Meet the Artist: Deborah Miles-Williams, Archaeological Illustrator

At school my strongest subjects were Art, Design and History, so no surprise that I wanted a career in at least one or more of these subject areas which led to a natural progression towards my current position – even though I did not realise this profession actually existed until after I had left art college!

I studied Graphic Design/Illustration at the Cardiff College of Art and Design, in Wales and hoped to become a children’s book illustrator. After graduating in 1984, I moved to Leicester and worked for five years in the design/illustration profession before joining the University of Leicester in September 1990, as an Archaeological Illustrator.

As part of my role I provide illustration support to academic staff for research publications/projects and teach the techniques of archaeological illustration to university students and the wider community. My illustrations have been published in numerous academic books, journals, papers and popular archaeology magazines, and have also appeared on British (Channel 4’s Time Team), and German television. Since joining the school I have been very fortunate to have worked on sites in Britain, Italy, Israel, and Austria from Early Prehistory, Greek, Roman and Medieval periods of history.

debbieonsitegreece
Debbie on site in Greece

My main reason for working in this job is that I enjoy creating visual representations of the past, these allow the general public to gain an understanding of their heritage and tie in with my interest in History. Through my work, I create permanent records of artefacts, sites and buildings which otherwise would be lost forever.

After gaining the above position based on my illustration skills I felt I needed to increase my knowledge of Archaeology in order to understand what I was recording and why. So I studied part time at evening class for two years for a University Certificate in Archaeology, it was a great networking opportunity as many of the tutors either taught in the department I worked in or were involved with professional archaeology units or museums, who helped me to understand the importance of recording a site and its material evidence.

My major influences from this profession are;

David Roberts RA (24 October 1796 – 25 November 1864) who was a Scottish painter. He is especially known for a prolific series of detailed lithograph prints of Egypt and the Near East that he produced from sketches he made during long tours of the region (1838–1840). www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/davidroberts-454

Alan Ernest Sorrell (11 February 1904 – 21 December 1974), who was an English artist and writer best remembered for his archaeological illustrations, particularly his detailed reconstructions of Roman Britain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Sorrell

Peter Connolly FSA (8 May 1935 – 2 May 2012) a renowned British scholar of the ancient world, Greek and Roman military equipment historian, and a reconstruction archaeologist and illustrator. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Connolly

Victor Ambrus FRSA (born László Győző Ambrus, 19 August 1935) British illustrator of history, folk tale, and animal story books. He also became known from his appearances on the Channel 4 television archaeology series Time Team, on which he visualised how sites under excavation may have once looked. http://www.victorambrus.com/Home.html

Kelvin Wilson, resident in the Netherlands though English by birth, is an archaeological reconstruction artist and a contemporary of mine whose amazing work I much admire. His work is on permanent display at the British Museum, and has appeared in “National Geographic” magazine. You can find Kelvin on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kelvinwilsonillustrator/

Archaeological illustrators are skilled members of an archaeological team and the profession has advanced greatly over the years, moving away from pen and paper which I first started using to digital illustration. I taught myself how to use Aldus Freehand Graphics computer package, later replaced by Adobe Illustrator. It requires a good deal of training and dedication to be able to create the types of illustrations expected from illustrators in the commercial and academic world and it can be difficult to get a break in this field.

Three tips for a career in archaeological illustration;

Know your imaging software – Any courses you can do give you a start, but you really need to buy the packages and practise using them. At the very least, you need to be able to work with Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and CAD (Computer-Assisted Design). It is always of benefit to have completed courses that build the relevant digital skills, including CAD, GIS and even web design.

Build a portfolio of your work – Any commercial archaeological unit or university academic department will look for someone with at least a degree in a relevant field, and six months to a year’s experience of illustration work. It is also important to aim to become a member of CIFAs Graphic Archaeology Group as they will assess and accredit your work. http://www.archaeologists.net/groups/graphics

Network persistently! – One day you’ll talk to the person who will give you your break. And try to attend conferences, too, this is a great way to find out what is going on in archaeological illustration and meet lots of people who will give you advice.

In my work at the University of Leicester in the School of Archaeology & Ancient History, I have my own office kitted with a PC computer and an Apple Mac and scanner for producing digital illustration work (maps, plans, sections, elevations, some pottery and small finds work). There is also next door a Drawing Office used for teaching students. On an archaeological site you can be either working outside on the excavation itself, in a museum or a Dig House.

Your tools on site are pencils, erasers, rulers, tracing paper, calipers for measuring sections and a camera. I produce measured pencil drawings on site later to scan back in the office then digitally redraw for final publication. I use a camera to take pictures of each artefact I record as usually you are not allowed to take the artefacts off site/or out of the country, so a photo is a good reference for me. I also work in my studio at home in the conservatory, with a drawing board overlooking the garden (another passion of mine!). At home I can work on reconstruction paintings of archaeological sites or activities in water colour or record artefacts in pen and ink for publications or exhibition panels.

greek-statuette-head
GREEK STATUETTE

It was really exciting to be invited to join the Eye Exhibition as I have not exhibited with artists before only with other Archaeological Illustrators. I see this exhibition as a great opportunity to further network, as I was accepted to the Leicester Sketch Club in 2016 and wish to increase my artistic contacts and influences. It was great to get Light & Dark as my category, an opportunity to produce paintings of archaeological sites that link perfectly into the theme. I used photos as research and to produce the final paintings. And read a brilliant book called “The Archaeology of Darkness”, by Marion Dowd and Robert Hensey, exploring how humans have related to and interacted with darkness – especially in Prehistoric Britain, my major influence for the choice of sites I decided to paint.

from-beacon-hill
View from Beacon Hill

For many years I have produced technical illustration but I feel the time is right now for expanding my skills and art. I wish to “loosen” up and try and create other styles and particularly keen to produce more landscape and life drawing work in a contemporary style. I enjoy looking at textures and colours (see my Pinterest page and Involuntary Painting Group pages -see links below), especially rust – sounds odd but it is a great material to study and in some amazing colours – not just brown! This is an avenue I particularly wish to explore and develop through both painting and photography – another medium I find satisfying to work in – especially when you can play around with an image using filters as I have added to my Instagram account.

 

If you want to follow what I do and see how I develop I have the following links;

https://www.facebook.com/DebsiArt/

https://www.instagram.com/dklmw

https://www.pinterest.com/debbiemileswill

And my email is: deb@leicester.ac.uk if you wish to contact me for delivering any drawing workshops, talks, or hopefully some commissions……..

 

 

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