A desultory blog

Why use drawings and not photos in B&C2?

There are hundreds of artefacts illustrated in edition 2 of Roman Military Equipment, and we have often been asked why use drawings and not photos in B&C2? This question has some history to it.

Shire: drawing of a Tekija apron terminal
Shire: drawing of a Tekija apron terminal

Our first book on the subject, published by Shire Publications, had to be produced using the minimum resources available: there was no allowance for photographs. We simply could not afford to illustrate everything we wanted with photographs. Thus, using specially prepared ink-on-film line illustrations was an obvious solution, given that one of us was trained as an archaeological illustrator.

The same consideration came into play (albeit on a much larger scale) when we moved on to produce the Batsford volume, even though we had a small allowance for illustrations for that. We decided to put that towards a colour plate section in the book and expand the line drawings to serve most of our needs. The advantages of line drawings are that 1) it is possible to present artefacts with a consistent lighting source (top left, as in most archaeological artefact illustrations); 2) more than one photographic or line source image can be consulted to produce a composite result; 3) the drawings can have a consistent style and range of scales across the volume. As with the Shire, these were all ink-on-film drawings for B&C1.

B&C2: drawing of a Tekija 'apron' terminal
B&C2: drawing of a Tekija ‘apron’ terminal

For the second, Oxbow, edition of the larger book (B&C2), all of the original ink-on-film drawings were scanned at high resolution before being revised and enhanced. Some had items replaced or re-arranged, others were completely new additions reflecting the broader scope of the text, but all were also given a tonal refresh to help the objects ‘pop’ from the page. Labelling styles were also changed to make them less obtrusive.

The phenomenon of books by other writers appearing with unnecessarily ‘redrawn’ versions of our illustrations subsequently inspired us to make the B&C2 drawings freely available with a Creative Commons BY-SA-NC licence. If contacted, we also usually give permission for commercial reuse of the illustrations, particularly by early career or independent researchers. To save time, then, this licence has now been modified to BY-SA, so use them! You can also find some of our illustrations used on web pages.

Ultimately, a decision that was taken due to limited resources has turned out to be one of the best we made. That, in a nutshell, is why we made the decision to use drawings and not photos in B&C2.