Monday, October 13, 2008
Sketching the Past: Illustrations in Archaeology
The following is an excerpt from a paper I'm working on. The paper is entitled: Sketching the Past: Illustrations in Archaeology. The main thesis is that scientific illustrations are problematic and deserve better attention. Further, these illustrations hold connotations that many take for granted. This is primarily a theoretical paper. Below is the discussion I wrote for the first step in any illustration, the visualization of an object(s).
One must first see what they are drawing before they set pencil to paper. This is the process of visualizing. An artist needs to stare intently at the object(s) before them. The totality of the image is viewed. Questions such as shape and size are studied, along with the object’s color and where shadowing occurs or doesn’t.
An artifact is not just an artifact, and by staring intently one can understand this. What this statement implies is that an artifact, or any object for that mater, is a jigsaw of colors, shadows, and lines. The eye must become comfortable with the object by staring at it and getting to know it.
An analogy might help in describing this problem. A person driving an automobile does not generally note all the intricacies of everything that they pass; signs tend to blend into one another and only the general outline or meaning is remembered or acted upon. A stop sign will register with a driver to halt the vehicle, but the actual image of the sign likely fades from his or her memory fairly rapidly. For an archaeologist, we cannot treat artifacts in such a manner. While sorting through artifacts, we cannot treat them like road signs at 50km an hour. Instead we should take a leisurely walk. The past deserves such attention.
Visualization of artifacts at the beginning of an illustration forces the archaeologist to take a walk with frequent breaks. Visualization forgoes the speeding past road signs. The eye is forced into looking at one artifact for a suspended period of time. The eye relaxes and the artifact becomes a familiar shape, not some alien object that becomes rapidly tossed into Ziploc coffins.