Tag Archives: alphabet

Stylin’ with the stylus

You hold it like a pencil.

The Sumerians didn’t have pencils to write with. Instead, they took a dry reed, stiff as a stick, and cut the end off at a 90° angle. Using a knife or by sanding it, they made the end of the reed rectangular. The corners needed to be sharp! They used the corners and the edges of the stylus to press triangles and lines into a soft clay tablet. This style of writing is called cuneiform (koo-NAY-i-form), from Latin words that mean triangle (cune-) and shape (form). The writing tool is called a stylus (STY-loos), plural styli (STY-lee).

http://writingcuneiform.blogspot.com/2012/10/2-making-stylus.html
http://writingcuneiform.blogspot.com/2012/10/5-making-basic-wedges.html

By the way, up until I researched this post I thought that the reed’s cross-section was triangular. Can you see how red my face is? Research, gang. You’re never too old to learn!

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Back in caveman days

Many hairy returns

Way, way back—I mean 2.5 million years ago—nobody read anything, because nobody wrote anything down. If you wanted to say ‘happy birthday’ to your uncle who lived in the next county, you’d have to walk there and tell him yourself. There weren’t any birthday cards, or paper, or pencils—and no alphabet, so you couldn’t even write ‘many happy returns’ (whatever that means).

On the other hand, one thing you have to say about us human beings is: we like stories. Not only that, we like stories with pictures. So prehistoric human beings did the best they could with the resources at hand. They painted gorgeous, inspiring hunting scenes on the inside of caves where they lived. For paint, they used ash, chalk, colored minerals, even blood. These scenes tell the story of triumphant hunters, or maybe they hoped their mural would convince their gods to grant them a successful hunt.

https://www.ancient.eu/Lascaux_Cave/
https://www.history.com/news/prehistoric-ages-timeline
https://www.inrap.fr/en/periods
https://naturalearthpaint.com/blog/natural-earth-paint-through-the-ages-the-prehistoric-era/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

AGAIN!

Have you ever read a book to a little brother or sister? Over & over & OVER again? That kid hasn’t learned to read yet. You, of course, are an expert reader—you don’t need to sound out each letter anymore, you look at a group of letters and right away you know it means ‘cat’, or ‘bicycle’ or ‘salami.’

A cat, a bicycle and a salami.

Our alphabet—the one you’re reading right now—is a code. Each letter stands for a particular sound. A group of letters—a word—can stand for a thing, or an action, or an idea. When a young reader sounds out the letters of a word, he’s learning how to crack that code.

Our alphabet is a gift from people who lived a long time ago—the Phoenicians. Before they came along, hardly anyone knew how to read. Reading was a secret skill practiced by a few select people.

https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/how-do-kids-learn-to-read.html

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing

Okay, gang, here we go! I’m starting up another Western Civ User’s Guide. This time around we’re looking at reading and writing. If you’re a loyal follower, you know we’re all about the history of ideas here at Western Civ User’s Guide world headquarters. In this book I want to explore 2 themes. One, how an ancient invention—the alphabet—was so essential that it’s endured down to our own time. Two, that the history of Western Civ can be seen as a series of culture-changing transfers of power from privileged elites (usually played in the movies by the late Alan Rickman) to the broader population (regular shmoes). For example, the alphabet and later moveable type brought literacy to huge amounts of people; the printing press and later the internet increased the distribution of information.

In case anyone’s fuzzy about what exactly Western Civilization is, here are links to a couple of brilliant explanations:

https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/what-is-a-civilization/
https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/where-in-the-world-is-western-civilization/

As usual, there will be lousy gags and badly-drawn cartoons squeezed in between bits of actual history. This is interactive—chime in if you have information to share. I heartily thank you weirdos for following. See you next post!

What is a ‘civilization?’

Okay, gang—before we get started talking about Western Civilization, we should agree on what a ‘civilization’ is. I’m going to keep this kind of loose. Generally, a civilization is a big group of people—in cities, a country, or countries—who share government (a system of keeping law & order and protecting its people);

govt

a religion (belief in a god or gods with a set of rituals and priests to perform them);

religion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

an economy (enough food for everyone plus some left over for trading);

econ

a written language (symbols to communicate without speaking);

alphabet

and art, science and technology (inventions that make life easier and more enjoyable).

artsci

Every civilization has a ‘culture’—its own way of living and doing things.

That’s it. A rough definition to understand what separates a civilization from simply a big group of people. Now we can start thinking about what Western Civilization is.

Ahoy, ye sea dogs!

l_9781585368150_fcP is for Pirate is here!

As long-time readers know, the subject of pirates is a favorite of mine. You can imagine how happy I was when Sleeping Bear Press asked me to illustrate Eve Bunting’s latest, P is for Pirate. 

Here’s how the jacket art came together. Some rough sketches, a tight sketch based on the approved rough, the painting in progress. I lost something in the tight sketch—the pirate doesn’t have the same aggressiveness & oomph—so I went back to the rough sketch to paint from. That’s my dear old African Grey, Sherman, sitting on his shoulder. How I miss him! I like this low-key palette, mostly blacks, greys and red. The talented Felicia Macheske was my art director on this project. I will show more images throughout the month.