Tag Archives: sketches

Making parchment

Soaking a hide in water and lime.

I’m a big old animal lover, so I won’t go too deep into the details of how parchment is made. It’s roughly the same process as making leather, with lots of soaking and stretching and scraping. You soak an animal skin in water, then water and lime (to get the fur off), for a week or two; stretch it on a frame; scrape it smooth with a knife; and dry it.

The result is a smooth, thin, durable (it lasts for centuries) material that is a treat to write on. Vellum is just thick enough that if you make a goof, you can scrape off the dried ink with a sharp blade and write over it (look at mediæval pictures of scribes at work—they hold both a pen and a small knife). If you want to make your own parchment, Lisa Parris gives you the recipe here. ourpastimes.com/make-vellum-4814566.html As Western Civ Irregular and animal-lover Heidi K points out, it’s worth noting that parchment makers were being respectful of the animal by using every bit of it.

This is kind of fanciful. In reality he’d work on one page at a time, not the whole scroll.

If you like cute baby calves and live in the country (in northeastern USA), maybe you’d like to foster this adorable guy. He’s not available for making parchment out of! https://www.facebook.com/SperanzaAnimalRescue/photos/pcb.3693007027481424/3693006924148101/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/parchment
http://www.edenworkshops.com/Vellum_&_Parchment.html
http://www.historyofpaper.net/paper-history/history-of-parchment/
https://www.abaa.org/blog/post/the-history-of-vellum-and-parchment
https://blog.artweb.com/how-to/vellum/
Here’s where to buy ethically-sourced vellum:
https://www.williamcowley.co.uk/
Skip ahead to 5:30 to see this guy writing on parchment—
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwVeMVr9s14
https://www.grammarly.com/blog/calves-calfs/

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Parchment

In some ways the history of the alphabet is a history of art supplies. How you write is influenced by what you have to write with—or on.

For a very long time, scribes wrote on papyrus. The papyrus reed seems to grow only in the Fertile Crescent: the delta of the Nile or between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. If you didn’t live there, papyrus had to be imported which made it pricey. As more and more people bought papyrus, it became scarce. Not only that, papyrus as a writing surface likes to be in a hot, dry environment. Places farther north are too humid for papyrus and it rots.



On the eastern side of the Aegean Sea, just down the coast from Ilium, in a little town called Pergamon, craftspeople were developing a new writing surface that would be more durable than papyrus—and smoother, too. This new stuff was made out of animal hide, kind of like leather, sliced really thin. Its name, ‘parchment,’ is likely derived from its hometown: Pergamon. It’s also known as ‘vellum,’ if made from calfskin.*

*The words ‘vellum’ and ‘veal’ are related.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/calves-calfs/

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We have a winner!



The big moment is here! Last week we announced our contest for funniest caption for this cartoon. Every caption we received was hilarious and I’m grateful to all of you who participated. Seriously. I was afraid I’d have to write a bunch of gags and submit them over fake names. Here are your submissions:

From Ilene:

Man: “Ooh, classy vase, dear!”
Woman: Yes, isn’t it? And NO, we are not putting it in the Vomitorium!

From JK:

He: I’ve got this urning, urning, yearning feelin’ inside me
Ooh, deep inside me, and it hurts so bad.
She: Olive me, why not take Olive me?

Three from Jim F:

Her: Look what Achilles just brought us from Athens!
Him: Well, it’s beautiful, but beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Him: Very nice. Did you buy that in Rome?
Her: No, the legionnaires took it as booty when they captured Athens. They called it a vase-ectomy!

Him: Why do all of the Greek soldiers have beards?
Her: It’s obvious! The vase was made by a hairy potter.

Here’s one from Maddie:

Him: That’s nice.
Her: Use the one your mom sent.

Nathan submitted this one:

Him: I have no problem with your mother’s remains going on the mantle, I just don’t understand why the cremation urn is so big?
Her: Who said she was cremated?!

And so, after carefully reviewing all the entries, after agonized hours of deliberation, our panel of joke experts—Liz, Roxie and Gus—have rendered up a decision. And the winner of the funniest caption is…



…Nathan H! Congratulations! This crudely-drawn sketch will be winging its way to you soon.

Thanks, everybody, for your entries. I love you weirdos. Tell me if you didn’t receive your postcards.

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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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Greece’s savage conqueror

“Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium” —Horace, that old smartypants

Don’t forget! We’re still looking for dialogue for these two Roman characters admiring a Greek vase. Deadline is midnight Thursday, February 25! https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2021/02/18/we-need-a-gag-writer/

Greek culture—and the Greek alphabet—flourished and got spread around the Mediterranean world by Alexander the Great, through his program of Hellenization. We talked about this a few posts back when I was yapping about the Rosetta stone. Eventually Alexander’s empire got taken over by the Roman Empire.



The Romans were crazy about Greek culture. They loved the architecture, the statues, the literature, the theater, their weird habit of painting on wet plaster—and the alphabet. They liked the alphabet so much they adopted it as their own. The Romans changed a few of the Greek letters. They didn’t have J, K, U and W. But the Latin alphabet is pretty much the one we use today here in good old Western Civilization.

https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/what-some-ways-romans-adopted-greek-culture-436508
https://www.thoughtco.com/roman-culture-117887
https://diasporatravelgreece.com/how-did-greek-culture-influence-the-development-of-roman-civilization/
http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/graecia-capta-greek-culture-quignard/

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We need a gag writer!


We’re coming up on the Roman Empire, and I want to do a post about how much the Romans were in love with Greek art. I drew this cartoon. I just can’t think of anything funny for the characters to say. It’s up to you guys. I’m counting on you to write some dialogue for these two ancient Romans.

So put on your funniest thinking cap. You have one week to write words for both dialogue balloons. You can put your joke in the comments or send it to John@johnmanders.com. Everybody who participates gets a post card. The writer of the winning gag gets this drawing. DON’T PUT YOUR CONTACT INFO IN THE COMMENTS, YOU GOOFBALLS! Tell me your postal address at John@johnmanders.com. I’ll post the results Friday, February 26, 2021. May the odds be ever in your flavor!

Alpha to Omega

You can recognize in these Greek letters some we use today in the Latin alphabet.


The Greek alphabet goes from Alpha to Omega. As you Sunday school students know, the New Testament part of the Bible was originally written in Greek. When the Lord says “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” He means that He is the beginning and end, the first and the last—everything.

https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Alpha-And-Omega
https://www.biblehub.com/revelation/22-13.htm

This website shows the progression of letters from Egyptians to Greek to Latin—
http://ixoloxi.com/alphabet/index.html
© August 10, 2005 by Dennis J. Stallings

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Boustrophedon: as the ox plows

I mentioned earlier that Phoenician and Hebrew were written and read from right to left. Hebrew still is. Greek is written and read from left to right; the same way you’re reading this sentence.

That big change didn’t happen all at once. For a while the Greeks couldn’t decide which direction they liked better, so they switched directions every other line. They wrote a paragraph of text in the same way a farmer plows a field.



I’m happy to tell you they finally stopped doing that and settled on left-to-right.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/boustrophedon

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