Documenting the Amenhotep III wall scene LD177 at Luxor temple (Part 2) – digital "inking” and collating on the iPad Pro

Aug 18, 2019

Written by Jonathan Winnerman and Krisztián Vértes

Inking LD177 using Photoshop tethered to the iPad Pro by Luna Display and Astropad Studio

In the first section of our 3-part case study concerning the documentation of the sample scene LD177, digitalEPIGRAPHY introduced the Epigraphic Survey’s most recent efforts at finding the best digital solutions in field epigraphy. In the following article, we shall continue exploring new ways of enhancing our traditional documentation techniques in a meaningful way, this time mostly concentrating on the artist’s work in the studio. Before we continue with our case study, it is necessary to summarize the most important expertise gained during our fieldwork:

  • The updated Chicago House method heavily relies on a set of digital templates created as high resolution (1200 dpi) Photoshop files containing all the necessary layers of information.
  • All drawings produced are based on a single digital/digitized photograph called the Master Background, provided by the photographer in the required scale, output at studio resolution, and made part of the relevant template.
  • All temporary files provided for both artist and epigrapher at various stages of the documentation process are derivatives (downscaled versions containing selective layers of the original) of the relevant template set up for the studio file.
  • Both fieldwork and studio work have their specific, radically different technical and methodological requirements; therefore, given the current state of technology, no drawing can be put through the entire documentation process using a single hardware and software solution.

The studio environment

Creating the final artwork at a publishable level of quality should always be done in the studio, using desktop-grade equipment in a dust-free and climate-controlled environment. Ideally, in the field we want to use flexible and lightweight devices that can be moved around easily. On the other hand, in the studio we can “spread out” and feel as comfortable as possible. Once digital penciling was finished on the iPad and the field drawing was made part of the original 1200 dpi Master Image, the inking process of LD177 was undertaken in a well-equipped home studio, utilizing hardware and software solutions that went far beyond the iPad’s capacity. Inking a 20k x 27k pixel TIFF file that contains nearly 4GB of data and more than 10 layers of information required a maxed-out 15-inch MacBook Pro running Photoshop CC. A Cintiq Pro drawing display substituted for the iPad Pro as the artist’s main input device. Using the more spacious Cintiq Pro 16 in the studio has obvious benefits over the iPad, but purchasing a dedicated drawing display for the studio may stretch the budget for many. As our inking of LD177 was partially experimental, the iPad Pro was used at times as a Wacom substitute for less demanding tasks, such as inking textural elements. In these cases, Photoshop was tethered to the iPad with the help of Astropad Studio paired with Astro’s Luna Display. Another piece of equipment that proved useful while inking LD 177 was the Delux T11 Designer Keypad, a dedicated controller to accommodate the artist’s numerous shortcuts while painting with Photoshop. 

Inking on the iPad Pro (left) versus a larger Wacom Cintiq (right): each has its benefits and drawbacks.

Finally, as we mostly used the laptop in clamshell mode, a dedicated external monitor (Dell’s P2715Q 4K) provided instant access to the drawing in large format while painting in a zoomed-in environment on the Cintiq Pro. The simplest way to have a live-view duplicate of the drawing projected to the external screen is to move Photoshop’s Navigator window to the monitor. When inking LD177, however, the artist took advantage of a feature that is somewhat hidden within the Window Menu panel of the software (Window/Arrange/New Window for…) that produces a more flexible duplicate of the canvas. In this manner, Photoshop can open an identical duplicate of our document in a separate window where it can be enlarged or reduced in size, which gives an instant advantage over the Navigator Window’s static overview.

Photoshop allows us to open multiple windows of the same document simultaneously, providing a live overview for the artist while working on small details.

Digital inking

Inked layers of LD177 occupy two Photoshop layer groups, named Decoration and Miscellaneous in the Survey’s template.

The basic principles of the Survey’s digital inking process have remained fundamentally unchanged since the Digital Epigraphy manual was released in 2014. The method itself was designed to closely resemble closely the Chicago House method, with the digitally inked drawings remaining virtually indistinguishable from traditional artwork crafted on paper using Rapidograph pens. When creating versions of our drawings that are of publishable quality, our preferred software has been and still is Adobe Photoshop. It accommodates a raster-based painting environment that provides more natural brushes for the artist compared with the vector-based programs. Nonetheless, since our digital inking method was established, there have been numerous refinements and additions to our core techniques that could be deployed when the inking of LD177 started in the studio. The Survey’s basic tool sets were extended by special textures and brushes to get a better grip on documenting surface elements such as damage and plaster. Creating digital damage and plaster in Photoshop one brushstroke at a time always felt counterintuitive and underserved by the technology available, so refining and automating texture management was a welcome addition to the process. As a result, a new set of damage and plaster brushes were created for LD177, along with more realistic textures based on traditional Rapidograph drawings from the Survey’s forthcoming publication Medinet Habu X. 

Damage pattern samples indicating the difference between the Survey’s new dedicated damage brush (left) and a regular 6 pixels ink brush (right)

Inking decorative elements with the required precision freehand puts a lot of pressure on the artist, no matter what medium is used. When painting in Photoshop, one can make use of the many advantages of working digitally, such as deleting, moving and tweaking elements of the drawing or reversing a mistake by the press of a button. Beyond these basic aids, the Survey artist relies on a combination of freehand brushwork and the use of vector paths provided by the Pen tool. Luckily, Adobe put a lot of effort into developing the vector path tools in recent versions of Photoshop CC. When inking LD177, the artist was able to use a brand new tool called the Curvature Pen Tool to achieve unprecedented control over painting long curves and precise sun-shadow transitions (CC 2018 and up). Using this new drawing aid, one can click through a path as one would do with the regular Pen Tool, but instead of setting down straight line segments between anchor points, the Curvature Pen Tool renders these points into one smooth curve. This curve can be further modified by a simple drag. The Curvature Pen tool really shines when inking long curves with minimal turning points.

Another helpful feature used when inking LD177 was brush-stroke smoothing, also introduced in the most recent iterations of Photoshop CC (CC 2018 and up). When enabled, this tool allows more control over the jagged effect of freehand painting, establishing smoother strokes over long curving features, such as the outlines of main compositional elements. For example, inking the king’s crown, kilt, chest, etc. on LD177 didn’t require using vector paths as in some recent work; instead, these were painted freehand with the aid of the smoothing effect. The combination of the above tools proved to be a significant time-saver during studio work, while resulting in much more precise and elegant inked lines and sun-shadow transitions in comparison with past digital efforts. Thanks to the new tools and the streamlined drawing procedure, inking LD177 required a mere 45 hours, or approximately 9 workdays.

New Photoshop tools used for inking LD177 

(1) Damage is created with the new damage brush that has tapered edges and a little bit of pressure sensitivity for closer resemblance to its Rapidograph counterpart.

(2) Plaster gets more emphasized by using a larger brush (7px), while the plaster texture is overhauled based on more spacious traditional examples.

(3) The Curvature Pen Tool provides easily modifiable, quick, and accurate vector paths when dealing with sun-shadow transitions.

(4) Brush-stroke smoothing gives tremendous stability to freehand drawing, eliminating the need to reach for vector tools in most cases.

LD177 ready for collation - detail (Click photo to discover in higher resolution)

The original 1200 dpi inked version of LD177 ready for collation (click to enlarge)

Preparing LD177 for digital collation                

Jennifer Kimpton collating at Medinet Habu using a mechanical pencil on a blueprint-based collation sheet fixed on a clipboard

For a long time, collation remained a rather conventional hold-out, despite the Survey’s digital evolution accelerating in almost every aspect of its documentation process. In theory, collation is a straightforward procedure: two epigraphers armed with artistic and Egyptological knowledge compare every inch of the inked drawing with the original while standing in front of the wall; looking for accidental mistakes, additional information to be added, and stylistic consistency. In practice, the collation of a single drawing is rarely done in one stretch, with epigraphers working on multiple inked drawings simultaneously while consolidating their corrections and writing down their observations in the epigrapher’s commentary. According to the Survey’s collation method, once the inked drawing is ready to be checked against the wall, it is blueprinted in two copies which are then used for collation. The blueprint is cut into sections, and each is mounted on a sheet of rigid white paper. These “collation sheets” are taken back to the wall where the inked details are systematically examined by the epigraphers, one after the other. Corrections and refinements are penciled onto the blueprint itself with explanations and instructions to the artist written in the margins. When the epigraphers are in agreement regarding the corrections to be made, the collation sheets are returned to the artist, who in turn takes them back to the wall and carefully checks each correction or refinement, one-by-one. When the review is finished, the artist and epigraphers iron out any questions at the wall. During the collation process, the epigrapher is also responsible for translations and preliminary analysis of the texts being documented, which are later compiled and synthesized by the senior epigrapher.

Traditional blueprint-based collation sheet of MHB 91 with the epigrapher’s comments concerning certain modifications (detail) 

With all other steps of the documentation method carried out in a digital environment, printing physical sheets for collation could not be justified anymore, especially considering that these sheets had to be scanned afterwards for adding the modifications. When designing the digital equivalent of such a complex and occasionally long-drawn-out procedure, we had to respect the facilities that the traditional epigraphic procedure provides for the epigrapher while improving on the method’s shortcomings. It was immediately evident that the lightweight and versatile iPad is the device to accommodate the digital collation sheets for this key step of the documentation process. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a large enough screen to display collation sheets in a relatively large scale, while being light enough to be conveniently handled as the epigrapher makes his/her observations at the wall. One of the areas to be improved digital collation  was to provide aids when comparing the drawing with the original. Once again, the Survey turned towards Procreate to provide several layers of extra information that might be helpful for the epigrapher while standing at the wall. The digital collation sheet’s regular blueprint section is surrounded by a blank canvas to accommodate the comments and modifications, just as with its traditional counterpart. Furthermore, the new digital collation sheets provide easy access to the color photograph of the relevant wall section and portions of the inked drawing extending beyond the cut-out section. This additional information is presented on separate layers right underneath the digital blueprint. The color photograph serves as a stable background on which to indicate modifications and mark features that were missed (especially paint) much more easily and to simplify making crucial decisions about line placement for both epigrapher and artist. On the other hand, having the extended drawing as part of the collation sheet helps the epigrapher to relate the cut-out section to the rest of the drawing without the need to pull out the full blueprint each time. 

Procreate layer structure established for one of LD177’s digital blueprint sheets, ready for collation.

To create the digital collation sheets with the above information at hand, LD177 required several preparatory steps. The following slideshows offer step-by-step guides to the process to be executed before the collation sheets were ready to be used at the temple. The first set of steps provided the artist with the necessary PSD files for each individual collation section, as initially marked up in accordance with the epigrapher. This was followed by additional steps importing and setting up the collation sheets in Procreate.

How to prepare the inked drawing for digital collation

(1) Open the inked drawing, unlock the Background folder, and pull out the Master Background to the very bottom of your layer stack. Select all layers above the Master Background, right click and Merge Layers. (Its name will appear as Information.)

(2) Duplicate the merged layer and name it Blueprint. Select all 3 layers and make them transparent (Multiply). Make sure the Image is in RGB; if not, go to Image/Mode, RGB Color.

(3) Call up the Styles panel (Window/Styles) and hit the Blueprint Style while your Blueprint layer is selected. (To learn how to create this style, use the relevant section of the Manual.)

(4) Still on the Blueprint layer, start marking up the first collation sheet using the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L), and don’t forget closing the selection when finished.

(5) Right click within your selection and choose Layer Via Cut, rename the new layer as Sheet_1. Repeat the process marking every segment.

(6) When all the collation segments are on a separate layer, delete the now empty Blueprint layer, select all collation layers, hit right click, and Rasterize Layer Style.

(7) Click on the Image Menu and change the Image resolution to 400 dpi. Open a new file with the desired collation sheet size (4000x5500 pixels is the Survey’s standard), and make sure it is in 400 dpi, RGB Color with the Background Contents set to White.

(8) Grab Sheet_1, Information and the Master Background layers and move them onto the new canvas. Position the 3 layers in a way that Sheet_1 is in the center leaving enough space around it for your comments.

(9) Crop the image to fit with the new document’s entire canvas size and save your multilayered document in PSD format. Name your new file MHB XXX Collation Sheet_1.psd.

Setting up a collation sheet in Procreate

(1) Connect your iPad to your desktop, open iTunes, click on your device, choose File Sharing and click on the Procreate icon in the Apps list. Drag and hold your newly created PSD file and drop it into your Procreate Documents. Disconnect your iPad.

(2) On your iPad, open Procreate, click Import, and choose On My iPad/Procreate. Click on MHB XXX Collation Sheet_1 to open. When open, your file should appear with your 3 layers positioned above the auto-generated Background color file.

(3) Create a new layer and rename it "Epigrapher’s comments." Make sure you always lock all the layers but the one you’re working on.

(4) There are specific brushes designed for epigraphers to be set up for collation. They can be used as soon as imported; however, one might need to adjust the brush size based on the resolution of the collation sheets.

(5) Collation Sheet_1 is now ready for collation. Keep in mind that both epigraphers need to use the ONE Epigrapher’s Comments layer to be able to modify each other’s comments.

Naturally, the above process had to be repeated for every collation sheet. Additional collation material accommodating the entire scene was created separately, intended for surface change marks and paint-related comments. As a helpful addition to the epigraphic work, a separate Consistency Check layer was set up on the Paint Collation sheet. This digital file was checked by the Senior Artist to make sure that the inked drawing corresponds to the level of quality required for Survey’s documentation practices. Once the package was readily available in Procreate, including all files and the digital brush set developed for collation (available to download here), LD177 was ready to be taken back to the wall.

LD 177 was checked against the wall by the first epigrapher, W. Raymond Johnson, Director of the Epigraphic Survey, and the second epigrapher, Egyptologist Jonathan Winnerman. Their experience collating on the iPad using the digital material provided by the artist was summarized by Jonathan Winnerman.

Reflections on Digital Collation (written by Jonathan Winnerman)

First epigrapher, Epigraphic Survey Director, W. Raymond Johnson, collating LD177 at Luxor temple

My experience using the iPad Pro for digital collation was overwhelmingly positive, and I found the digital format to have few disadvantages compared to the traditional method. I received the complete collation packet from Krisztián Vértes, and it contained all the elements I would normally prepare for a traditional collation. These included the following files: small, cut-up sections of the drawing in “blueprint,” normally prepared first by the photographer and then by an epigrapher in a somewhat time-consuming process, a complete blueprint of the drawing, on which to note large changes, an unaltered copy of the drawing for paint collation, and a photograph. Procreate had already been set up with the different pencils, pens, and line thicknesses I would need to mimic traditional methods. As this was my first time working with the Procreate program, I was a bit concerned that I would accidentally erase previous work or change the programmed settings. Both worries thankfully turned out to be unfounded, as the program was very straightforward and can be setup to discourage user error.

LD177 Collation Sheet - detail (Click photo to discover in higher resolution)

A completed digital collation sheet including both the first and the second epigrapher’s comments and the artist’s remarks to the section (click to enlarge)

I began by exploring the features and settings with which the iPad had been given to me. It was easy to switch between pen, pencil, and eraser, and the options to set a new line type and thickness were intuitive. Since I was responsible for a second collation, I had no need to make any changes to these settings with the exception of the eraser, but other projects using this method may want to set standardized line weights before beginning any aspect of work, as the ease in which these settings can be adjusted might lead to inconsistency. I then turned my attention to working with the different layers. These included the photograph, the artist’s penciling, the completed and inked drawing, and the blue prints (i.e., collation sheets). It might seem like having to juggle the collation sheet, drawing, and photograph on a single screen would be difficult, but the fact that they were all displayed on top of one another made the process not only simple but more accurate as well. Normally an epigrapher would make a change on a hard copy of the blueprint, while consulting the original drawing and photograph. With digital collation, however, all these features can be displayed as layers atop one another and turned on and off as desired. This allows changes to be made with direct reference to the photograph rather than eyeballing the correction on the blueprint. As an example, I noticed some very faint paint scars in the sky (p.t) sign extending horizontally across the top of the scene. Normally, these lines would be added on the copy of the drawing used for paint collation. Adding these to such a sheet would have been a challenge, as there were no distinctive lines in the immediate vicinity, meaning they would need to be drawn with very approximate reference to other elements or measured and added to scale. With the iPad, however, it was simply a matter of turning on the layer with the photograph, which allowed me to add these paint lines in the precise location where they should appear on the drawing. This not only saved me a good amount of time but also produced a much more accurate result. 

Painted remains of stars on a sky sign marked on the paint collation sheet by the epigrapher

Another great advantage of the digital format was the ability freely to test a change before deciding whether it should be accepted or rejected. Normally, such tentative marks would need to be made in very light pencil, but after several round of this even the most controlled hand would start to leave permanent marks in the paper. This damage could then distract or at worst hinder the correct change from being made. The ability to test out changes with the help of an “undo” button was especially valuable in the case of LD 177, since the king’s crown has been recarved and initially occupied much more of the space, some of which was later filled by hieroglyphic inscriptions. Between these inscriptions and the general thoroughness of the ancient correction, trace lines are only occasionally visible and are sometime difficult to distinguish from other marks in the stone. The digital format thus permitted any amount of experimentation in order to determine what made sense as a line and what did not. This degree of experimentation would not have been possible (at least not without additional preparation in the form of tracings and extra materials) in a traditional format.

There were of course instances of user error, but the program is designed to minimize these. If I accidentally attempted to make a change to the incorrect layer (for example, the layer of the artist’s drawing), these layers could be locked so that the program would alert me of the mistake. One example of potential user error that the program could not account for was the failure to consider the size not of the correction but of the accompanying comment. Because I would often find myself zooming in to view a detail of the drawing or photo before implementing a minor correction, I quickly realized that it was important to remember to then zoom out again before writing a comment. Otherwise the comments would all be different sizes, many of which could be illegible if viewed from the normal perspective, a frustrating situation not only for myself but also the other epigraphers and the artist as well. 

Digital collation and artist discussion at Luxor temple using the iPad Pro and Procreate (Jonathan Winnerman and Krisztián Vértes)

The remainder of the collation was almost identical to my experiences working with pencil and paper. Discussions with the first epigrapher (W. Raymond Johnson) and the artist (Krisztián Vértes) were incredibly productive and proceeded without any issues regarding the iPad. Overall, it was a pleasure working with a digital format. The most noticeable change was certainly the ability to experiment freely with the collation before deciding to indicate a correction while at the same time making direct reference to the photograph. I believe this led not only to the increased accuracy of the final product, but also to a better overall understanding of an extremely complex but significant scene.

Importing the collation material for digital corrections

Once epigrapher and artist were in agreement as to the number and nature of changes to be made on LD177, the digital collation packet was imported back to the Mac to be used for digital corrections in the Master File. Every collation sheet was saved as a PSD file in order to preserve the layers created in Procreate, and the files were placed in a collective folder (labeled with the correct resolution, 400dpi, for future reference) within the LD177 root folder. The Collation Package folder, extended with the epigrapher’s essay (Epigrapher’s Comments.docx) written about the scene, was to be kept on the Survey’s main server for archival purposes, providing easy access to all the information that we learned about LD177.

1 comment(s)

Ziad M Nour

Sep 5, 2019

Great Work, to see the inscription coming back to life, waiting to see the final work, I am sure it will be fabulous.

Sep 6, 2019

Thank you very much for your comment, we’ll preset the last part of the article soon!

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