We had the good fortune of connecting with Malka Klein and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Malka, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I pursued a creative career because it called to me. It was a physical pull that at a certain point in my life I was able to discern and unable to ignore. But this pursuit in terms of a career is quite new.
I had always been artistic. My earliest memories are of drawing pictures, pouring over beautiful children’s books illustration and learning about letterforms with awe as early as kindergarten. I won a state art contest as a child without trying or thinking much of it. In my free time as a teen, letter writing and scrapbooking was the way I expressed my creativity and gratitude to the people around me. I used to stay up late drawing, erasing, cutting pages from magazines and just having the absolute best time doing so. Feeling no hunger or fatigue.
However, growing up I had no understanding that just anyone could become an artist. I did not know that one could make a living through art without being of an artistic elite with 4 year degrees, incredible technique and the like. So while I loved drawing and letters I never took it seriously. Never formed a plan for how I could integrate it in to my life as an adult. And like so many of us, at a certain point I stopped drawing altogether. I didn’t even own many art materials through my 20’s.
Soon after enrolling in a non-artistic Bachelor’s degree program (Poli Sci and History), I regretted it and seriously considered applying to the prestigious art school located on the same campus as my alma mater (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). I did not go through with it though because I had no portfolio to submit…
Art slowly came back in to my life by happenstance though. Towards the end of college I was searching for work and noticed some beautiful classic artwork at the house of a friend. I asked about it and they mentioned that their mother worked at the world renowned Israel Museum. I knew then that I had to work there too. I e-mailed her and asked to volunteer. That led to 2.5 years spent amongst the beautiful halls of the art museum I now know and love so well. My work there was not creative but it rekindled my admiration for art and instilled in me a knowledge that I must be surrounded by beauty and artwork filled with meaning and history.
Years went by and I left the museum, tried and failed to get in to a museum curatorship program. I volunteered as a vet technician, became a mother and eventually started a career in graphic design. I figured this was a way to be creative and make money even from home. At first it felt great but quickly I learned that no digital work could fulfil my need to create. I needed to touch and feel what I was making with my own two hands.
But Graphic design stayed my career for a little while. I stopped working when I had my second child and stayed home with her for the first 2 years. My husband was busy in his MBA program and I was struggling deeply with a sense of purposelessness. Being a mother and tending to the home, cooking etc do not come easily to me. It was not enough for me.
Eventually, when my husband asked that I find a way to make a little money with a toddler at home half the time, I got upset. I did not want to clean other people’s homes. I did not want to change other children’s diapers. I wanted a creative career that would fulfill my love for beauty. That was the straw that broken the camel’s back. I knew then that I had to make a creative career myself and I had to do it now. So, that is what I did. I had no rule book, no confidants, no artistic degree. But I had an iPad pro and stylus and I had instagram. I had a few watercolors and I had a pencil and paper. I had a bit of talent and a whole lot of persistence. Two years of long nights spent drawing and grasping for creative success and acknowledgement propelled me to where I am today.
My calligraphy and illustration business fulfills me as nothing else ever has. And it feels right. It feels like the path I was destined to take. Most importantly it taught me that a creative career of my design is within reach. Simply because I wanted it and devoted myself to it. I am meant to do what I do today and I am a much happier human as a result. Hopefully bringing others some joy through my work.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
What sets my business apart is the value and focus I put on handmade artwork. A great portion of my work is ketubah design, which is a traditional wedding contract used in Jewish weddings. I handpaint and calligraph them for couples. Usually these are printed or at least partially machine made by other businesses and artists. I find it most authentic to myself and the process to create these large pieces manually with archival quality materials and the slow process of pen and ink, paint brush and watercolor paper as was done in centuries past. I am proud that my value for artisinal quality comes before cheaper production methods that would actually increase my income. I would rather earn less and create slower, but more from the heart.
Another thing that sets me apart is my skill in both Hebrew and English calligraphy. This allows me to bridge the gap between two worlds. I am able to work in the very niche Judaica space but also be a part of the amazing world of English calligraphy which has millions of avid fans and participants. Today I teach calligraphy and art as well. Teaching has helped spread word of my work more than anything else. I started doing so early on in the pandemic for Facebook Open Arts and KalliCampAcademy.
I spoke about how I got here in the earlier question. It definitely was not easy. I had to realize I wanted this, figure it out on my own over years with no guidance and no consistent emotional support on the matter. I overcame by following my heart and passion and ignoring everything else.
I have learned that practice truly makes progress. That done is better than perfect. That you should start by starting. That no academic degree or plan or tutor will lay down the perfect road to success. What you want is within you if you decide you want it, truly. I have learned that people will respect you for following your passion ultimately and applaud you when you get to the other side even if at first they doubted you or even mocked you.
I would like others to know that my brand and story is inspired fully by passion and a drive for purpose and fulfillment. I love authentic, historical methods or artistic creation but I do it my way. I respect and admire those who came before me and seek to honor their traditions in my work, all while bringing in my modern and personal style. Right now my work largely surrounds events, love and weddings. But in the future it will progress to other areas that I love equally, such as product design and book illustration. Wherever beautiful letters and imagery can be applied and lasting meaning found, I am ready to give my heart to create something that will add joy in the lives of others. Even in the subtlest of ways.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I am not from Miami, I hope that’s ok lol. I am from NJ originally but I have lived in Israel since 2007. I now live in Caesarea which north of Tel Aviv. It is a beautiful, ancient crusader city on the Mediterranean. There are amazing beaches and sand dunes where I would take my friends. We would definitely eat at the port where there are many restaurants overlooking the water.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Yes, Paints by Chaya or Chaya Torron, who actually lives in Miami now. She is a very sweet person and talented painter. My first artistic collaboration was with her and she gave me alot of much needed encouragement and belief in myself when I was just starting out. She definitely deserves a shout out.
Rebecca Sigala, Lanie Klein