By Kathryn Killackey (Killackey Illustration and Design)
I am an archaeological illustrator and in this post, as part of this month’s analog/digital series, I’d like to discuss my work in relation to analogue and digital media. My job includes recording on-site features, drawing artifacts, and creating reconstruction illustrations of architecture, people, and activities. I also help researchers think through their data and raise new questions during the illustration process. Until recently I would have considered my illustration practice wholly analogue. I feel most comfortable working with pencil, paint, and paper. When I first started producing archaeological illustrations (about 10 years ago), the only digital part of my workflow was at the end, scanning my hand drawn images and cleaning them up in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for eventual publication. The image below is an example of this process.
Since then, there has been a gradual creep of the digital into my workflow. I now continually switch back forth between analogue and digital methods when making an illustration. After an initial sketch by hand, I scan the image, then play with the composition digitally, perhaps print it out again and draw on top of my print, scan it again, etc. I continue this back-and-forth until I have a preliminary drawing that I am happy with and that incorporates any comments or corrections from my clients. I’ll then complete the final art in an analogue medium with digital details and final flourishes. This combination of analogue and digital production is fairly straightforward, a skeuomorph of strictly analogue processes.
Therefore, for me as an archaeological illustrator, the central tension between analogue and digital lies not in the different media used in my workflow, but in the relationship between illustration and 3D models. I see two main contrasts in how illustration and 3D models present archaeological data. The first is a contrast in the viewer’s perception of both the type of information presented and the authorship. As Laia Pujol-Tost summarized in an earlier post in this series, both audiences and experts view virtual reconstructions as objective and illustrations, specifically peopled scenes, as speculative. The speculative, subjective nature of illustration is sometimes seen as a drawback. “Why illustrate?” is a question I am frequently asked. The belief that digital media such as photographs and 3D models are superior conveyors of archaeological data is often the subtext to this question. I’ve even had people question my right to be part of archaeological discussion because what I am creating is “art” not “science”.
All illustration is interpretation whether it is intended for an academic or more general audience. I see this subjectivity as a strength and an integral part of what I do. Even with artifact illustrations, seemingly straightforward representations of objects, my clients and I make decisions about the object’s manufacture or purpose and encode them in the drawing. These decisions are made on a larger scale in reconstructions depicting interpretations of past architectural use, behaviors, and landscapes. This decision making process is an ongoing dialogue with interpretive consequences. In the image below, by following archaeological illustration conventions, I’ve included information on the sherd’s decoration (the light from the upper left allows the viewer to conclude the decoration is impressed in the clay, not raised), the inferred pot diameter, and the original position of the sherd in a complete pot.
Interpretation is also part of the 3D modeling process; it is just not as evident. Depending on the purpose and intended audience of a model, 3D modelers make a suite of interpretive decisions, from what is and isn’t part of a site or feature to speculating about building forms and materials in architectural reconstructions. The glossy and smooth computer generated look of these models masks their authorship, leading the viewer to overlook the creator between models and recorded objects, and giving the models their more objective air. On the other hand, analogue media foregrounds the illustrator’s role in the illustration process. Brush strokes and pencil lines hint at the hand that made them and remind the viewer that this is an interpretive process.
The role of guide is the second contrast I’d like to highlight between illustration and 3D modeling. The illustrator is your guide in archaeological illustrations, leading you through the archaeological data, arranging it in specific ways to highlight different interpretations or data sets. Not only do I present these ideas, I help guide the viewer’s eye to key information by making compositional and rendering decisions. For example, a couple years ago I created several images of figurines from Playa de los Muertos in Honduras for Dr. Rosemary Joyce. The textile details on the figurines were her focus and I chose to illustrate them in such a way that highlighted these details (you can read more about this here).
3D models, in contrast, often allow the user to manipulate the view her or himself. The user becomes their own guide through the presented information, rotating an artifact to choose their own view or selecting a path through a site. This has its own advantages such as allowing the viewer to interact with what they deem important and to not be constrained by the limits of a 2D image.
In sum, I see analogue illustration and its digital skeuomorphs filling a much different though equally useful role from 3D modeling in archaeological research. Both illustrations and 3D models are conveyors of archaeological data, they just present it and allow the viewer to interact with it in different ways. In my second post I will discuss how I have recently had the opportunity to combine illustration and 3D modeling in ways that go beyond the skeumorph to constructive interplay between analogue and digital.