The first writing was incised into clay tablets and scratched onto stone. Papyrus (sheets of plant fibers) was the big technological advance of the time. Then came parchment (animal skins), followed by paper (first made from cloth rags, then wood pulp). Eventually, we learned to press buttons and have writing appear on electronic screens.
What’s the difference between parchment and vellum? Parchment is the skin of a goat, sheep or cow; vellum is made from younger animals, so is finer quality. The finest quality vellum was made from a calf fetus. While the terms have gotten fuzzy, and modern conservators are calling them all ‘animal membranes’, that’s basically it. Leather is also animal skin but prepared differently.
All animal skin preparation was historically a smelly, toxic nasty business. Skins were soaked in vile liquids in barrels or pits.
I don't know if these photos are of actual tanneries or reproductions...
..but I played around with adding workers from poor-quality old images into photoshopped versions of these places:
These are the two best images that I could find of workers preparing parchment:
So I threw them together in the tanning pits:
Then I decided to add images of the animals...
...which gave me this:
But then I thought, no, they would be DEAD animals (if anyone ever looks at my google search history...)
So now I had this unholy mess:
Wow: I really do need to go completely overboard, to throw in the kitchen sink and all the dishes, and stuff my art to complete excess before I'm able to make any sort of reasonable composition, don't I? However, I did come to my senses and pare it all down:
This image was printed, and painted. I decided to try using a very limited palette:
OK, confession time here: I have a terrible sense of color. I can't draw, I have no sense of color, and yet, I keep on going. But just as I've learned to use photoshop to create my images, I've now learned to copy colors. In this case from Noon: Rest from Work, by Van Gogh:
Letting a better artist pick the palette...
Here's the almost-finished tablet:
Another dyed kitchen calendar towel as the top layer on the backing. For those who may have missed the original explanation, I'm now mounting my tablets on stacks of cloth.
If you cut up an old woolen blanket, the combined squares will still be soft and droopy. But if you stitch the layers tightly together....
...the combined layers form a tough, firm backing. I didn't figure this out on my own - at the British Museum in London, I saw an example of African armor, made by tightly sewing many layers of cloth together.
At the start of this post, I said that papyrus was a writing material used before parchment. I do plan on a papyrus tablet, I'm just not happy with the design yet:
The fact that papyrus is almost extinct in Egypt just floors me - but I need to do more research and make sure about that (it can't be true, can it??) before I sew.