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Stav Axenfeld / August 06 2017

In the "Hatza'at Ot" (lit. Proposed Letter) section of Hed Hadfus (lit. Echo of Print), the Print Workers Union of Eretz Yisrael periodical, David Elkind indicated one of the basic principles influencing the shape of letters: "In a certain period - after the invention of print - a distortion occurred in the shape of the Hebrew letter which was caused by breaking the connection between cursive and square letters; from then on the shape of the latter was determined not by a particular writing implement - such as a quill, a stylus, or a dip pen - but by wood carving and metal engraving tools, and took on a shape that was divorced from writing movements". Thus Elkind underscores the influence of writing implements, the surface being written on, the material, and the writer's hand movements, on the shape of letters.

In the introduction to their book The Art of Hebrew Lettering (1951), L.F. Toby, Gerd Rothschild, and Zeev Lippmann explain Elkin's argument and expand: "With a round stylus one can draw lines of one thickness only, horizontal, vertical, and arched. With a straight stylus one can draw lines of different thicknesses; it depends on how the stylus is held, or more precisely: the angle at which it is placed on the paper." In the eighteenth century BCE wedge-shaped sticks were impressed into clay tablets and dried in the sun, and created the script known as the Cuneiform writing system. [1] During the First Temple Period the Hebrew letter gradually became more cursive as writing was primarily performed with ink and to a far lesser degree by carving inscriptions in stone. [2]
Reference to the close connection between script and writing implement was evident this year in the graduate exhibitions of the departments of industrial design at Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art and HIT-Holon Institute of Technology in three projects that engaged with pencil, lead, and ink. Engagement with writing implements and the materials comprising them is not self-evident in an era in which writing has been substituted for keystrokes and readily available graphic software that can simulate virtually any implement we desire.

עופרה אוברמן
[Ofra Oberman]

Line, Movement, Form, the project by Ofra Oberman of the Department of Industrial Design at HIT, engaged with the pencil. Oberman examined how the pencil serves in a defined sphere - drawing - and created a series of six objects that combine lead and wood. The design of each of the implements, explains Oberman, facilitates a different grasp and coloring experience, like enlarging the point of the pencil's lead and wearing it as a direct continuation of a finger. This is not the first time Oberman has examined the connection between the shape of writing implements and the graphic product. During her studies she came to the realization that although there is a wide range of methods and tools in the world of painting, use of the pencil is relatively limited, since drawing with it requires more precise and meticulous work. Consequently, she created Brusketch, a series of lead objects designed as brushes, which enable using a pencil to draw in different thicknesses and textures.

Keren Dahan of the Department of Industrial Design at HIT also chose the pencil as a research subject. While Oberman drew a connection between the pencil and the world of painting, Dahan chose to draw a connection between the graphite at the core of the pencil and ceramics. This connection resulted in the creation of pencils that preserve the classic components of a pencil and at the same time propose alternatives for the shape of the graphite and create a unique writing action. For example, a pencil built morphologically as a utility knife: a handle made of wood, and lead in the shape of a thin blade. The combinations also influence the character of the line that each tool draws.

קרן דהן

[Keren Dahan]

While at HIT they focused on lead, at Shenkar Yanai Navon chose to devote his graduate project to ink. Navon engaged with the behavior of ink in the writing implement: its flow from the refill to its static state in the implement. Although he achieved a final product - a ball-shaped cartridge that can contain two types of ink - it is actually the material research and search he presents in the exhibition that demonstrate the unlimited possibilities embodied in the material: such as storing the ink in a number of small cube-shaped containers. For Navon, too, this is not the first time he is engaging with the connection between the action, the implement, the surface, and the material used by the writer. In his second year he created Vandal Hammer - a street-art tool. The page, the conservative writing surface, was substituted for a big wall, the hollow pipe containing the writing material was substituted for a hammer, and the ink for breakable mason jars filled with paint that are shattered onto the wall and create splashes of color - a one-time-use writing implement.

ינאי נבון
[Yanai Navon | Courtesy of PR Shenkar]

The connections the students make - between two- and three dimensions, between tradition and technology, and between visual and industrial - unconsciously connect between visual communication design and industrial design. These are two fields that the pedagogic system, according to which designers are trained, so adamantly insists on separating in the name of the desire to inculcate in students skills and expertise in a particular field. However, the fact that in these three projects the students chose to demonstrate the product of a writing implement by means of amorphous lines originating from the field of abstract painting - and not by means of letters - mainly emphasizes the disconnect between the fields. For through "two dimensional" eyes each of these projects could have ascended to the heights of a "proposed letter".

[1] Gonen, Rivka. (1970). Toldot haKtav haIvri (The History of Hebrew Script). Jerusalem: Ministry of Education and Culture - Pedagogic Secretariat; Israel Museum Education Department, p. 8 (in Hebrew).
[2] Ibid., p. 31



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