The members of Jewish Artists Collective Chicago write about our stories, struggles, experiences, and musings, and how they inspire us to create contemporary Jewish art.

Interview with Judith Joseph by Deuteronomy Press

Deuteronomy Press was etablished in 2014, Deuteronomy Press is a Jewish publishing house interested in writers and artists with unique interpretations of their inner and outer landscapes. Ultimately, they serve as a haven for creators who wish to transcend the ordinary.

Meet Judith Joseph @judithjosephstudio, a Chicago based artist working across various medias such as woodblock prints, painting, and installation. Her conceptual art practice is paired with work as a calligrapher and illustrator, and her specialty is the Ketubah.
Judith’s work has received numerous awards over the years, including the Illinois Arts Council Artists' Fellowship Award (1998 and 2004). Along with being an active member of the Jewish Art Salon, an international group, she is also on the faculty of the Chicago Botanic Garden, where she teaches watercolor and drawing.
We asked Judith to grant us some insight into her unique creative journey and process. Hope you enjoy our conversation!
Q: At what age did you first begin to show an interest in art? Were there any family members or outside forces that inspired you to get into this field?
Judith: From a very early age, I loved art. I spent hours drawing, making origami figures, cutting shapes and gluing everything together. My attraction to art was tied to my love of books and illustration. My mother brought me art supplies and shared her huge collection of art books. My father, a doctor, taught me about the intricate systems of the body, awakening in me a spiritual connection to biology and natural forms and systems.
Q: I understand that you taught yourself Hebrew calligraphy and made your first ketubah at age 17. Very impressive, I have to say! Was it difficult to master such a skill on your own?
Judith: I had a short unit on calligraphy in my high school art class. In 1973, when I first heard about the ketubah, coincidentally the First Jewish Catalogue came out, and it had a how-to article about Hebrew calligraphy and ketubah writing. This was how I learned Hebrew calligraphy. It was not easy to master, and after 50 years (!) of making ketubot, it’s still challenging to get the calligraphy and text correct and looking beautiful.
Q: I know you attended art school. What was that experience like overall, and what would you say were some of the greatest benefits (for you) in pursuing higher education? After all, not all artists choose to do so.
Judith: I attended the University of Wisconsin. The student population was international and diverse, and I made friends from all over the world, which really enlarged my world view. Also, kids from farms, who I’d never met before. I didn’t become an art major until my junior year. Before that, I studied languages, literature and cultural history. The best thing about art school specifically was learning about conceptual deconstruction and growing a thick skin when my work was critiqued in class. Also, although overall the vibe was pretty loosey-goosey in the 70’s, I had some excellent technical instruction, particularly in design and printmaking.
Q: Would you say that religion/spirituality influences a lot of the work that you do today or have done in the past? If so, in what way?
Judith: Absolutely. Everything I do creatively in the studio is a form of prayer. I feel the act of making art mimics the act of Creation. It is truly a blessing to be engaged in this work.
Q: What does a typical day in the life of an artist look like (for you)?
Judith: I have a “work chart” which lists all my projects, complete with deadlines for various stages of the work. On the bottom, I list the work which needs to be done each week, and it’s fun to cross things off one by one. I review my work chart in the morning and usually begin by answering work emails. Then I get down to the artwork. I usually work in “shifts” of about three hours, with breaks to walk my dog. Two days a week I teach painting and drawing classes on zoom for the Chicago Botanic Garden, so studio work happens after class is over.
Q: What is a moment in your career that you feel most proud of?
Judith: A great moment was just a few years out of art school. I submitted a series of twelve small, jewel-like egg tempera paintings to an important juried show that was held at the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Avenue. I was thrilled when my work was accepted, but even more so when it was selected by the “Percent for Art” program to be purchased and permanently installed at a branch of the Chicago Public Library. With the money, I was able to buy my first car. The work is still there, and I’ll never forget the boost this gave me.
Q: Do you have a message/takeaway for aspiring artists out there?
Judith: My philosophy is that we have no control over our “talent” or potential. But we can control how hard we work at our practice. I work very hard and I never give up. My goals are adjusted over time, but I identify things I want and work hard to achieve them. The biggest payoff is that I can see how my work has really improved over time and continues to. This is truly invigorating and exciting.
Another thing is, I believe in generosity of spirit and supporting other artists. Ego is the enemy. I try to keep a pure spirit and put love in my work.
Q: When it comes to your work, you experiment with many different mediums. Which are you most partial to and why?
Judith: This is like asking me to name my favorite child! I guess drawing is the underlayment for everything I do: printmaking and painting. I can’t imagine giving any of them up. What I’m partial to is usually whatever I’m engrossed in at any particular moment.
Q: What’s a project that you’re passionate about right now?
Judith: I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a true story of my grandmother in Poland and her cow in about 1915. This was a huge challenge for me, and it took me three years to get the hang of it, with many, many revisions. My literary agent has just submitted it to publishers, and I’m passionately hoping one of them picks it up.
Q: What would you say is a valuable lesson that art has taught you?
Judith: Art has taught me that life is about problem-solving. When things seem hopeless or overwhelming, if we draw on our creativity with clarity and confidence, we can overcome almost anything! Art gives you visible evidence of improvement and growth, which is extremely validating.

*pictured above: Judith with her work, titled “Ghost Scroll”.

*pictured below, work by Judith Joseph:: Watercolor, Winter Birches ketubah, 24" x 18";  Judith with her work, "The Voice of the Bell", "The Book of the Hours", twelve paintings in a series in the collection of the Chicago Public Library.

Interview shared from Deuteronomy Press. View more about them at:

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