Roman Pottery Profiles (North Africa)

I mailed a disc of 250 (ish) jpegs to Toronto today. Each illustration is a profile of a roman pot from Leptis Minus in North Africa. Here you see two of the more complete amphorae. The other 248 were varying sizes from complete pieces to itty-bitty sherds.

I had a misunderstanding with one of our tutors yesterday at college. She told me that my drawings were too exacting, too accurate; they needed to be looser and more scribbly. I understand her opinion, but when I told her my background (and the need for swift accuracy) she looked nonplussed. I cannot help that the instinct for accuracy leaks in to my creative work.

These pottery illustrations should be published in 2009 in a monograph covering all aspects of Leptis Minus. I have been working for a long time on illustrations for this book: building reconstructions, statuary, small finds, and pottery (...of course, pottery).

When I went to Lamta (modern-day Leptis Minus) this summer one of the dig directors said to me, "I've been warned about you. They told me you don't like drawing pottery profiles." I laughed. She added quietly, "I can't blame you." Handling pottery sherds certainly isn't my favourite: they have an odd, sand-papery texture; they are dusty; they break my fingernails; and they are little abstract pieces of broken pots. All I usually have to work with is a minuscule rim sherd, from which I have to reconstruct as complete a profile as possible.

Drawing the profile is a non-intuitive process. First you visualize a cross section of the rim in your hand and draw it. Then you measure the curvature of the rim to determine the diameter of the pot. Once you have the measurements, you reflect the cross section on to the opposite side and draw the outer markings. Some people work with a curve comb or plasticine to form a mold of the pot to trace. I find it much easier to quickly measure with my eye, and then draw as accurately as I can on the first try. Once you've drawn several hundred pots you develop an instinct for the rim shapes. The profile pictured above was just a rim, nothing else was left of the pot.

I don't underestimate the significance of these illustrations, as the specifics of roman pottery (where and how they were made, and in what style) can tell a lot about the culture and economics of a region.

If I have to draw pot profiles, I much prefer ARS (african red slip, to those of you who are sniggering). They have a silky smooth texture (no rough hands and broken nails) and they are often decorated with appliqué or incised patterns. Very beautiful.

I'll post an ARS or two for comparison in a day or two.