Before the age of printing, scribes copied texts by hand. Take a look at some of the incredible images of scribes:
If you Google 'scribes', most of the resulting images will be medieval European. But many other cultures around the world had scribes too.
The man in the upper right hand corner is writing on palm leaves, and he gets his own tablet later.
Just look at these images! One carved into ivory, and the other a complete whacko! with jingle bells! Why do people spend time looking at cat videos when there are so many amazing historical rabbit holes they could dive into?? Yes, Diane, this is why you're sitting alone pecking at the keyboard. Long ago, a college sculpture professor told me that being an artist means that while all your friends are out at the beach, you'd r-e-a-l-l-y rather be in here, chipping away at this damn piece of stone. Yep.
Upper left corner: St Hildegard of Bingen...I think. It's an illustration of "Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe" so I'm not quite sure which figure is Hildegard. In the upper right corner is Hugo Pictor (the red letters above his head translate as: "the image of the painter and illuminator of this work.”)While he was illuminating medieval manuscripts, he decided he didn't want to be totally anonymous, and drew this wonderful self-portrait along the edges. Here's a few place to go if you'd like to read more about Hugo and another medieval illustrator:
Maybe this would be the right time to discuss copyrights. I copy many, many images from the internet and use them in my art. It is my understanding that using these images is covered by 17 USC §107, which allows use for purposes of education, satire or parody. Also, I consulted a lawyer, long ago, who assured me that using highly Photoshopped versions of small images as part of a larger composition was allowed. God, I hope she's right. I'm certainly not using any of them to make a profit!
Next post will show how these scribes came into a tablet.
Here's the first tablet (16" x 16"). They're called tablets because much of what we know about ancient cultures was inscribed into clay tablets. These tablets are designed to be substantial physical objects. The cloth is wrapped around a center material that is a composite of wool, clay and wood pulp, ie: ceiling tiles. I cut the 24" x 36" tiles into 16" squares, glue 2 of them together for each tablet, and have something solid, not too heavy, and not too dense to get a heavy needle through. They feel like tablet, and they can hang on the wall. (I didn't use the industrial felt that holds This Too Shall Pass tiles because it's not quite stiff enough - while the felt works great in 6" squares, it would bend at 16").
So - each one is printed, painted with dyes, repainted with dyes (dyeing a second time gives much greater depth of color), embroidered and sewn onto the composite material (which is covered with a woolen layer before the cloth layer). This is really the second version of the first, because the first version wasn't quite right:
It looked good printed on the cloth.
And it looked fine as I was painting in the dyes..
But then I realized that the finished image was a real problem. The red circular frame (the Largely Illiterate Population arc) combined with the red robe on Moses created a color block that overwhelmed the image. Plus, the ten commandment tablets (the same color as the tabelcloth) leads your eye right out of the picture. Not good.
So - turn Moses around and give him a new robe..
...reprint the image on cloth, re-paint, and then embroider, and it works! Here's a detail photo:
A photo of the embroidered section, without the sides, for a slightly closer look:
So that's what I've been doing for the past year or so - the quilt and my tablets. The quilt took almost 9 full months, and each tablet seems to take about a month. So far, I have 6 completed, with several more in various stages. My next post will show my scribes tablet.
These tablets would include text. But the text had to fit in with the images, be part of the image, not just labels. While I was in Sicily, I saw the mosaics at the Palantine Chapel in Palermo - beautiful images and lettering in a style I hadn't ever seen before:
These aren't paintings - these are mosaics, made with gazillions of tiny tiles. And in between all those glorious images is this incredible lettering (this is a composite of 4 different photos of the lettering):
Look how they crammed in the letters! Starting top left: The R sitting inside the G, the N floating between the 2 A's, the E growing out of the T! On the third line, I love the way the O is holding the M and N together. Back at home, I looked online for other samples, and couldn't find them! (they've GOT to be out there, somewhere).
These nestled letters are beautiful, and not meant to be quickly skimmed through. Oh, yes: this is a text style meant to be savored, meant to be carefully figured out. It was meant to be part of my new art series.
After checking all the typefaces on my Microsoft Word and Photoshop, Imprint MT Shadow turned out to be the best typeface available for this. Sitting with my trusty Photoshop, I was able to turn this:
But then realized that the letters would be better as white against the colors of the images, so I changed the dark type into a plain white:
If you sit in front of the computer long enough, you can find better ways to fit the letters together. You realize that certain words (the, and) should be saved in their tightly compressed form for additional uses. The letters on my Stained Glass piece were my first attempts. Later pieces have better lettering, but this works:
and this part required many hours of maneuvering:
This lettering style is NOT easy to read, I know. Which is why it's so perfect. The first time I went to England, I remember being delighted by the way people spoke - it sounded like a foreign language, but I could understand it (Yes, I'm ashamed to admit that, I'm a complete auditory philistine ). However....I wanted to require some effort from viewers. I wanted it to feel - just a little - as if they were translating it.
Next post, you'll see how it all comes together with the images.