Pottery Illustration

Photography of Ubaid ceramic in Iraq

A summary about archaeological pottery illustration in 2020

Archaeology and illustration

I did a master degree in submarine archaeology at the University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne. At the same time, I was working for the National Institute of Preventive archaeology, called INRAP and known as commercial archaeology in english. Really instructive experience. I learnt for example how to draw section or stratigraphic cut and also how to read different kind of soil.

I’m hooked by illustration since my childhood, so I tried to follow archaeological illustration courses at university.  To be honest, it was quite difficult to find courses about archaeological drawing techniques at that time. I would say it’s quite better now.

How I became Illustrator in archaeology?

After this first experience as commercial archaeologist in France, I decided to add a skill to my profile: drawing artifacts. As I said before, I could not find a course on that subject, so I learnt by myself. Moreover, I was living in Canada at that time.

Multicompetence is really important in archaeology. I would compare our job to a Swiss knife. You have to be able to dig, take picture, draw, build a camp in the middle of nowhere and open a bottle of wine with a simple nail in the desert (True story !). If you read the page about flints drawing, you have understood that I got hooked by drawing at that specific time. I was living in western Canada after my trip to Alaska so I had time to read english publication about how to draw artifacts in archaeology.

Archaeological illustration books

I mostly teached myself archaeological drawing techniques by reading books and articles. So, I would recommend you some books that I read. There are available on Amazon:

  • Brodribb, A.C.C., Drawing archaeological finds for publication, London, J. Baker, 1970. ISBN: 9780212983766 0212983768. Quite updated you will say but not really. Have a look!
  • Adkins, Lesley and Roy 1989 Archaeological Illustration Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology ISBN: 0-780521-354783
  • Griffiths N, Jenner A. and Wilson C. 1991 Drawing Archaeological Finds – A Handbook Occasional paper of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London Archetype ISBN: 1 873132 00 X

I read of course, bibliographic references in French. Here you can download:

Digital Archaeological Illustration for Ceramics

In 2020, Youtube is your best friend. I will recommend you these tutorials really well done by the OrientLab team of the University of Bologna to learn how to draw pottery, from sketch to Illustrator:

Here a pdf in French written by the MOM (Maison de l’Orient et de la Méditerranée Cécile Batigne (UMR 5138) and Anne Flammin (UMR 5189) and illustrated by many screenshots, you can download :Le dessin en archéologie


Why drawing instead of taking pictures?

For non-expert in archaeology, people are intrigued by my profession. It always follows the same question: Why do you draw artifacts instead of photographing them? On our digital era (3D printing, photogrammetry), this question makes sense. So, I try to reply simply here:

  • Drawing a pottery in archaeology is not fine art. It’s not reproducing exactly what you have in front of you (what photography does). It is a technical drawing.
  • The drawer must be an archaeologist first to understand what he has in his hands. He analyses the sherd and select the information he will represent.
  • The purpose of this drawing: To ensure uniformity in the written archaeological record so it can be understood by all from an archaeologist working in Scotland to one in Japan.
  • Contrary to photography, the illustration produces accurate scaled drawings (distortion camera lens).
  • Pottery illustrations can reconstruct the size and shape of the pot from a few sherds, which photography cannot do.
Pottery drawing convention

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a slide I presented during a conference at the archaeological institute in Samarkand so as to display my work.

It explains clearly all the information provided by a drawing. So you can see that the left part gives you the thickness, the shape (Here, the pottery is complete), you also have the diameter at the top of the lip and the thickness of the handle.

On the right, the external part is represented and gives you information about decoration, shape, colors.

In conclusion, photography and illustration goes together, there are complementary.  Most of the time on archaeological projects, the archaeologist does not have time to analyze each sherd while taking pictures for example (Pottery is one of the most common finds on an excavation site. Pottery is extremely long lasting). The illustrator, on his drawing board takes the time to analyze and can watch with a magnifying glass to see a fingerprint, an inscription erased etc

A few examples of my drawings on archaeological projects