Custom Ketubah – To Be or Not to Be

i am my beloveds and my beloved is mine

So… Plans have been made, your wedding day is approaching and you are ready to turn your attentions to finding a ketubah.  The ketubah is what, at the end of the party, will be part of your life, hanging prominently in your present home and your future homes to come.

Where do you begin?  There are vast, varied and amazing choices of ketubahs out there to select from.  Yet, you haven’t seen exactly the perfect design: something that addresses and expresses who you are as a couple. Or, perhaps you want a one-of-a-kind- creation specific only to you:  in the colors that you love, with motifs that symbolize your love and partnership and a style that represents your lifestyle and aesthetic sensibilities. Perhaps, you should be considering a custom ketubah.

Custom ketubahs: Where do you begin?

Before, embarking on the project of ordering a custom ketubah, there are 2 questions that you need to ask.

  1. Do I have the budget for a custom ketubah?

The range of prices for custom ketubahs runs from $1500 to $7000 (and upwards), depending on the artist, the medium and your particular wish list. If this does not match your budget, then consider options other than custom ketubahs–something that won’t break the bank. Sometimes, merely adding or changing the color of the background of a paper cut ketubah, for example, is enough to make it your own. Or, perhaps a change of palette in a giclee print would make all the difference to you.  A customized ketubah text is another thing to consider. The additional cost is nominal in comparison to a custom ketubah and may be the best solution for those who want a more personalized ketubah, but do not have the resources to order a custom ketubah.

  1. Do you have the time allotment that is required to conceive and complete a custom ketubah?

It is absolutely essential that you have the time frame it takes to make a custom ketubah that suits the two of you. More standard offerings from ketubah artists usually require at least 4-6 weeks and custom ketubahs, ideally, are original works that may take months to arrive at the perfect concept and design, and then, of course, there is the time required to do the calligraphy, paint and/or cut and apply the finishing touches (i.e. gold leaf, if desired). So, before you even consider a custom ketubah as a viable option, look at the calendar and make sure you have got the time.

Custom Ketubahs: Your homework

  1. Create a short-list of ketubah artists who you admire.

So, you do have the time and the money, now it is the time to take a look around in your local Judaica shop and on the internet and begin making a list of artists whose work you and your fiancé love (and agree upon) and whose style you both can connect to now and forever (hmmm… that’s a tall order)!  Remember the custom ketubah is not only a legally binding Jewish marriage contract, but your family’s first art heirloom.  So, consider well as you narrow down your list to three artists that you think are the right fit for you. Not all artists are willing to do custom ketubahs, so you will need to keep this in mind.

  1. Prepare a wish-list of requirements, preferences and options

Before contacting the artists, sit with your fiancé and decide which colors, motifs, and design possibilities are on your wish-list. Think about things like: if you prefer vivid colors, soft pastels or a white simplicity. Do you want something that is atmospheric or literal? An overall design or something more compartmentalized.  Are there particular motifs that are important to you…a specific flower, bird, animal, tree? Are you looking for more Jewish symbolic motifs or something more unique to yourselves? A combination of both? The beauty of the custom ketubah is that it is created for you and can incorporate all (or most) of the elements that will make your ketubah a truly personal artistic document. But, be ready before you approach the artist with a wish-list.

Custom Ketubahs: You are ready to Go

  1. It’s time to contact the artists

Contact the artists you have selected and let them know your exact wedding date and the list of ideas and requests that you have written down for your custom ketubah. It is also advisable to mention specific ketubahs that the artist has made that you especially like. This will give the artist an idea of who you are and what direction he/she should take the design. Chances are, you may never meet the artist face to face so it is important to give the artist a feel for just what you are looking for. It is not always easy to convey and comprehend another’s artistic vision, especially when it is in the stage of the imagination. Ask if the time frame is doable for the artist and if so, for an approximation of cost. Ask as well if the artist can provide some suggestions of their own.

  1. Picking your artist

Probably, not all the artists will be available for your time frame, or alternatively, the cost will not be suited to your budget. Your list of artists may have dwindled. In any case, I suggest, at this point, to call each artist and converse with them about the custom ketubah.  Prepare the questions that you may have, beforehand. But, ask questions since it is important to try to get a feel for the person you will be dealing with.Make sure that you and the artist can communicate well with each other and are of a similar mind of how you would like to proceed and what the final outcome-your ketubah should look like.

  1. Finalize the details and enjoy the process

Now that you have decided on the artist who will make your custom ketubah, be sure to finalize the details (as much as possible: it is a creative process and there maybe some unexpected turns).  Depending on who you are, you may want to give the artist more creative license or you may be more specific in your requests. Either way, you should be clear in what you expect and that it is clear to the artist as well. Size, medium, time frame, price and payment should be established from the beginning.

Ask for a preliminary sketch or sketches of the design and approve, reject but most importantly provide the artist with the guidance that is dictated by your taste. Don’t be hesitant.  It is your custom ketubah and should be to your liking.And, of course, early directives are essential: once the artwork begins to take form the process becomes smoother and simpler. Throughout the creative process keep in touch with the artist and ask for occasional progress pictures.

You will, of course, in the meantime need to decide on the text by consulting with your rabbi or officiant. After providing the artist with your text, ask for a proof (and get a confirmation by your rabbi).

  1. Custom ketubah…To be or not?

You can see that a custom ketubah is not for everyone: be it lack of time or funds, priorities or artistic vision. Obviously, it is amazing and wonderful to have a custom ketubah: unique in every way and every way an art heirloom for your new family.  However, it is a project that requires time and intervention on the part of the couple; which for some is just perfect and others a bit too arduous.

Custom ketubah, yes or no, Mazel Tov on your upcoming wedding.

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