Tag Archives: history

Milton Glaser and logograms

When a symbol works—when everybody sees it and immediately knows what the writer is saying—it really works.



Back in the mid-1970s, there was a hugely influential graphic designer named Milton Glaser. In New York City—and everywhere—every young graphic designer knew about Milton Glaser and the mighty crew at Push Pin Studios. He was asked by the State of New York to help out with an advertising campaign to promote tourism. They wanted people to come visit the state and spend money. The slogan was to be: ‘I Love New York.’ They would turn the slogan into a musical jingle for radio & tv ads. It would appear on all print promotion.

While thinking about the project in the back of a taxi cab, Milton Glaser grabbed a crayon and a scrap of paper and turned the slogan ‘I Love New York’ into a logogram: *

which became this:



Gajillions of T-shirts/buttons/coffeemugs/ballcaps later, everybody knows that logogram. The design is trademarked, but not by Milton Glaser. He was generous with his talent and did the work pro bono—for free. Pro bono is Latin for ‘why people in the graphic design business are often short of cash.’ Try to negotiate for a percentage of sales, you young designers, even if you’re doing a favor.

You can see how logograms became part of the system of hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt. A scribe might hit upon a widely-recognized symbol and use it to replace a word or words. If it worked, it became part of their writing system.

*I admit: only the ‘heart’ part of this is a true logogram, standing for the word ‘love.’ And, yes, hearts have been part of romantic love imagery and Valentine’s Day cards for years and years. But before Glaser’s design, nobody had used a heart symbol that way—to replace a word. Today it’s part of our visual language. How about that for influence on a culture?

https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Logogram
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Love_New_York
https://news.artnet.com/art-world/graphic-designer-milton-glaser-obituary-1890597

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Rebus

Aleph (AH-leff)

Sometimes a symbol stood for a sound. The hieroglyph that looks like an ox’s head was called ‘Aleph’ (AH-leff). Imagine you’re an ancient Egyptian scribe. If you drew (Aleph) and added ‘my heart in San Francisco’ readers would get the meaning without you having to draw all the symbols for ‘I left’—like a picture of a guy walking away or a picture of something being left behind.

Using the aleph symbol that way is a ‘rebus.’ If you’ve ever been in a doctor’s waiting room with kids’ magazines on the coffee table, you’ve probably seen a rebus in them. Rebus symbols are different from the rest of hieroglyphics because rebus symbols represent a sound. Not only that, but the sound can have nothing to do with what the symbol originally represented. The reader sees an ox head and hears the sound ‘aleph’ but doesn’t think about cows or draft animals or plowing.

This is kind of a big deal. Rebuses meant that ordinary shmoes might understand hieroglyphics, not just the scribes. Of course, the scribes didn’t want ordinary shmoes reading hieroglyphics because then the scribes would be out of a job. So they kept writing with the complicated system of pictograms, ideograms and logograms. Only the scribes could write ‘em; only the scribes could read ‘em.

Here’s Mr Tony Bennett:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6DUwMnDxEs
https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/ancient-alphabet/aleph.htm
https://www.dictionary.com/e/a/
Okay, some of these are true rebuses, some aren’t. If you have to spell out the word ‘ha’ in a dialogue balloon, why show a girl laughing? Same with a picture of a cat ‘-T’ to get ‘CA.’ If we already know how to spell, we don’t need the rebus.
https://kidpillar.com/free-rebus-puzzles-for-kids/

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Logograms

 

Like Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics is a writing system which used pictograms (symbols that stand for things) ideograms (symbols that stand for ideas).

Remember with pictograms, a picture of the sun stands for the sun, and a picture of a foot stands for a foot. An ideogram could be a picture of a sun that stands for the idea of one day. Or a picture of a foot that stands for the idea of distance. Ideograms ask you to see a picture of one thing and figure out that it means something else—something you can’t draw a picture of.

Then there are logograms—symbols that stand for a word or even a phrase. Maybe logograms started out as pictograms but the scribes used them to save time. We use logograms all the time when we send text messages, because they’re fast, easy and save space. Like ‘&’ is a logogram for ‘and.’ ‘$’ is a logogram for ‘dollars.’ ‘>’ is a logogram for ‘more than.’ Emojis are logograms that express a feeling faster than writing those stumbling words that told you what my heart meant.


UPDATE: As I reread this post, I realize I’m wrong here. Emojis are ideograms, not logograms. Unless they stand in for specific words, they’re not logograms. A heart emoji as a response to a text is an ideogram: it means you love what you just read. ‘I(heart)NY’ is a logogram for ‘I love New York.’ I need to rewrite and redraw this one.



https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Logogram

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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 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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Writing of the gods

Hieroglyphics are similar to cuneiform in one way: they’re a combination of pictograms and ideograms. Some symbols stand for entire syllables or words—logograms. Hieroglyphics are different from cuneiform in one big way: the images are recognizable to our modern eyes. Cuneiform is a bunch of wedge-shapes arranged in different configurations to make symbols. But with hieroglyphics, when you look at a symbol that represents an owl or a snake or a hand, you can tell right away what they’re supposed to be. There’s a good reason for that.

https://discoveringegypt.com/egyptian-hieroglyphic-writing/egyptian-hieroglyphic-alphabet/
https://brewminate.com/beyond-hieroglyphs-the-art-and-architecture-of-ancient-egypt/
http://www.lynnbrownwriter.com/blog-history/tag/menes/
https://egyptindependent.com/google-launches-tool-decoding-translating-egyptian-hieroglyphs-through-ai/

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Darius the Great

As you look at those old, old clay tablets with the weird, impossible-to-read cuneiform inscriptions, you have to wonder: how do we know what’s written on them? None of those symbols seem to resemble anything we recognize today. Yet somehow we got the epic of Gilgamesh.

Who figured it out? Who cracked the code? How was cuneiform deciphered?

Good question. To be honest, it was only a hundred or so years ago that archæologists even found out there were Sumerians living in Mesopotamia. The land between the rivers was very desirable real estate—people who didn’t live there really wanted to live there. When a nation wants to take over a piece of land, its army usually straps on armor and makes war on the people who live there. It’s a bad old world we live in, gang. So the Sumerians were conquered by the Akkadians who were conquered by the Babylonians who were conquered by the Persians.

At one point, the Persians’ head guy—the emperor, the shahanshah (king of kings)—was Darius the Great. What made him so great? Well, for one thing, he was a monster for organization and standardization. In other words, he liked understandable systems for complicated things. He liked it when merchandise weighed and cost the same wherever he went. Darius made weights and measures standard throughout the empire. He instituted universal currency—coins—which made it a whole lot easier to do business, because everybody knew how much something cost.

https://www.livius.org/articles/person/darius-the-great/6-organizing-the-empire/

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That dirty rotten Rochefort

Here’s a little scene from The Three Musketeers where our hero, D’Artagnan,  recovers from having been knocked out by Rochefort’s henchmen. Rochefort has a quick conversation with Milady DeWinter—and you can see that he has stolen D’Artagnan’s letter. That scoundrel!

Reference photos (yes, that’s a Wells-Fargo stagecoach), thumbnail sketch, tight sketch, color sketch, work in progress, final art—bon appetit!

Christopher Lee and the astonishingly lovely Faye Dunaway

Putting the pot in Mesopotamia

Sumerian pots 4,500 bc

“Clay is a form of soil made up of very small particles of aluminum silicate created by the chemical weathering of rock.”

In the mountains of Turkey, melting snow turned to water that coursed over granite rocks and wore away at them. Teeny-tiny mineral particles were carried by the water down, down from the mountains and eventually into river- and stream-beds in the Tigris-Euphates valley. Over a long time, those particles became clay. You can dig clay out of the ground and make stuff from it, like pots. Clay is what they call plastic: you can form it into different shapes. Clay can be fired—heated at a really high temperature—to become hard and impervious to water. When they dig up ancient sites where people lived, archæologists find pieces of pottery that is thousands of years old.

https://sciencing.com/how-is-clay-soil-formed-13406937.htmlhttp://www.pottery-on-the-wheel.com/what-is-clay.htmlhttps://www.infoplease.com/culture-entertainment/art-architecture/clay-and-pottery

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How to start up a civilization

Sumer, in the ancient Middle East, was the very beginning of Western Civilization.

Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers (I put in modern place names so you can find this on a bigger map).

A civilization means a big group of people with a government and laws; an economy; technology; religion; and a language and writing system. The Sumerians had all that. They were located in between the Tigris (TEE- gris) and Euphrates (EH-you-FRAH-tays) Rivers—a valley that extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.* It’s a friendly place to farm: melting snow from mountains in Turkey feeds the rivers which flood regularly. When the rivers recede they leave behind a sludge of decayed plants, dead bugs and fish bones. That sludge, or silt, is fantastic for growing plants in. The Sumerians learned to control the flood. They built levees and dug canals and reservoirs so they could bring water wherever and whenever it was needed.
https://science.howstuffworks.com/engineering/structural/levee.htm

Remember that farming for food turned out to be easier than hunting or gathering it. Levees and canals made farming easier still. That meant not everybody had to work on a farm. People could have other jobs, like priests or scribes. Some people built houses and towers. Some people ran the government. This is how a civilization gets started.

Mesopotamia: from Greek words— ‘meso’ means between; ‘potamia’ means rivers.

* Yes, I know, I’m a pronunciation geek.

https://www.penfield.edu/webpages/jgiotto/onlinetextbook.cfm?subpage=1525827

The Sumerians


https://mesopotamia.mrdonn.org/inventions.html

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