The Art of Sacred Lettering

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Introduction to Hebrew Lettering

I’ve been talking with Heather Martinez – the grandmistress of lettering (@CorpGraffitiArt) about drawing letters and the challenges I face drawing Hebrew letters. She’s going to look into learning to draw Hebrew so she can help me out (how cool is that!?!). Her awareness and humility at not wanting to accidentally break a rule when drawing the letters was heart-warming. 

Watch how a Torah is created

In collecting background material for her I came across this video (so serene and beautiful to watch!). There are several connections to sketchnoting. If you just watched to find out the process and piousness that goes into the creation of a Torah scroll, it would have been enough (Dayenu!).
Below the video  is running order with explanations of some points of interest that connect to visual thinking and sketchnoting.

Running Order (and an explanation of connections to sketchnoting)

  • 1:13 The Sofer disassembles the Torah and explains the medium – that is, the parts of a Torah. This is like us geeking out over pen and paper.
  • 3:30 This is a pretty good view of his workspace – the table, lighting, inks, and quills.
  • 4:00 This is a good view of a section of the Torah. Of particular interest here is the deliberate and sacred use of space (the gaps are there for a reason).
  • 4:05 This is a different section of the Torah and different use of space. Also visible is what looks like loong dashes. These are actually letters that have been stretched when drawn to fit a particular space.
  • 6:00 The Sofer begins writing. Note that he says out loud the name of the letter he’s writing. I think that this is a tradition that helps prevent errors.
  • 7:02 putting the ink on the quill
  • 8:06 The Sofer begins to explain his process and column layout
  • 8:22 He talks of first writing where the name of G-d is in the section of text then going back and writing everything else. We might view this as using the “everything else” text as sacred containers for the most important thing, the name of G-d.
  • 8:43 He talks about line and column spacing.
  • 10:31 What to do when you realize that you’ve made a spelling error?
  • 11:30 This is an explanation of the reed or quill that’s used to draw the letters. He also talks of the flow of the ink as being “almost like carving with a liquid.”
  • 12:00 This is wonderful view of a completed four-column section of Torah.
  • 12:11 Error checking using technology! He uses a tech tool to get a hi-res image, then emails that image to another Sofer to verify that there are no errors.

If you do things in this world before you have the holiness, then the things you do may not be so kosher.

I am very much looking forward to working with Heather and learning to draw instead of sketch Hebrew for my sketchnotes. I’ll use a Neuland marker and not a turkey quill, but for me it will be a holy experience.