Q & A:
- What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
It’s difficult to choose one favorite class. From within my department, I found both Phillip Lopate in his personal essay class, and Zachary Lazar’s short story seminars to be very influential. I’m also deeply indebted to Paul Chaleff, who noticed when I was spending a lot of my free time in the pottery studio and helped guide me, even though I wasn’t his student. Patricia Welch in the Department of Comparative Literature showed me how to view the world through another culture’s eyes.
One of the most unforgettable experiences I had was taking a winter session biology course in Florida with Professor Burke. I convinced a close friend of mine that taking an advanced bio class in Florida over the winter would be awesome, even though neither of us was remotely qualified. Professor Burke taught us how to look past the obvious and see the minutiae of our surroundings to discover things that were hidden in plain sight. It was life-changing.
The rowing team was a keystone experience. It framed my days and gave them structure and meaning. Waking up at 4:30 every morning, and the discipline it required, took me away from the all night partying, but it gave me an irreplaceable set of memories in return. The mist on the water at sunrise, the pounding in my chest before a race, I can still feel the sensations if I close my eyes.
And my friends. Some of the most important people in my life to this day are the friends I met at Hofstra. We shared an incalculable number of experiences together while at school, which were only the precursors to a lifetime of friendship we shared afterwards. I am grateful they have been part of my life for all these years.
- What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
My first job worth talking about was doing graphic design at NBC-Universal, working in their offices at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. I learned a lot on the job — and I was getting paid for it. I had at my disposal state-of-the-art equipment; experienced graphic artists who bridged the old and new ways of working and were eager to pass on their knowledge; and a full printing press department, where I learned the mechanical aspects of print design by actually seeing the process instead of reading about it. This led to other jobs where I moved on to be an art director, and eventually managed an entire art department.
The most important thing I learned on the job was that I wanted to have control over my creative output: I wanted to make my own work first and then if someone wanted to buy it, they were welcome to. The real lesson my work provided was that design is something you can apply to anything — including your own life. If you have a vision of how you want something to be, you can realize that vision. So I made the necessary changes in order for my life to conform with my vision, and ended up starting my company, Papercuts by Oren.
- What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
I create bespoke, handmade ketubot — illuminated Jewish marriage contracts — specializing in the art of papercutting. The art of papercutting has deep historic roots in the Jewish tradition, and centuries-old decorated ketubot can be found in museums around the world. I am continuing and modernizing on a long chain of artists who came before me.
I didn’t start out making ketubot. It happened gradually. I moved to Israel in 2009. I was managing the art department of a major Israeli startup at the time. This was a great job by any standard, but as I mentioned above, I was already focused on finding ways to take full control over my creative output. I left my job and dedicated myself to making art full time. I spent time experimenting with papercutting, attracted by its graphic nature and very interested in its potential. This led to working on large-scale cityscapes made of layers of single sheets of paper. Each piece would take up to three months to complete.
During this period, my wife and I were in the midst of wedding preparations. The catalyst for everything was that my wife didn’t want the stock ketubah the rabbi offered. She saw the beautifully decorated ketubah in her friends’ homes and asked me to make one for her. I did some research, got guidance from our rabbi, learned the laws, and made one for her. Other couples who saw our ketubah wanted one from me as well. This was a side project that quickly took on a life of its own.
The final piece of the puzzle came about when a friend introduced me to David Gerstein, a famous and established Israeli artist who loved my large-scale papercuts. We sat down together to talk a few times, and he gave me some advice that changed how I saw my path going forward. In few words he told me that as I was going into married life, with children to follow, my first priority would be supporting my family. He explained how I needed to think of art-making as a business. His was some of the best advice I ever received.
- What advice would you give Hofstra students?
The advice I would give to Hofstra students is the same as the advice I would give my own children: learn the skills that are most likely to land you a good job. A steady paycheck when you start your life is essential for your future potential. Also, always keep your mind open to possibilities, because dumb luck presents itself only sometimes, and you have to be aware enough to be able to identify it.
Even more important than all this is the following: create a vision for how you want your life to look and work toward that goal. Tenacity will get you there as long as you don’t give up on your vision. But don’t lose sight of the fact that financial stability will help you achieve your goals faster.
And remember that life is longer than you think. I have been working for as long as some of you have been alive — yet, I still feel like my time at Hofstra was only yesterday. There is time. And yes, you will be able to enjoy it when you’re older, more mature, and more established.
- In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
- What was the inspiration behind your creation of Papercuts by Oren.
I touched on this above. My inspiration to start my company was my wife. And now it’s for my children as well. It is important to note that my wife was essential while I was starting my company. Not only was it her idea to make a ketubah for our wedding, but it was her emotional and practical support that allowed it to take off.
I told my wife right around the time we were getting married that I was leaving my job. She had enough faith in me to allow me to pursue my goals. Not only that, but she also took it upon herself to support us for the first year of our marriage. She worked while I struggled to get an art business off the ground — this was not a rational decision for either of us! But it was her faith in me that led to my success. The first year was very difficult. The fact that I didn’t get discouraged was a small miracle. I stuck with it, and the business grew year after year until it was fully my new career.
- What is the most memorable papercut ketubah you’ve created, and why?
I have made hundreds of papercut ketubot. But to me, my own ketubah is the most memorable. I will never forget the day I signed it and handed it to my wife. It’s a moment of joy that will never wash away. I walk past my ketubah every day, and it brings me back to that moment under the chuppah. Then I look at all I have now: my wife, my children, the warmth in our home, and I’m grateful. It all started in that moment for me. By extension I feel that all my ketubot have the same transformative power. They all hold immense significance to the couples who hang them in their homes. They write to me to thank me and they send me photos, and the gratitude and joy that comes through is palpable. I know that I have touched many lives directly. It is incredibly rewarding to know that my work is so meaningful in so many ways and to so many people.
- What type of artistic background is needed in order to learn the technique of papercutting?
The actual technique of papercutting is as simple and straightforward as can be. Anyone who can hold a pencil can hold a blade. The mechanics are easy to learn even without an artistic background. You need a steady hand, lots of patience, and the ability to follow a line accurately. There are additional elements like knowing how to handle the tools safely, and thinking in three dimensions in a sculptural sense. Anyone can enjoy the art of papercutting. Learning to handle the tools is something that can be learned in an afternoon. This, however, is only a simplistic view of what it takes to make successful papercut artwork.
Drawing and design skills are essential in the creation of any artwork. It’s a misconception that artists are born with the ability to make art. More accurately, artists spend an inordinate amount of time practicing their techniques and studying the underlying principles. An art education is extremely important for developing these skills. Everything one learns in a formal art education is applicable to papercutting in the same way it is applicable to drawing, painting, sculpture, or pottery. I didn’t stumble into knowing how to make artwork: it was the result of many years of intense and serious art study.
Today, there are ways to develop an artistic repertoire at home. Not just through books, but also via tutorial videos and the massive resources of the internet. I really think anyone can learn to make art — not just papercutting — if they really have the desire to learn.
Oren Loloi is the owner of Papercuts by Oren, where he creates hand-made paper cut ketubah designs. The company was founded in 2012 and has grown steadily over the years. Today, Oren regularly takes commissions from clients from all over the world. In addition to his shop, his artwork is represented by retail locations across the United States, and many of his designs are licensed by the largest judaica representatives in North America.
The ketubah is the traditional Jewish marriage contract, which has been in use for 2000 years. There is a principle in Judaism called Hiddur Mitzvah, which asks for ritual objects to be made beautiful in order to go beyond what is required of them. This has long been the case for the ketubah, which has been traditionally decorated and displayed in home for centuries.
Oren is a graduate of Hofstra University’s class of 2000. He currently resides in Tel Aviv, Israel with his wife and two children. To see examples of Oren’s work visit https://www.papercutsbyoren.com