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Kemetic Calligraphy


In _Ancient Egyptian Calligraphy_, Henry Fischer took the script of Gardiner, Faulkner, and other scholars and described it carefully enough so that a student could write legibly in ancient Egyptian.  But, when I started to copy hieroglyphic epigrams and prayers thirty five years ago, I wanted my writing to look like that of an ancient scribe.  Stopping short of going into Egyptian brush technique, Fischer has shown us how to write like an Egyptologist, but not like an Egyptian.  Since contemporary scribe needs a font that may be efficiently used to present texts of all the dynastic periods, I find it best to describe my effort as "Kemetic" calligraphy, as it constitutes an effort to resume an ancient Egyptian art without the benefit of an unbroken tradition in a modern context with modern equipment. 

JSesh and other new hieroglyphic word processors allow the user to choose his own glyphs.  Since the documents created usually take form on paper, I have been contemplating the creation of a character set that would look less like the "monument" script that we find on temple walls or cemetery stelae and more like the "linear" hieroglyphic we find on wooden coffins and papyrus scrolls.  Not wishing to undertake such a project by myself, however, I have had to record some observations to furnish a bit of background for those whose assistance I might seek.  This is largely because I have found no scholarly monograph on the semi-cursive style we find in the calligraphy of some _Coffin Texts_ and notably in Ramesside copies of the _Book of the Dead_. 

To explain possible choices in distilling a set of glyphs for modern use, I need to ask the reader to take note of the minor differences in mural, mortuary, and manuscript linear styles, and account for these by the varying amount of freedom that the artist or scribe's elbow enjoyed as he approached their use.  The smaller the scale, the more likely the scribe was to resort to the use of certain semi-hieratic forms.  When the cadrat is a half inch or smaller, I have adopted certain more cursive glyphs in order to permit greater speed and efficiency in handwriting.  At times in BD, for example, that the symbols for A and for tyw might be conveniently disambiguated, the more elaborate form was reserved for the latter. 

It is my belief that I have observed two general tendencies in the work of the Egyptian scribe which guided the manifestation of what we see in museums:  1)  don't make a mess and 2) don't wear yourself out.  Larger script was painted with a coarser brush, and minor imperfections do not really constitute a substantial detraction.  But, at the scale of the papyrus record, hand movements which might result in ink splatter were avoided.  Also, the alphabetic glyphs, occurring with such frequency, were often streamlined, so that not only potentially untidy renderings could be avoided, but also that the ennui of repetition could be ameliorated.  The handful of hieraticized glyphs that BD scribes saw fit to adopt may be learned in a few minutes.  But, I shall do my best to restore them so that they may yet follow the two above principles, and that a non-specialist may still recognize them without difficulty. 

Two Core Objectives: 

I have been working under the general hypothesis that if I can 1.) adequately explain the advantages and disadvantages of modern tools compared with ancient ones and 2.) supply the right handful of key prototypes; a motivated artist will be able to grasp enough Egyptian technique and a useful contemporary approach to generate his own legible, authentic written glyphs.  Thus, my initial character set will simply follow those explained by Fischer, so that a student of ink calligraphy can work with, yet beyond the penciled examples that he supplied.  My wish is to provide an overview that is useful to a student of calligraphy and (if possible) informative to a student of Art History.  Without scholarly monographs on linear hieroglyphic yet available, however, I am much more aware of a need for access to specialized information than for a need to elaborate unsubstantiated archaeological details. 



The most efficient Kemetic pen may be a metal Shaeffer or Rotring for doing exercises from Gardiner, Mercer, or Allen.  Easier yet more costly in the long run might be a Yasutomo or Itoya beveled felt calligraphy marker.  But, for economical daily practice or careful showcase art, wooden materials may be preferable.  My habit of choice is to conserve rare materials and add stability by fitting a natural reed nib into a shank of cane.  I have not yet experimented with quill or sumi brush, though these may yet yield satisfactory results.

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