Artifact Illustration Class 2022

Artifact Illustration Class

November 2022

Thanks to SDAC for letting our illustration class use their educational room and teaching collection.

On Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, class was held at SDAC (San Diego Archaeology Center) in Escondido, CA. Unfortunately, a few students and archaeologist were unable to attend due to colds … must be the changing weather!

Student, Serena doing a fine job of measuring and illustrating a shell.

Vanessa Chappins, SDAC’s Public Archaeology Coordinator, had the educational room all prepared for us with tables and a display of teaching “artifacts” for illustrating.

Students soon learned the beginning of artifact illustrating can be time consuming: Measuring, working first in pencil, lots of erasing, and closely examining the artifact from different angles and light.

We also discussed  Drawing Artifacts to Scale and how a 1:1 scale is the easiest and takes less time and creating a layout of the ventral (front), profile, and dorsal (back) of their artifact.

Cookies can be an integral part of illustrating.

They soon realized how drawing profiles, be it biface, shell, or pottery, can be difficult – requiring good hand dexterity plus, often standing up and bending over the artifact and paper while carefully holding the piece in place to trace around it.

I promised everyone that once they got to the inking part, it would move faster and actually become a pleasant form of relaxation.

We only had to introduce the white out once. Taking breaks – stretching (and cookies), helped ease the backs, necks, fingers, and stomach. …

Bonnie hard at work drawing a rim sherd. Check out the vellum in the bottom right hand corner.

As I went around to each individual and answer questions or demonstrate techniques, I saw just how great everyone was doing and how well they kept examining their artifact, comparing it to their drawing, checking back and forth, back and forth.

I explained that artifact illustration is a technical skill which can be learned.  Their job was to “map” the artifact step-by-step.

It’s easy to put too much detail with pencil when drawing bone but Gary was able to refrain himself!


I also shared some shortcut techniques that included using vellum ( parchment paper for baking is less expensive and works just great!).

Some of the students working on ceramics were able to place vellum over the sherd and trace the outline of the design.

Then they turned the vellum over and rubbed the side of their pencil all over the backside, then flipped it back over and placed the vellum on top of their paper, centering it over the outline of the sherd they had drawn, and pressed their pencil down, going over the lines of the design. Hand-made carbon!

Luke busy at his illustration.

One thing I had to remind everyone of was to go softly with the pencil because in the end, it all had to be erased.

Also, for that reason, I let them know to go easy on placing too much detail with pencil … that most of the detail would be done during the inking process.

Everyone ended up doing a complete and may I say, “beautiful” illustration! Take a look at the finished drawings:

Bonnie did a fine job of illustrating this piece of ceramic. (Photo is a close up not showing the profiles)
Serena picked a difficult project but the oyster shell came out beautifully!
Gary did an awesome job of illustrating this piece of deer bone!
Luke did a wonderful illustration of a rim sherd!


About the Author: Native to San Diego County, Donna Walker earned her AIS Certificate (American Indian Studies) from Palomar College in San Marcos, CA where she also majored in art and history. Donna has been a contract artist for UCSD for the last several years, specializing in pottery/ceramic illustrations. She also teaches archaeological illustrations for various colleges, archaeological societies, and at the San Diego Archaeology Center in Escondido, CA. Her work appears in professional archaeological reports and presentations. She can be reached by email at: to schedule a class or one-on-one lesson.

Leave a Reply