Micrography is an art form invented in the 9th century by Jews living in Tzfat (צפת), a city in northern Israel. Hebrew micro-script is formed into images, which can be abstract, symbolic, or representational. Though the art form began in the Jewish community and with Hebrew, other cultures and religious artists have worked in micrography over the years.
While traditional micrography is in black ink, I work with color to give new life to my imagery. Every piece is a work of midrash, the imagery illustrating an aspect of the text I wish to highlight. I try to connect the imagery to the text as much as possible by looking at the text in Hebrew and English, Medieval and modern commentaries, and even historical documents, and then I craft an outline that incorporates the shades of meaning I have found.
For more information, the Wikipedia article on micrography has some basic background on the artform, and the reference links at the bottom will have more details.
The Micrography Proces
While a variety of artistic processes can be followed to create micrography (all valid!), two general methodologies are most common among micrography artists: text-first or image-first. The vast majority of my pieces are completed using the text-first process -- though every once in a while, I have an image in mind and then select a text (or texts) to match.
For most of my micrography portfolio, especially my Hebrew and biblical designs, my process generally goes...
Read the entire text in the original language; for Hebrew or Aramaic texts, I also read 2-3 translations and a variety of commentaries in Hebrew, Aramaic, and English.
Sketch an outline of a scene that represents the text in some way; I often incorporate multiple interpretations or layers of meaning, and I try to plan out where some key verses will go (e.g. the line "And Miriam the prophet took her timbrel in her hand" appears in the outline of Miriam's timbrel in both Parashat Beshalach and Shemot/Miriam at the Sea). Narrative sections of the Torah are "easier" for me to visualize a representative scene, but I've found artistic ways to portray even lists of laws like in Parashat Kedoshim.
Copy the source text to fill in the outlines! I've collected over 500 different pens (mostly 0.3mm nibs) so I have a variety of hues for subtle gradients. (No two brands' renditions of "light blue" or "violet" are exactly the same, which is great for my purposes.)
Erase the outlines. Or, more often now that I've turned my entire drafting table into a giant light-table, sometimes I place the outlined sketch under a clean sheet of paper and use the backlighting to fill in the text. This means I (a) don't need to spend the time erasing the outlines and (b) don't have to stress about erasing too hard and creasing or tearing the paper.
Prep for reproduction: Scan the finished artwork at high resolution, edit out any shmutz that the scanner picked up (1200 dpi picks up every imperfection in the paper and even the tiniest speck of shmutz...), send off to my local print shop and then the art is ready to decorate your home!
About the Artist
Rae began experimenting with micrography during her second year at Hebrew Union College studying for her Masters in Jewish Education, where her research focused on Jewish art education and accessibility in Hebrew education. After being asked to substitute teach a unit on the city of Tzfat, Rae developed a series of lessons to teach the basics of the art form. Even after the unit concluded, Rae kept creating micrography art in her free time; she discovered it helped her unwind. As she began dedicating 30-90 minutes a day to the craft, it even grew meditative enough to make pain management for her Ehlers-Danlos syndrome noticably easier. (And her ring splints made holding the pens more tolerable!)
Rae began working her way through a series of subjects, from Women of the Bible to Pomegranates to going through the Torah portions (check her progress!) and, more recently, pieces in English as well.
When not creating micrography, Rae currently works as the Director of Education at Beth Chayim Chadashim, Assistant Director of the Jewish Learning Cooperative of Shomrei Torah Synagogue & Temple Aliyah, designs & teaches Hebrew and art curricula for JLearnHub, and offers artist-in-residence programs and curriculum consulting for synagogues and Jewish schools around the US.
Rae is currently booking workshops / Artist-in-Residence programs and curricular development contracts for Spring 2022 and the 2022-2023 school year! Email to inquire.