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Scribe.  Painting: Winnifred Neeler, Royal Ontario Museum; 
CMC PCD 2001-310-019The ancient language was written by scribes who, from a young age, went through a long apprenticeship before they mastered the skill of writing. The ability to write guaranteed a superior rank in society and the possibility of career advancement. Climbing the social ladder was difficult, but it could be achieved through outstanding accomplishments in professions such as that of the scribes and the military.

"Be a scribe. It will save you from toil and protect you from every kind of work. It will spare you from bearing hoe and mattock, so that you will not have to carry a basket. It will keep you from plying the oar and spare you all manner of hardships."

Excerpt from a text used in the New Kingdom for the instruction of scribes. Cited in The Egyptians, edited by Sergio Donadoni.

A scribe's equipment consisted of a stone or wooden palette containing two cakes of ink, usually red and black, a leather bag or pot filled with water, and a set of reed brushes (pens). Pigments were produced from mineral compounds. Red and yellow were obtained from iron oxide or ochre, black from carbon, and white from calcium carbonate or calcium sulphate. Blue and green were produced from a compound of silica, copper and calcium. The compounds were mixed with a variety of binders, including water, gum, gelatin, wax and egg whites. Paint was applied with brushes, and fine lines were often drawn with wooden sticks.

CMC ECD 98-013-033 CMC S97-10865; 
PCD 2001-273-039
Scribes. The hieroglyph meaning "scribe" depicted his tool-set.
Papyrus painting, modern.
Scribe's tool kit.

To make the paper-like writing material, the exterior of the papyrus stems was discarded and the interior was cut into thin strips. The strips were soaked in water and beaten to break down and flatten the fibres. They were then layered crosswise and lengthwise to produce a sheet, which was beaten again to mesh the strips together. Weights were placed on the sheets while they dried. Once dry, the sheets were rolled up and stored until needed.


Draftsmen were scribes who specialized in drawing. Some tombs contain unfinished paintings illustrating the stages involved in producing tomb paintings. Junior draftsmen drew the scenes in red ochre directly on the walls and senior draftsmen made corrections in black. Depending on the project, the figures were sculpted in relief and painted.

Drawing: Catherine Fitzpatrick Draftsmen followed a formula that makes standing and sitting figures look stiff. Using a traditional grid of 18 squares, they sketched figures according to a predetermined pattern, making no attempt to show perspective. The eyes and shoulders are drawn from the front and the face, torso, arms and legs are drawn in profile.

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