Three, two, one – draw!

As we all know, there is more to archaeology than just playing –  I mean digging – in the dirt. Information is constantly being recorded and analysed. Along with that papers and extensive research are done on subjects related to the areas and artefacts that have been dug. An aspect of archaeology that is thought of less in the days of digital is the hand drawn illustrations and interpretations of finds from the trenches.

This year the field school students were given a crash course in archaeological illustration from the brilliant Mark Hoyle who often works with the Vindolanda Trust. We spent the morning learning the basics of technical illustration and the key differences from an artist’s rendition of an object.


Starting with an average group of modern coffee mugs we learned how to use a set of tools and guides that help to accurately represent these objects. Unsurprising to anybody who has drawn a still life we also experienced how useful feeling an object’s surface can be.

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From here we progressed onto drawing actual pottery bits and pieces. The first challenge of most of these was to determine which way they were originally situated in order to draw them in the correct orientation. As with the other objects the pottery was ideally drawn from multiple different views and sometimes this included the ornamentation along rims or other places.

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Finally, we were allowed the privilege – or should I say challenge – of drawing a small find  object in the Vindolanda catalogue. These ranged in size and material and each came with its own set of obstacles. As Mark explained, these objects allow more artistic freedoms than standard pottery drawings. While they are technically correct, including a scale and precise measurements, they also give the artist the chance to showcase specific features of what they are illustrating. This may mean that every pip and scratch is emphasized or it could mean that the damage done to an artefact is reversed to show it as it could have been.

Although I am not a particularly skilled artist I certainly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about archaeological illustrations. I enjoyed the technical aspects much more than freehanded sketching and hope to be able to improve my skills so that I am able to produce accurate illustrations when working with collections in the future.

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