The blog post for this week has been written by Isobel Jackson-Scibona, who is currently undertaking a three-month paid placement at the Egypt Centre funded by Swansea University’s Graduate Support Programme. During this placement, Isobel will be producing illustrations of objects in the collection, with a particular focus on the unpublished material from Armant.
My childhood was spent surrounded by art. With both parents either teaching art or making it themselves, I grew up eagerly entering every Eisteddfod competition with my creations and was even awarded the title of Art Honours Student in sixth form. Having decided early on that I would follow in my parents’ footsteps and do my teacher training after A-levels, this all changed when I discovered my passion for Ancient History. However, I still had a deep love for art, finding that my particular style lent itself best to detailed analytical studies of objects rather than emotive and expressive pieces. This was much to the frustration of my poor teacher Mrs Eddy, who spent countless hours trying to help me loosen up, giving me nothing but A2 pieces of paper, a chunk of charcoal and my floundering imagination. Despite her best efforts, and later amazing tutelage by the lecturers at Coleg y Cymoedd during my Foundation Diploma, I knew that teaching art in a school was just not in my cards (fig. 1).
|Fig. 1: 2007 to 2022: An ongoing love of drawing and art but luckily a visible improvement!|
Having been able to explore Latin in school and been lucky enough to study Classical Civilisation at A-level, I was introduced to the ancient world through Homer’s epics. I distinctly remember sitting in the Classics classroom at Howells School, being surrounded by the smell of old tomes, the gentle creaking of the building’s 1860s wooden panelling from the warmth of the old school radiators and a particularly heated discussion of how much we hated Jason in Euripides’ Medea. Despite there being only two of us taking the A-level, the infectious passion Miss Jenkins displayed and the way she could paint vivid images of rich history from Greece to Rome and beyond made me realise that I had become completely and utterly ensnared in the study of ancient worlds. It was all I wanted to do.
It was at Swansea University that my dream came to fruition, I pursued my degree in Egyptology and Classical Civilisation whilst eagerly absorbing any bits of information I could, even going as far as to attend extra classes that I had not enrolled in. Upon completing my BA Honours with a first-class degree, I decided that it was time for a new challenge, an MSc in Archaeological Science. This opportunity would allow me to study the areas of Osteoarchaeology and Zooarchaeology at Cardiff University, from some of the best in the field. As I’m pretty sure my old GCSE teachers would agree, I do not have a scientific bone in my body (pun intended). When plunging head first into the MSc, with a rather nagging sense of imposter syndrome and irrational fear of spilling a can of Pepsi on some very expensive lab equipment, I was comforted to see that one of my optional modules was Artefact Illustration. My heart leapt as I realised that no matter how much of an outsider I felt, being surrounded by so many incredible minds in white coats, this would be my chance to shine (fig. 2).
|Fig. 2: I often like to share photographs of my work in progress, explaining the process of drawing artefacts by hand and the techniques I use.|
Having gone on to achieve a distinction in the illustration module, I began sharing some of my work online hoping to find opportunities to practise my new skill. I was then contacted by Ken Griffin at the Egypt Centre who has very kindly hired me as an intern to illustrate some of the collection. Ken has also put his trust in me to render a number of flints from Egypt Exploration Society’s unpublished excavations at Armant during the 1930s, hopefully culminating with them being published alongside accurate illustrations that would further enrich their study (fig. 3). My deepest thanks go out to Ken for this experience and for listening to my excited ramblings on flint, pens and permatrace paper!
|Fig. 3: Flint flake from the unpublished excavations at Armant|
The question I most often get asked is, “with all the technology we have today, why do we still draw artefacts?”. The best answer I can give is that there are simple details that can be conveyed more easily through illustration than through photography. This is especially relevant to flints and metals that contain purposeful surface marks that can’t all be shown simultaneously in a single photograph, such as the directional strikes of the knapping process for stone tools (fig. 4).
|Fig. 4: Whilst the photographs are very high quality and great for analysing W1370, the inclusion of accompanying illustrations allows for additional information to be conveyed (such as the direction of flaking/knapping).|
When illustrating artefacts, the main principle is that you as an artist, are simply translating the object into another form. There is no room for an artistic license or attempts to make something appear more aesthetically pleasing, your job is to document the piece in a way that is accurate and interpretable by all. In order to do this, there are certain rules that must be adhered to in order to make sure that any scholar who sees the drawing is able to gain the information needed (such as material, scale and texture) and even use multiple artefact images to cross-reference details. To put it very simply:
1. There is no global light—if you are right-handed you draw as if the light is coming from the top left (and vice versa). You use this rule and not the actual light source you are working with.
2. Each material has its own marks—flint is directional line work, metal is stippling, pottery is a more organic mix of both etc. The marks you use act as a key to immediately identify an artefact and its material.
3. A scale must always be included. Just as with object and excavation photography there should always be an appropriate scale included.
4. Objects should be drawn with publication in mind—if you are drawing a 3cm long arrowhead at 1:1 scale, be aware of how the image may lose sharpness if blown up for an A2 poster presentation or display on a whiteboard. Equally, bigger drawings should avoid having areas of shading that are too heavy, as when the image is reduced for A4 printing in a book, the darker areas may condense down and bleed into nothing more than a blob of black ink.
5. Whilst not necessarily a main principle, I prefer to draw the objects by hand with high-quality pens, only tidying up the linework digitally using Adobe packages. I find that physically drawing on paper gives you more control when recreating linework than using a digital tablet. However, this can differ between artists.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this short blog. I wanted it to serve as an introduction to not only myself, but some of the exciting work taking place at the Egypt Centre and the techniques behind it!
If you would like to know more about the illustration process or get in contact, feel free to email me at email@example.com or on my Instagram blog @the_exhausted_historian.