dashevsky, is launching a private psychology practice, and I had the privilege of assisting her with her marketing materials.

She had already decided on a name for her new practice: Growing Minds. She made sure that the domain name growingmindspsych.com was currently available, so we moved forward with that. She specializes in assessment of children (starting as young as 18 months) through adolescents, so she had come up with a name that conveys both the objective (minds that are growing) and the process of assisting those minds to grow and develop.

My first task was to come up with a logo. I wanted to capture that same duality, so I used two contrasting typefaces:

  • a script face known as Banshee with a dynamic, organic feel, and
  • Book Antiqua (Microsoft’s knockoff of Palatino), which will also be suitable for general text use in her website and business materials.

For her branding colors, I chose green to represent optimal growth, and blue to connote a calming, supportive, and trustworthy presence for the presumably-anxious parents seeking her services. (Note that blue is a common choice among medical practices as well as financial institutions.) I provided a wide range of alternative concepts, but this jewel-toned scheme was the one my client was drawn to, so I knew we were on to something!

[Growing Minds]

The two-sided business card featuring the final logotype.

Next, we worked together to create a website for her practice that would provide substantive information as well as basic logistical details to inquiring new clients. We settled on a clean white background and a simple page template that would perform just as well for iPad visitors as for desktop browsers. All the text is in Book Antiqua to match her brand identity.

[GrowingMindsPsych.com]

The finished website frontpage. Look at that smile! Click to browse the full site.

This site build uses pure CSS, no JavaScript, to achieve both the dropdown main menu tabs and the click-to-expand bullet points on the front page. The menu code was adapted from this simple but effective version on CSSMenuMaker.com. The bullet point code was substantially adapted from this vertical accordion on sitepoint.net — they made use of CSS3’s built-in :target selector, and I had to change around the code to make it function under CSS2, but the basic structure remained the same.

The site is hosted on 1and1.com (Mr. Y’s recommended vendor for basic, economical web hosting). I had my client set up her own customer account, then went in myself to set up the domain name (growingmindspsych.com), post a placeholder page, and eventually transfer the files for the full site once the design and content were complete.

My client’s new practice officially opened this week in her Lexington, MA, office. Congratulations and best wishes for much success! (We’re still working on the coordinating brochure. I’ll post that as a follow-up when it’s completed.)

New art piece: To Everything There Is A Season

Today is Rosh Chodesh Elul (which means only one month to Rosh Hashanah). In honor of the new Hebrew month, I’m debuting a new art piece!

As a young teenager, I was deeply into the music of the 1960s, and I still remember getting goosebumps the first time I heard the Byrds’ 1965 hit recording of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)”.

I knew it was taken from a passage in the Book of Ecclesiastes, though I didn’t know much more about it than that. Much later, I experienced Ecclesiastes as the Hebrew scroll of Kohelet, which is traditionally ascribed (like the book of Proverbs, or Mishlei ) to King Solomon, and in many Jewish communities is read aloud in its entirety at Shabbat synagogue services during the fall holiday of Sukkot.

A couple of years ago, at a friend’s house, I saw a framed calligraphy piece based on this same passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. That inspired me to want to do a version of my own.

The primary motif I had in mind was to set the English phrases as a sine wave or a helix, winding around the structure of the Hebrew. The above-and-below undulation would convey the duality in each of the pairings. Each Hebrew phrase is color-matched with its English equivalent to create a visual connection between the two levels. I chose to invert the Hebrew in these layers so that the text flow of both languages could run in the same clockwise direction — another way to echo the “wheel of time” feeling of the passage.

Ultimately, I arranged the text in a mandala of four nesting circles. The outermost circle is formed from the opening verse, which provides the conceptual frame for the whole passage. The second layer contains eight pairings, the third layer five pairings, and the last pairing forms the final circle with “peace” at its center… driving the whole composition, like Pete Seeger’s adaptation, toward an optimistic goal at its core.

One note on the translation: The well-known King James Version translates the second half of verse 1 as “and a time to every purpose under the heaven”. The Hebrew word used there, however, is cheifetz, which in other contexts is always rendered as “please” or “enjoy”. (Compare to Psalm 115:3, V’elokeinu ba-shamayim; kol asher chafetz asah. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”) Thus, some English translations give it as “to every delight” or “pleasure under the heavens”. Many other translations simply say “event”, “matter” or “activity”. I wanted to find a word that conveyed the semantic direction of “pleasing” without categorizing killing and destroying as “delights”, and settled on “to every impulse under the heavens.” I also tried to preserve the distinctions in the Hebrew between “a time to [verb]” and “a time of [noun]”.

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I created Version I using the classical Roman-style font Trajan for all of the English text, for a smooth and formal look. However, then I wanted to try to bring out the (literal) texture of the passage with a little more contrast, so I experimented with applying a calligraphic italic hand (a font called Aquiline) to accent the changing keywords in each English phrase. This resulted in Version II.

Both pieces are now available in my Etsy shop, along with a hi-res PDF download that includes both versions in case you prefer to print your own.

Which version do you think works best? Let me know in comments.

Chodesh tov!

Space ketubahs!

Today is Tu B’Av (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, a date sometimes known as the “Jewish Valentine’s Day”)… and our 6-month wedding anniversary is coming up in just a couple days. So in honor of those two romantic observances, let me share with you one of my favorite wedding-related design projects.

In planning a Jewish (or, in our case, Jewish-style interfaith) wedding, one of the fun things to work on is the ketubah, or marriage contract. This traditional document is signed — usually by two witnesses, the couple, and the officiant — on the wedding day, often in a separate ritual before the actual ceremony, though our rabbi had us incorporate the signing right into the ceremony.

Now, anyone who knows Mr. Y at all knows that he is a huge Star Wars geek (you should see the collection in our upstairs hallway). But what is only slightly less well known is that he is also a longtime real-life astronomy buff, who worked for many years in the local community planetarium (WHICH WE TOTALLY HAVE, FYI, and which he has yet to take me to visit, but I digress).

So when I started thinking about what would make the most awesome motif for our ketubah, the answer was SPACE.

When I emailed a first set of drafts to Mr. Y, I couldn’t resist including this version, which I made on a lark (click to enlarge):

DEATH-STAR-KETUBAH

While this had precisely the desired effect (“That’s FANTASTIC! … I totally cracked up when I saw the Star Wars version. Freaking great! You are awesome.”), we concurred that it probably wasn’t seriously the best way to go, no matter how perfectly it would complement the set of movie posters in our living room.

But I’d also created a draft that we would eventually refine into this:

SPACE-KETUBAH

After editing together the final art assembly, I spent some time looking for just the right Biblical text to draw in the cosmic theme, and ended up with Psalm 19: “The heavens tell the glory of God… In them He has set a tent for the sun, which emerges like a bridegroom from his chuppah, like a hero rejoicing to run his course” (19:1, 4-5). How’s that for relevance? This passage is used as a decorative border all around the piece, mostly as white text, with corresponding key words accented in yellow in both the English and the Hebrew.

Note that since Mr. Y is not Jewish, this text is not the traditional ketubah text, but basically a completely unrelated text in English and modern Hebrew, one that I had received previously for a custom ketubah project. We liked the wording a lot, but just as importantly, I also trusted the Hebrew translation to be not only accurate, but idiomatically correct (this is often not the case with Hebrew translations of custom texts; I could do a whole post of horror stories on that topic).

And, since everyone asks, the final version was signed in silver Sharpie. (Just one more of their million uses. :-) It’s now happily framed in our front hallway:

SPACE-KETUBAH-framed

Portfolio updates

One of the things I’ve been working on this last month, in addition to some new freelance projects, is updating my online portfolio.

That last page includes links to more updated portfolio pages of ketubahs, invitations, and additional wedding materials such as programs and bentscher covers.

Here’s a quick sample:

A lot of my design work last winter revolved around (no surprise to any designers reading!) my own wedding, which took place in February. I kept the invitations very simple and traditional, but since we were getting married on Valentine’s Day, that gave me a very clear design direction.

I got lots of compliments on the elegance of this design, especially when paired with red-foil-lined white A2 envelopes from JAM Paper in NYC. (Boy, do I miss that place.)

But the great part is that they were also super cheap to produce, since I had them color-laserprinted onto plain white card stock at FedEx Office and cut into quarters. The RSVP return card was a postcard (printed double-sided but black only), which also saved on return envelopes. The whole ensemble, with envelopes, ended up costing only about a dollar per invitation — not counting the postage (for which we ordered the supremely cool Miles Davis commemorative stamps, appropriate to our jazz-club venue).

Tomorrow’s post will be a detailed case study of another essential design piece in a Jewish wedding — our ketubah. Stay tuned!

Happy (early) Thanksgivukkah: order your cards now!

Have you ordered your Thanksgivukkah cards yet?? This is going to be a spoiler for anyone getting holiday cards from me this year, but I’m putting it out here so you can still get your own if you want!

Front of card

Front of card

Inside of card

Inside of card

I’m placing this order tomorrow (Thursday) morning for delivery by Monday, Nov. 18. If you want some, order here and I’ll ship yours to you FREE for arrival by Friday, Nov. 22.

Size: A2 (4.25″ x 5.5″ folded). Includes colored envelopes.

Pricing:
10 for $15.00 ($1.50 apiece)
24 for $30.00 ($1.25 apiece)
50 for $50.00 ($1.00 apiece)
100 for $75.00 ($0.75 apiece)
FREE SHIPPING!

Click here to order now! You can also email me with your desired quantity and I’ll contact you for payment details.

Because this is still a design blog: Who By Fire

I’ve occasionally tried my hand at creating holiday cards, but never anything particularly inspired, somehow.

Then during Rosh Hashanah services this year, I managed to remember that the Thing I Do is play around with text, especially Biblical or liturgical text… and there’s no shortage of great material in the High Holiday liturgy. Which excited me, even if it results in a bit of a departure from your basic apples-and-honey “good and sweet year” greeting card motif.

So here’s the first one:

On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed...

This famous liturgical passage is from the central U’netaneh Tokef section of the Rosh Hashanah Musaf prayer service. Click to enlarge.

I have a few more passages still in mind to work up. Next year I intend to actually get some of them printed up in time to use for the holiday… so I made sure to use up the last few mundane ones in my stash this year.

Edited to add (2015): Buy it on Zazzle!

Ketivah v’chatimah tovah: May you all be written and sealed for a good year.

New ketubah design: Flames

Friends in the Philadelphia area invited me several months ago to create the ketubah for their wedding, taking place today. I’m sadly missing the wedding itself, as I am away on vacation with my mom (this post is appearing through the magic of pre-scheduled posting; thanks, WordPress!), but I was excited to be able to play a role in their special day nevertheless.

Today is Lag Ba’Omer, the 33rd day of the seven-week “omer” period between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Sefirat ha-Omer is a period of semi-mourning in which a variety of joyful activities are customarily proscribed, including listening to live music, buying new clothes, cutting one’s hair (!), and getting married. However, the 33rd day of this period is observed as a minor festival, with a temporary lifting of those prohibitions… making it a very popular date for Jewish weddings, particularly when it falls out, as this year, on a Sunday.

Weddings aside, Lag Ba’Omer is typically associated with outdoor celebrations, and especially with bonfires. So when it came time to ponder artistic themes for this ketubah, I suggested fire, and the idea immediately touched off, well, sparks.

ketubah

A bonfire-themed ketubah for a Lag Ba’Omer wedding.

In this all-text design, the two primary flames are the ketubah text itself: standard Orthodox Aramaic incorporating the Lieberman clause, and an accompanying English rendition (not, mind you, a translation; the actual standard legal text is highly technical and nothing so poetic). The additional decorative “sparks” rising up around the flames are verses from Song of Songs (2:10, 2:14, and 6:3). Producing this piece digitally meant that I could apply a gradient color scheme to enhance the flame effect—something we could never have achieved with hand-lettering.

The finished piece is 16×20. It was output by my go-to colleague for digital imaging, Jim Paradis of Baldwin Hill Art & Framing in Natick, MA, as an archival-quality giclée art print on smooth art paper. The entire design and approval process took just over five weeks, and the final print was shipped overnight with a week to go before the wedding.

Mazal tov, Lawrence and Ellyn!