Tag Archives: calligraphy

Serifs


‘Serifs’ are those pointy corners of a lettering stroke. It’s thought that stonecutters came up with them to add a little flourish to their letters. But if you watch the videos I link to in my previous post, you see that a serif (or a ‘grace’) is the natural way to end a letter stroke when you write with a brush. So who knows who invented serifs—the stonecutters or the calligraphers?

The chiseled stroke without serifs

Side view of the V-shaped chiseled stroke

I used to think that serifs came about because it was difficult for stonecutters to chisel the end of a letterstroke, and the serif made that job easier. Nowadays I believe serifs were added to chiseled letters because they provide more surface to catch the sunlight. They enhance the letter’s visibility. Watch the video linked below of a guy carving 2 Rs—with and without serifs. He has no trouble ending the stroke. If you compare the two letters, the serifs on the left show a bit more deep shadow or bright light. They accentuate the ends of a stroke and make it easier to see.

https://stoneletters.com/blog/cutting-in-the-clouds-architectural-lettering
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xBJdhexwug
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace%20note

DON’T FORGET: Midnight tomorrow is the deadline to submit your Romans-looking-at-a-Greek-urn gag! The winner will be chosen Friday!

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Writ large


Meanwhile, big-shot Roman emperors needed to have inscriptions put up on walls and columns—letters were to be carved into stone. The letters had to be big and easy-to-read—legible. The guys carving the inscriptions must’ve sketched out the letters first. They mimicked the lettering you get from a broad nib by drawing their letters with two pieces of crayon in a holder.

Maybe it looked like this?

Aside—’Writ large’ is a pointy-headed way of saying something is bigger and easier to read than another thing. I think Plato used it first: “The State is the individual writ large.”
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/writ-large
https://grammarist.com/usage/writ-large/
https://www.quora.com/What-Plato-meant-by-State-is-individual-writ-large

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Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a word that means ‘beautiful writing.’



Remember the Egyptians used reed pens to write, but since they were drawing images—pictures of things—the nib was kept narrow or else they used a fine-tipped brush. I’m not sure when it happened, but either Greek or Roman scribes began drawing letters with a broad-nibbed pen (a nib is the tip). They became concerned about the angle of the pen when they wrote. They kept their pens always at the same angle, so that a group of letters would have a pleasing consistency. Or maybe they used a chisel-tipped brush. Several calligraphers I link to below use a brush.*

https://www.behance.net/gallery/31572863/Broad-nib-calligraphy-exemplar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jttJrajs4vw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y1HId0XIWI
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-cQ5U3CLYo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6fsXkiUlgk
In Italian a serif is called a ‘grazia,’ a grace:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jklAtL-ytfU
You can even use a chisel-point marker for calligraphy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bc2gclT6CMw
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/calligraphy

* The idea of writing with thick and thin strokes may well have come from the Muslim world, where the Phoenician abjad was evolving into Arabic script. I’ll look into that.

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The alefbet

There’s a silver lining to all this misery. Up until the Babylonian Captivity, the books of the Hebrew Bible had been memorized and recited orally. But when the Jews found themselves far from home and their Temple, in danger of losing everything that made Jews who they are, afraid that future generations would forget G-d and His covenant with His chosen people—they started writing the Bible. They wrote down everything from Adam and Eve up to just before the prophets, then they wrote down the prophets, too.

The Bible was written and copied in beautiful Hebrew letterforms that were adopted and adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. Their alefbet made the Bible far easier to read than other holy writing. Jews learned to read (they posted words on the doorways of their houses!). People who weren’t Jews learned how to read and the Word of G-d spread far beyond Israel. The idea that each of us has a purpose and is loved by G-d is central to the Bible and central to Western culture.

And since you’re here, reading this, now seems a good time to remind you: you have a purpose and you’re loved by G-d. Hold that news in your heart because it’s absolutely true.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/when-was-the-hebrew-bible-written/
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/origins-written-bible/
https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/hebrew-alphabet/

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Guest blogger: Ilene Winn-Lederer

It would be madness to cover the Hebrew alphabet without asking my pal (and Western Civ User’s Guide Irregular) Ilene Winn-Lederer to contribute some thoughts and a few examples of her fantastic calligraphy using Hebrew letterforms. Click on the links to view more of her work. Thanks, Ilene!



John: Since you will likely cover the technical origins of Hebrew from its Paleo-Aramaic roots to modern usage, here are my personal thoughts on my use of the language in my work.

First, I find the old and new forms of the alefbet fascinating for the following reasons:

I did not grow up in a religious home nor experience a formal Hebrew school education. Coming at the Hebrew culture/language from a mostly outsiders’ perspective, I did not speak it at all but learned to read it gradually through native speakers and informal classes through the years. Ironically, because my grandparents generation came to the US from Eastern Europe, Yiddish was my first language as a child. Anyway, I viewed Hebrew letters as simply beautiful art forms with great design potential. My mystical understanding of the alefbet also came from personal informal studies/classes.

Rimmonim means pomegranate

On that note, here are thoughts from my ‘Alchymy of Alphabets’ collection at my web gallery:
While there have been myriad renditions of the Hebrew alphabet throughout history on stone, carved in wood, crafted in metal, drawn in manuscripts, books, art and calligraphy, I’ve rarely seen any that explore these beautiful letterforms outside the box of their traditional appearance. In 2008, for my portfolio with PaperRoad Art Licensing LLC, I designed a group of illustrated English alphabets whose theme defined the shape of each letter. This year, I’ve decided to work that concept into the Hebrew alphabet. With identification in Hebrew and English, Abundance weaves some of the abundant flora of Israel into the letters that brought all into being.

Finally, here are links to prints available from that gallery: http://www.magiceyegallery.com/GalleryPage.aspx?id=11

Also, my Hebrew calligraphy appears on a collection of holiday greeting cards at: https://m.greetingcarduniverse.com/search/go?w=Ilene%20winn%20lederer&ts=m

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The Hebrew alphabet

Phoenician trade routes

The Phoenician cities were located where Israel, Lebanon and Syria are now. Their alphabet was adopted by the Greeks to the west and, on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, by Canaanites, Moabites, Arameans, Amonites and Hebrews. Through them the Phoenician alphabet evolved into the Hebrew alphabet.

There are similarities between the Phoenician alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet. Both have 22 letters; neither have vowels; the names of many letters are similar; aleph (A) and ayin (O) are glottal stops; you read both alphabets from right to left.

Phoenician, the corresponding Latin, and Hebrew letters. The Latin column shows A and O as ‘ to indicate glottal stops—they hadn’t become vowels yet.

It’s fascinating to see how the alphabet developed in the Near East and Middle East compared to the West. I drew you a chart with Phoenician, Latin (our alphabet), and Hebrew letters. My Hebrew letterforms are less-than-spectacular. If only there were someone I could call who is good at Hebrew calligraphy, but who? Who?

https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet/history-of-the-hebrew-alphabet.htm
https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4069287/jewish/The-Hebrew-Alphabet.htm
https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/introduction?locale=en_US
https://ramatracheldig.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/120808-the-phoenician-alphabet/

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Ink

Okay, we got the paper, we got the pens and brushes—now we need the medium: ink.

Medium (singular), media (plural) are Latin words.

Medium is the word we artists use when we talk about the substance used to make marks—ink, paint, crayon, pencil, pastel, chalk. Every medium needs 2 parts: pigment and binder. The pigment is the color. You get pigment from vegetable, animal, or mineral sources. The binder is what holds the pigment together and makes it stick to a surface like paper. Liquid medium needs a third part: solvent.



To get black pigment, the Egyptians used the same stuff they did in pre-historic times: burned bones. When bones burn they turn black and brittle. The scribes ground them into a powder. You can use charcoal from wood, too.

This is a stone mortar and pestle—the tools you use to grind something into a powder.

To hold the powder together, they used the sap from the acacia tree. It’s called Gum Arabic and is still used in watercolor today. Gum Arabic is water-soluble. The Egyptian scribes would dry out the gum, grind it into a powder, mix it with burnt-bone powder and add water. They might add very little water to make a thick paste which they could form into a cake.

The round shapes at the top of this scribe’s kit are ink-cakes.

After the cake dried, a scribe could carry it around with him and reactivate the ink by adding a bit of water with his brush. Water is the solvent. If you’ve painted with a box of pan watercolors you understand what I mean. The scribe wrote on the papyrus with brush or pen and when the ink dried the pigment stayed there for thousands of years.

A set of pan watercolors

When they’re exposed to water and air, metals oxidize or corrode. As they do, they produce a colored outer layer. The Egyptians got red pigment by scraping the rust from iron. They got green or blue by scraping the corrosion off of copper.

http://www.teachinghistory100.org/objects/about_the_object/ancient_egyptian_writing_equipment
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gum_arabic
https://www.zmescience.com/science/copper-traces-egypt-inks/
The egyptologist in this article says ‘infers’ but he means ‘implies:’
https://phys.org/news/2020-10-red-black-ink-egyptian-papyri.html
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/medium?src=search-dict-box
This book is a must-read if you’re interested in color:
https://www.amazon.com/Color-Natural-History-Victoria-Finlay/dp/0812971426/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=color&qid=1604924820&s=books&sr=1-5
https://www.dickblick.com/products/crayola-washable-watercolor-pan-sets/

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Papyrus brushes

Not only can you make paper and pens from the papyrus reed, you can make brushes, too! It’s like those Egyptians never needed to go to the art supply store. They just waded into the Nile and grabbed a reed.

As I understand it, you chew on the end of a thin reed until the pith is soft enough to be flexible and absorb ink. You can trim it with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to get a point.



https://www.penn.museum/sites/egypt/writing.shtml

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Papyrus pens



The papyrus reed can also be made into pens and brushes. For a pen, you need a dried papyrus reed. It’s as hard as wood, and hollow. With a sharp knife you cut a concave section out of the end of the reed, leaving a flexible point. You trim the point to however wide you want your pen-stroke. Then you split the point so it can hold ink.

If you don’t happen to have a papyrus reed handy, for 3 or 4 bucks you can buy a Chinese bamboo calligraphy pen for the same result. https://www.dickblick.com/products/richeson-bamboo-reed-pens/?clickTracking=true&wmcp=pla&wmcid=items&wmckw=04898-1002&gclid=Cj0KCQiAy579BRCPARIsAB6QoIYuyXrsjCnLqNxnS8MFwI7cqciXBY3gUUKJtTXJTXoH3aE-VftbgEsaAk5-EALw_wcB

https://swatihumanitiesancientcivilisations2015.weebly.com/tools-used.html

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Papyrus

How come Egyptian hieroglyphics are recognizable to us, but Sumerian cuneiform isn’t?

Two words: art supplies.

The Sumerian scribes used a stylus to make marks in soft clay. A stylus pokes indentations into clay, but not strokes. They were limited to wedge-shapes because if they’d tried to draw a curve there would be a build-up of clay on one side of the stroke, like when a snow plow clears a road.

The Egyptians wrote on paper—to be specific, papyrus (pah PIE roos). Papyrus is a reed that grows around the Nile River delta. They found that you can soak the pith (the insides) of the reeds until it becomes soft, then pound it flat. The flattened strips are woven into a sheet, pressed and left to dry. When the sheet’s dry you can write or draw on it.

You cut the skin off a papyrus reed with a knife, leaving the pith. The pith is cut into strips.

Soak the pith strips in water.

The strips are rolled flat.

The strips are woven into a sheet and left to dry under some heavy weight.

Ta-da! It’s a sheet of papyrus!

(I was right—the papyrus reed is triangular in cross-section. I hadn’t lost my marbles after all.)

Here are two scribes, one writes in cuneiform and one writes in hieroglyphics.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoqavHDlKZ0

Watch some experts make papyrus:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCR8n7qS43w
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO72jfUCYSg

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