Digital Epigraphic Recording

Recent advances in computerized drawing equipment and graphics software now make it possible to perform many of the stages of the Chicago House Method using digital technology. In the updated version of the Method, photographic enlargements are still used by the artist to pencil in the essential outlines and details of each scene or text by direct observation of the original. The penciled enlargement, however, rather than being inked in pen, is instead scanned at high resolution, and this image is used as the background for “inking” the sun-and-shadow lines digitally, using a large format drawing tablet. The artistic conventions used for raised and sunk relief, traces, damage, plaster, and other features of the decorated surface remain the same, and the care and skill required of the artist are as great as those required for inking on paper, but the digital drawing gives a greater flexibility in how the “inked” drawing can be manipulated, allows the transfer of the information in multiple scales and formats, and makes any necessary corrections go much more quickly. Collation sheets can be printed directly, avoiding the necessity of using (now hard to find) blueprint paper, and prints of the facsimile drawing in whole or in part can be used for a variety of other field research purposes as well. All digital files are carefully backed up in multiple locations, ensuring the security of the data, which adds an important archival loss-prevention component to the methodology. Then, when the drawing is complete, having undergone the same series of wall checks outlined above, it is already in digital format, and thus ready to be sent directly to the publishers for layout, avoiding the need for costly and technically difficult scanning of inked enlargements. This digital modification of the traditional Chicago House Method is now fully in place, thanks to generous grants from the Women’s Board of the University of Chicago and Dr. Marjorie M. Fisher, which have permitted the purchase of the necessary high-end tablets and computer systems. Digital epigraphic recording promises both to open new possibilities in terms of the accuracy of our recording and the breadth of information that can be captured, and to streamline our documentation process at a time when the need for rapid salvage of the threatened monumental material is increasingly urgent.

A detailed instructional manual for the digital recording techniques now utilized by the Epigraphic Survey, authored by Chicago House staff artist Krisztián Vértes, is now available for free download in both e-book format at and PDF format at