Kathleen Rolland is a scientific illustrator. She draws artifacts with such precision that archaeologists can study her detailed illustrations in place of the actual object. What Kathleen does may look like art, but make no mistake, there is no room for creative expression in scientific illustration. It’s meticulous—even tedious—and that's why Kathleen loves it.
Out of the Dirt and onto the Paper: Artifact Illustration
"You can't email an artifact," says Kathleen Rowland. "But through illustration, I can put an object in the hands of countless people."
Kathleen, a scientific illustrator, was invited to spend a morning with the Time Team America Field School in Woodward, Oklahoma, to demonstrate her craft, which, she emphasized, is not an expressive art form. "Artists want to express themselves. Illustration really is about the object."
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Despite advances in photography and 3-D imaging, freehand illustration remains the standard for publication of archaeological artifacts. Illustration is extremely accurate, highly replicable and easily transferable. Black and white reproduces better than color, and drawings can reveal details obscured by shadow, focus, and color in conventional photography (below).
Illustration also gives artifacts a unique sort of permanence. As new information comes to light, future archaeologists who lack access to the original artifact can make discoveries and draw connections by studying a drawing.
HOW IT'S DONE
Before a pencil ever touches paper, an archaeologist must first tell the illustrator what's important about the artifact to be drawn. In the case of this stone tool (below), the archaeologist was interested in the direction of the flake scars, which can reveal clues about its origin.
Illustrators generally follow guidelines to ensure that no aspect of their drawing is left to interpretation. For instance, the light source is always positioned at the upper left of the artifact at a 45 degree angle directed downward towards the lower right. This way, shadows fall in the same direction on all scientific artifact illustrations.
Kathleen begins by taking precise measurements and drawing an outline in pencil.
Flake scars are then measured and rendered in pencil.
Once the major outlines have been completed, a translucent plastic sheet is taped over the paper. The pencil drawing is then traced in ink.
At this point, directional lines indicating the slope of flake scars are added. For fine-grained stone projectile points (below), lines are used to convey shading. Stippling, or dotting, is used to shade rough-grained stone or pottery (right).
Finally, a profile outline of the artifact is drawn.
The result is a highly accurate "map" of an object, meticulously executed down to the slightest, millimeter-wide notch.
"You have to love the science you've chosen to draw," Kathleen says. "Otherwise the process can be quite torturous."
An artifact like the one pictured above may take seven hours to complete. For Kathleen, the payoff is a profound one.
"Every artifact represents a human," she says. "While I'm illustrating, it's impossible for me not to think of the person who created this pottery or stone tool. They come through in their work. And I hope they realize someone is still admiring it."
All illustrations Copyright Kathleen Rowland