It’s a process…. or: More Archaeological Illustration!

I’m continuing work on my archaeological illustration project, and I wanted to write a little bit about the process of illustrating artifacts. Usually when I say that I’m interested in/ working on an archaeological illustration project, people don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. So I’m writing to clarify this for the few people that are following me.

First, one might ask, why illustrate them at all? We have photography now, so what is the point? Well, with photography, as you can see below, you can’t see all the details of the artifact as well, or you see more information than is necessary. Some materials can become corroded or otherwise damaged over time, and it becomes very difficult to discern the details of the object or see what the real texture was. The archaeological illustrator’s job is to pick out what information is most important, and render the object in such a way that a researcher, archaeologist, or just the general public can see what this object really was.

As far as lithics goes (stone tools), it is most important to be able to see how the object was made. What direction were blows struck on the object or did the person who made the object use pressure flaking? Archaeologists also need to look at ceramics or pottery. Illustrators draw these in a specific way, so the archaeologist can see a cross-section to see thickness of the walls of a vessel, what the material was, etc. An illustrator also has to show the difference between wood, bone, metal, or some other material.

Archaeological illustrators are also familiar with architecture and surveying in order to reconstruct buildings. Such reconstructions of course, can not recorded through photography.

I’ve attached a scan of what I;m currently working on. The first image is a very clumsily done rendering of an arrowhead drawn to actual size. I’m still getting used to the technique, so I wasn’t expecting much, so I’m re-doing it. Below it is a sequence of how I rendered the arrowhead. I’m not finished with it, but the process is:

  • Trace the arrowhead
  • Use a shaved down pencil to get a sensitive rendering of the outlines of the facets
  • Outline in ink
  • Outline facets in ink
  • Render direction of ripples in the facets


I use a really hard pencil at first like a 6H, and then outline in a softer lead. I think the third drawing on the bottom is using an HB.

Here is a link about archaeological illustration that explains more than I have 🙂

There is more to come!!


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