Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What happens when you give knives to a bunch of teenage campers? Magic.

This was my ninth summer teaching papercutting at Camp Newman in Northern California.

Nine years driving my mobile studio up to wine country. Nice years eating in a dining hall and sleeping in a faculty cabin. Nine years living and praying and making with my camp community – my camp family, really.

It's a great experience to make art in a different physical space – sometimes I'm lucky enough to find a different mental space as well, allowing me to experiment with new ideas and new approaches. But no matter how conducive I may find it to my own art, it's always a wonderful experience to show a room full of campers what I do, and to show them how they can do it as well. How they can develop ideas and make art that expresses something within them.

Papercutting is a new medium for many of these campers, and maybe that's why they're so successful. They might have had time in their 15 years to learn to say "I can't draw" (unfortunately) but it's the rare high school kid who has enough time holding an X-acto knife to know whether they can do it or not – and so, not knowing any better yet, they succeed. Each camper gives it their all – they commit to the process, and they find they are more than capable of expressing themselves with knife and paper.

It's a real pleasure to see them surprise themselves with their newfound ability – it's like seeing Barry Allen realize that the lightning bolt has given him super speed.

The first project the campers work on is a mizrach, an ornamental wall plaque used to indicate the direction of prayer (east) in Jewish homes. We brainstormed as a group to get some ideas going, but each student designed their own, and then backed it with comics. One idea that had everyone starting in the same place, but every mizrach was unique.

 Our second, BIG project was (as usual) paper midrash – each camper had to identify a story or character from Jewish tradition, and explore and develop it with the aid of knife and paper. Some worked with one of the session rabbis to find fascinating little tidbits, others made up their own commentaries, and all of them created stunning work.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Jacob and Esau" receives juror's award at Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center

I'm so pleased to share the good news: my "Jacob and Esau" papercut has been awarded a juror's award in the "Heroes & Villains" show at Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center.

I have three pieces in the show, which is open through August in Maryland.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walking Together:
The Lutz-Goldin Ketubah

The complete, finished ketubah (36" x 36")
This weekend my wife and I attended the wedding of Adam Lutz and Emma Goldin — friends of ours whose ketubah I created — at Temple Emanu-el in San Francisco, officiated by the groom's father, Rabbi Barry Lutz. It's always a privilege and a pleasure to be involved in a simcha, especially for such a cute couple!

I titled their ketubah "Walking Together," and it tells the story of their courtship, incorporating cut-up comics, maps, and other ephemera to reflect their unique story and the love they have for each other. Adam and Emma wrote the text of the ketubah, which is surrounded by the words of Hosea 2:21–22 (of special significance to the couple).

Signing the ketubah

Adam and Emma fell in love in Israel during their first year as students at Hebrew Union College, so their ketubah takes the form of a map of Jerusalem, where they were living at the time. Their dates were walks through the city, particularly before Shabbat, going from Emma’s apartment near Damascus Gate to Machane Yehuda — and the structure of the piece mirrors these special moments, encouraging the eye to travel along the paper paths and take in the scenery.

After cutting the top layer I was almost tempted to stop and call it perfect already...

There are pieces of a 1996 National Geographic map of Jerusalem showing the western side of the city and the paths that lead to Hebrew Union College, and a comic book snippet of golden apples alluding to the food stalls at Machane Yehuda (an appreciation for fine food being a shared trait of the bride and groom as well).

Adam and Emma continued walking after they moved to New York, and their ketubah includes part of an antique map of the island as well as comic pieces showing elements of the familiar skyline. As their wedding was celebrated at Temple Emanu-El, in addition to the Golden Gate Bridge and other architectural elements from the city there is also part of a vintage De Beers Diamonds advertisement from 1945 featuring the synagogue.

The speech bubbles are from an X-Men comic; the image of Temple Emanu-El from a vintage De Beers ad.

Adam’s name is represented by Adam Strange, a DC hero known for being a passionate and faithful husband, and Emma’s by Emma Frost, a Marvel hero who is also a passionate and loving partner. Emma says that if Adam had super powers he would be most like Professor X of the X-Men, because of his intelligence, and so he is also included in the ketubah — and so is Mister Terrific, known as one of the smartest heroes in the world.

Professor X is a stand-in for Adam, passionately calling out to his bride.

Emma calls to her love just as passionately.

Adam says that Emma’s beautiful voice might have its parallel in the powers of Black Canary, Dazzler and Siryn, who use their voices to fight for right. Adam’s Hebrew name, Ze’ev, is alluded to by the presence of a hero named Jack Russell who takes the form of a werewolf (and was raised in the greater Los Angeles area), while Emma’s Hebrew name, Devorah, is alluded to in the black-and-yellow honeybee-like costume of Siryn. There’s even a panel in which Adam Strange meets Black Canary, from a 1975 issue of Justice League of America in which Adam (finally) gets married.

I bought a 1975 issue of Justice League of America because it featured Adam's wedding,
but it also had this surprisingly perfect panel I decided to incorporate.

There are numerous wedding details in the ketubah, including rings and declarations of love, and white roses as well, which Emma will carry on her wedding day. The observant viewer will also find references to the glass they broke under the hupah, and the wine that they shared there. And of course, a few pieces of their wedding invitation.

The background comics include:
  • Action Comics #233 (November 2013)
  • Adam Strange #1 (November 2004), #2 (December 2004)
  • Astonishing X-Men #10 (May 2005), #14 (June 2006), #27 (November 2008), #36 (April 2011), #51 (August 2012) – rings and white roses, #62 (July 2013)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #4 (February 2012)
  • Birds of Prey #16 (March 2013)
  • Captain Atom #3 (January 2012)
  • Daredevil #1 (May 2014) – New York skyline
  • Dazzler #2 (April 1981)
  • Dream Logic #4 (October 2011)
  • Giant-Size Kung Fu Bible Stories #1 (July 2014)
  • Giant-Size X-Men #3 (2005)
  • Green Arrow #30 (April 2010) – Sing, Canary, Sing!
  • Infinite Vacation #5 (January 2013)
  • Justice League #33 (October 2014), #34 (December 2014)
  • Justice League of America #121 (August 1975) – Adam’s wedding
  • Max Ride #4 (June 2015)
  • Mister Terrific #2 (December 2011) – Golden Gate Bridge
  • ODY-C #1 (November 2014)
  • Revival #16 (December 2013)
  • Strange Adventures #1 (May 2009), #2 (June 2009)
  • Superman #226 (April 2006), #23.3 (November 2013)
  • Wolverine: Xisle #1 (June 2003)
  • X-Factor #244 (November 2012)
  • X-Force #16 (November 1992) – Siryn

Sunday, May 31, 2015

"Rise Up"

This is my newest papercut, "Rise Up" (click it to see it bigger), which I unveiled last night at the annual Temple Ahavat Shalom Gala and auctioned off LIVE to raise money for the synagogue community. My wife and I were proud the be honorees at the gala, the theme of which was "The Art of Jewish Living." Our thanks go out to everyone who contributed and supported us and the community!

"Rise Up" presents the figure of Bezalel standing in front of the parted curtains of the mishkan, revealing the ark and ner tamid of Temple Ahavat Shalom within. Its title comes from a speech bubble in Bezalel’s cloak: “Simply rise up to the task at hand,” reflecting the choice that each person must make to contribute to the building of a community.


In the Book of Shemot (Exodus) we read that Bezalel has been named by God to build the mishkan — the desert tabernacle which houses the tablets Moses received on Mount Sinai. The name “Bezalel” means “in the shadow of God,” and it is written that God granted him skill in all of the arts in order to design and build the mishkan — but he was not solely responsible for its construction. We are told that all of the Israelites — each member of the community — contributed what they could: their goods, their talents, their commitment to the community’s goals. In "Rise Up," Bezalel represents each individual Israelite then and now, coming together in a kehillah kedoshah — a sacred community.

Midrash tells us that God showed Bezalel a heavenly model for the mishkan, which Bezalel represented in his plans; the blueprints he holds in this papercut reflect the movement of planets and heavenly bodies in the skies. Bezalel’s hammer and his clothing are constructed of cut-up Thor comics; just as the person who can lift Thor’s hammer is deemed worthy to control its power, so too does the person who commits to picking up a hammer (or any gift) in service of the community find the power to help; it is the choice to rise up and serve that gives one the power to do so.

The blue, purple and crimson of this papercut match the colors of the mishkan as described in Shemot 36:35-37, while at the same time, the brown wood of the ark and jagged lines of the ner tamid (eternal light) are modeled on the sanctuary at Temple Ahavat Shalom. There are speech bubbles and panels throughout the piece, hinting at more midrash. The bit of green grid in the blueprints comes from a Green Lantern comic; John Stewart was an architect when gifted with the green will-powered ring, and many of the creations he built with it to protect and defend others reflected his original calling.

The background comics include:
  • All-Star Western #3 (January 2012)
  • Automatic Kafka #1 (September 2002)
  • Batman #23.3 (November 2013)
  • Buck Rogers #2 (July 2009)
  • Daredevil #49 (September 2003)
  • Etc.: Book One (1989)
  • FF #1 (April 2014)
  • Green Lantern #165 (June 1983)
  • Justice League of America #7.3 (November 2013)
  • The Names #3 (January 2015)
  • Promethea: Book Five (2005)
  • Revival #16 (December 2013)
  • Secret #1 (May 2012)
  • Shazam! Power of Hope (November 2000)
  • Silver Surfer #9 (August 2015)
  • Superman Unchained #9 (January 2015)
  • Thor #395 (September 1988), #616 (December 2010), #615 (November 2010), #619 (March 2011)
  • Thor #2 (October 2007), #6 (February 2008)
  • Astonishing Thor #1 (January 2011)

Friday, May 29, 2015

"Rise Up" — Teaser #4

This is the last "teaser" I'll be posting from my new piece, "Rise Up." This weekend is the big unveiling at the 2015 Temple Ahavat Shalom Gala. This year's gala is honoring me and my wife – the theme is "The Art of Jewish Living" – and to mark the occasion I created this papercut, which will be auctioned off (with all proceeds going to the synagogue) Saturday night at the gala.

I've let slip with a few details here – but if you want to see the whole thing you have to wait until the gala (or after, if you're not attending, of course)

I've already written about the origin of the papercut's name, and we've seen that there's a figure holding blueprints and a hammer. Here we get a little bit more text from a Torah commentary that could just about give it away... and another comic caption which reads, "Some things are beautiful, wonderful."

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Rise Up" — Teaser #3

This is "teaser" #3 from my new piece, "Rise Up," leading up to a big unveiling this weekend at the 2015 Temple Ahavat Shalom Gala. This year's gala is honoring me and my wife – the theme is "The Art of Jewish Living" – and to mark the occasion I created this papercut, which will be auctioned off (with all proceeds going to the synagogue) Saturday night at the gala.

I'll let slip with a few details here – but you won't see the whole thing until the gala (or after, if you're not attending, of course). There's one more teaser image that I'll be posting tomorrow – stop back tomorrow to see it.

I've already written about the origin of the papercut's name and showed that there's a figure holding blueprints... here's another key feature: a hammer. Made of cut-up Thor comics, of course (now you know why that tag has been in the past posts).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Rise up" — Teaser #2

As promised, here's another "teasers" of my new piece, "Rise Up," leading up to a big unveiling this weekend at the 2015 Temple Ahavat Shalom Gala. This year's gala is honoring me and my wife – the theme is "The Art of Jewish Living" – and to mark the occasion I created this papercut, which will be auctioned off (with all proceeds going to the synagogue) Saturday night at the gala.

I'll let slip with a few details here – but you won't see the whole thing until the gala (or after, if you're not attending, of course). I'll be posting a teaser image each day this week – stop back again to see more.

My last post explained where the name of the papercut comes from – this little teaser square hints at the subject of the piece. Who could be holding those blueprints? And what are the blueprints for?