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Digital Cuneiform Blog

Assyriologist in the digital world

How to draw copies of cuneiform tablets: Part 1: Preparation of the arboard

By 7:06 PM ,

I am not going to spend time on describing Illustrator's workspace, but you can find very good help here. We start with preparing an artboard for drawing a copy. Just make a new file with File/New, and you will see a dialog box showing you different options. Most of them are not important for us, let's focus on "Size": in most cases you may want leave "Letter" or "A4" depending if you work in U.S. or in Europe. If you draw a tablet for a publication, though, you might change size to the page size of your publication. For now, the best option is to follow the page size of the printer you have available: it helps to print the results of your drawing from time to time, so you should set up the paper format used by your printer (so Letter or A4). We are going to work with different zoom levels, which might be confusing at times, so printout gives you the best approximation how the drawing would look like in publication.

First, you should place the photograph of the tablet on the artboard (page) of the drawing, like this:

There are different ways of doing it: you can just drag the photo from Explorer/Finder into Illustrator window, or by using command File/Place. When you are done with it, you will notice that when the photograph is selected (i.e., click on it with Selection tool , first tool in the Illustrator Tools Panel (toolbox), also accessible after typing V on keyboard), it shows envelope-like selection. It means that the photograph is linked, and not embedded in the artwork. When you move your Illustrator file to the different folder, the link will break, while embedded photo will be still present in the artwork (see here). You may, then, embed the photograph, clicking on the button at the top of the screen which says "Embed." Embedding the photograph, though, makes the size of the file much larger.

From the start you should follow the set scale in your drawing, that is, you should decide how the dimensions of your tablet are scaled on printout/finished drawing. Often people follow 1:1.5 scale (1 cm on tablet = 1.5 cm on printout), here we follow 1:2 scale (1 cm of the tablet = 2 cm on printout). To make your drawing follow the set scale, you have to scale up (or down) your source photograph. In order to that, you have to measure how big is centimeter on your photograph with Measure Tool :

You will see the result on Info Panel. In our case, 1 cm of the tablet equals 25.973 mm. To scale the photograph to 1:2 scale you have to calculate how much you have to scale down the picture (what percentage). This is simple equation 20 mm x 100 / 25.973 mm = 77.003041%. Now, select the photograph with Selection Tool, and go to Object/Transform/Scale menu. Insert the result in the Scale: Uniform box, and click OK:
Now your photograph should follow 1:2 scale. You can check it with Measure Tool, to be sure.

Now it is a good time to make yourself familiar with a concept of Layers in Illustrator. We are going to place each part of the drawing on a separate Layer. On Layers Panel (Window/Layers) you see that photograph is on Layer 1 right now, but to make everything clear we are going to rename it "Photograph" or the like. Now you should lock this layer (by clicking on the second column next to our selected layer) to prevent moving photograph, and make a new layer, named e.g., "Contour," where we are going to draw the contour of our tablet, which I am going to explain in the next post.
This closes the first part of our tutorial. In the next part we are going to focus on Pencil Tool and hand drawing in Illustrator.

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