Ask an Artist: Lucinda Naylor

I was very pleased to talk to artist Lucinda Naylor about artistic influences, archaeology and her current graphic novel project about walking the Camino.
Dr H

Ask an Artist: Lucinda Naylor

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When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?

I was interested in art at very young age. I remember being three and absolutely thrilled by drawing a ferris wheel I had seen lit up the night before. Unfortunately, my mother didn’t share the excitement of how perfectly I had recreated the scene–since I drew it  on my hand, using a ball point pen. (I had noticed that the creases in my hand were similarly shaped to the ferris wheel’s ironwork–I’m still impressed with my three-year old self on that one.) Sadly, my mother didn’t see it the same way and made me wash my hand.

I tell this story to show that the desire to create art was there from a very young age, but the support was not. I was allowed to do art as a hobby, but told it couldn’t be a profession. Because of this–even though I got an MFA when I was 30 (so I could teach art)–I didn’t actually start to call myself an artist, or take myself seriously as one until I was about 32 and beautifully copied a Fra Angelico painting. I realized if I could copy a masterwork like that, I had some talent and should take it seriously.

Did any particular forms of art or media influence your development as an artist?

In no particular order I would say influences on my art have been medieval painters; neolithic and other early human art and objects; “found objects”–i.e. trash; Benin bronze sculptures; classical Greek, Roman, Assyrian, Egyptian stone sculptures, mosaics, and painting; contemporary Graffiti; Edward Gory; early 20th Century figurative American painters and printmakers; petroglyphs; comic books; vintage poster art.

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We first met on an archaeological did in France; had you been on an excavation/ visited many archaeological sites before this?

Before the French dig, I had visited archaeological sites but always of the tourist variety–watching from behind barriers, while someone else did the digging. I did sneak past a barrier into a dig in the Roman forum when I was 19–very naughty, and lucky we weren’t killed as we wandered unlit rooms in ancient apartment buildings with huge holes dropping though the floors.

I actually sent years of my young life wanting to be an archaeologist–after reading about Howard Carter’s dig in Egypt, when I was about eight years old. Again, my family was very discouraging to that as a profession–probably because, in midwestern America, history isn’t obvious the way it is in other parts of the world, where the human settlements have left larger, more evident, marks.

Then I had the misfortune of taking the dullest possible “Intro to Archaeology” course in college; taught by grad students who made digging seem extraordinarily tedious–not that we ever got to do any digging–we just had to learn about recording each grain of sand.

I wish I had had a good lecturer in archaeology, because I would love to have enjoyed more formal studies in the field.

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As it is, I discovered I love to dig by working that French dig.  Nowadays, also I enjoy helping on a dig site by drawing or contributing as an artist.

You took part in Dr A’s excavation at Torbhlaren, Kilmartin. What was your response to the archaeology and landscape of Kilmartin?

I loved the landscape there so much. It is a very exciting area to dig in. All the standing stones, tombs, and the cup and ring carvings are fascinating and artistically inspiring.

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When not digging, I liked trying my hand at creating my own cup marks on small scraps of rock and getting a feel for how I think neolithic people had done the carving.

I was also excited to discover, in the course of digging, all sorts of pigment stones on the Torbhlaren site and realize that coloring the rocks/cup and ring carvings had probably been part of some neolithic ritual.

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I finished the dig feeling very connected to the people who had left their traces there, because through making art by using their tools, or their creations as inspiration, I was able partake in some shadow of their experience.

You’re currently working on a graphic novel about walking the Camino pilgrimage route in Spain. How has the graphic novel format helped you to communicate the experience of walking the Camino?

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The graphic novel format has been the perfect way to talk about my camino experience. While walking the camino I kept a sketchbook, where I drew pictures and jotted down notes. This was just for myself–not with the original intent of publication–though I had a number of other pilgrims encourage me to publish the sketches.

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In my graphic novel I have been able to incorporate almost all my sketches into the story.

Having my sketches gives not just renderings of things–sure you can see  what the Cathedral in Leon looks like in a sketch, but you can also see where my mind was at with the quality of my line and the care that I took–or didn’t take as I hurried to sketch while walking or took my time while resting. I tried to draw at least once a day (usually more) on camino. Sometimes the subjects of my drawings weren’t the most profoundly interesting things I saw, but what captured my attention for a moment– which works to make the graphic novel feel fresh and real.

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I use collage, and paintings based on photographs, to flesh out my drawings and add to the veracity of my book.

The Camino, for me, was a very visual and very tactile experience. It was about moving through space and time on my own two feet–and the aches, pains, and pleasures that go along with that journey.

Working on my graphic novel–the working title is Camino Real–has been a lot like re-walking the camino. I’m meeting the landscapes again, the people again; tasting the food; experiencing the hostels; etcetera–as I’m recreating the experience panel by panel, and page by page.  Luckily, reliving blister pain doesn’t feel too real, but on the whole my life has felt re-immersed in the camino–and I think that immersion is partly because the graphic novel experience is so encompassing. There are words that tell a story and there are pictures that tell a story; and those words and pictures can layer together to create something more than words alone, or pictures alone, can say.

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Thanks, Lucinda!
Do head over to Lucinda’s websiteblog or Facebook page to see more of her fantastic artwork.

Round-up of the Year by Dr H

P1050917One of the highlights of 2013 for me has been Prehistories itself. We’re nearing our 1st birthday, and I’ve really had a lot of fun posting on the blog, reading comments and following up links to other peoples blogs.

Thank you to everyone who agreed to be willing victims in Ask an Archaeologist/ Ask an Artist/ Ask an Author. Everyone who’s taken part has given thoughtful, thought-provoking and entertaining answers. I really appreciate the time you’ve all taken over this feature.

Congratulations to artist Garen Ewing who won the Young People’s Comic Award for the Rainbow Orchid and to Sally Prue, whose book Song Hunter is on the long list for this year’s Carnegie Award.

I have really enjoyed exploring other people’s blogs too. News, opinion, creative engagement with archaeology. Check out the new links page (with more links to come).

A personal highlight for me has been seeing John Swogger’s artwork for One Girl goes Hunting take shape. Check out his latest image of Kat-ya. Awesome!

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More on this project in 2014…

Also I’ve surprised myself this year by discovering how much I love drawing. Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me in this direction, especially with the Archaeological Oddities comics. You can now buy Volume 1 on my Etsy store, along with my Make your Own Archaeological Oddities pack as recommended by Alfie (thanks to Lucinda Naylor for the photo).

photo (3)I have a few more comics projects brewing away too. You can head over to my tumblr site to see the more personal work I’m developing at the moment. All a huge learning curve, but a lot of fun.

Finally, I’ve been doing some work on archaeology and comics in school with Steph Moser and Alistair Jones. I’ve also written up a case study of a local school using books on archaeology in their caves topic, which should be published in English 4-11 online sometime early next year.

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Now I feel exhausted! Time for a rest in order to gather myself for whatever 2014 has to offer.

Dr H

Ask an Archaeologist: Aaron Watson

In another Ask an Archaeologist meets Ask an Artist, Prehistories questioned Dr Aaron Watson about his engagement with archaeology, art and landscape.

Ask an Archaeologist
Aaron Watson
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What is your specialism?

I explore archaeological ideas and experiences through painting, photography, film, animation and collage. My background is in archaeology, and sometimes I work with established conventions for visual representation – maps, plans and excavation photos etc. But what interests me most is the potential for experimentation. When I encounter artefacts, sites and landscapes they often possess qualities that I am unable to capture in words and pictures alone, and which cannot even be recorded by sophisticated technologies like laser scanning. I’m talking about rather subjective characteristics such as temperature, sound, movement or the way light reflects from surfaces. Then there is the time of day and the weather, all of which transform experience. I’ve found that creative approaches to recording and representation can make space for unexpected visions of the past in the present. Sometimes I go with my imagination, and sometimes I am commissioned to communicate in a specific way; the outputs include installation, exhibition, publication and visualisation.

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Why did you become an archaeologist?

I grew up in the Derbyshire Dales, a land of wild moors and extraordinary rock formations. Some of my earliest memories are of visits to stone circles and barrows amidst this landscape; places like Arbor Low. I think I must have responded very instinctively to their special atmosphere and aesthetic – an emotional response that existed without any knowledge of archaeology. Then the world moved on, and I was presented with a choice between archaeology at university or going to art college. Looking back, I can’t answer why I made the choice I did. But I do know that academic training has been essential to what I do. Not in the sense that it brings me any closer to the past – archaeological ideas inevitably seem to reflect the present. But the evidence methodological and theoretical research can yield is often suggestive of a past that is stranger and more inspiring than I could ever have envisaged during my childhood walks across the moors.
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Which archaeologist (past or present) would you invite onto an excavation?

I think it would have to be one of the early antiquarians – John Aubrey perhaps. I haven’t done a lot of reading about it, but I have a notion that the 17th and 18th century landscape was being reconfigured by Enlightenment thinking; a crucible within which archaeology as we know it was forged. The early antiquarians seem to have been learning to disentangle what we now describe as archaeological ‘sites’ from the background of the natural landscape. We take this for granted now, but the distinction between things made by people and things made by geological processes was not always defined. I’ve also read anthropological accounts that describe how people around the world understand their surroundings in diverse ways that can be difficult to decipher. Prior to the natural sciences, understandings of rocks, animals or weather must also have been very different. Antiquarians brought the modern discipline of archaeology into being and it would be fascinating to speak with of someone working on that quarry face.

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Choose one of the following: trowel; museum; archive; library; landscape; laptop.

While I’m using a laptop right now, I would have to say landscape. I find it a difficult word to define yet it provides the context within which all my actions take place, from inner city to mountain summit. Whenever museums, archives, libraries (or even trowels and laptops) fail to deliver; inspiration can be found out there in the wider world.

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What is your dream find?

I’ve been fortunate to stumble across wonderful things. An unrecorded passage grave was a highlight while fieldwalking near Inverness. Trowelling down onto unknown cup and ring carvings during excavations near Kilmartin and on Ben Lawers was also evocative. What I find most compelling are less tangible experiences. For example, many years ago I unexpectedly heard subtle echoes reflecting from a stone circle, and this ultimately led to an ongoing research project that changed my understanding of the role of sound and acoustics in prehistory. But in terms of artefacts, a carved stone ball or ground stone axe would be rather fun.

Time travel, yes or no? (Give reasons)

Time travel might seem to be the greatest opportunity (or challenge) to someone who creates visual reconstructions of the past. If I could go back there and take photos would visualisation be necessary at all? Setting aside the hazards of time travel that I’ve been reliably informed about through science fiction (temporal paradoxes etc), would a fieldtrip through time change my interpretation? On one level it certainly would, as the archaeological record can only represent a tiny fraction of what people did in the past. But on another level I would still only be a modern tourist with particular ways of seeing. I have to acknowledge that the visualisations I create are informed by archaeology, but are ultimately reflections of the society in which I live. The real challenge is to confront my own preconceptions and expectations. The past, and therefore the present, might turn out to be even less familiar than we could possibly imagine.

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If you had to relocate to the past, which era would you move to?

Well, sweeping aside the previous answer, curiosity would inevitably lead me to the Neolithic. Everything there would be fascinating, but I hope the itinerary might include a chance to witness a vast construction project such as Silbury Hill or Maeshowe. But I’d also like to see smaller acts; the creation of cup and ring marks, or activities within Skara Brae or Barnhouse. Simply meeting the people would be extraordinary; not only how they dress and speak, but subtleties such as posture and movement.

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Is there a work of art (e.g. novel, painting, music, film, etc) that has influenced you as an archaeologist?

There have been many, and for various reasons. In no particular order they include Kurt Schwitters for collage, and the Merz Barn in the Lake District. Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso for finding radical ways to represent time and space through Cubism, and David Hockney for translating these ideas into photography and other mediums. I’ve always been intrigued by Boyle Family’s intricate mixed media studies, which seem fundamentally archaeological. Finally, I’m always drawn back to Richard Long’s evocative landscape works.

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What are you working on at the moment?

A variety of photography, film, and illustration commissions – and some collaborative projects in between. Over the past year or so I’ve been involved with experimental fieldwork at Skara Brae and Links of Noltland in Orkney, as well as capturing sensory experiences of Palaeolithic art in the caves of northern Spain. I’ve also embarked upon a community arts and archaeology project hosted by Kilmartin Museum in Argyll. This is a collaboration with composer John Was to explore cup and ring markings through sculpture, music and multimedia. Once I get around to updating it, there’ll be further info on my website: http://www.monumental.uk.com

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This text was intermittently compiled during train journeys to Durham, London and Edinburgh, and completed atop an outcrop overlooking Great Langdale.

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Thank you, Aaron for answering our questions. 

Do head over to Aaron’s Monumental site and check out more of his artwork.

Read more Ask an Archaeologist features here: https://prehistories.wordpress.com/category/ask-an-archaeologist/

Ask an Artist: Garen Ewing

Garen Ewing – artist, author and creator of the Julius Chancer comics The Rainbow Orchid and The Secret of the Samurai – answers our questions about  archaeology, antiquarian sleuths and his artistic influences.

Dr A and H are both great admirers of Garen’s work. Set in the 1920s, The Rainbow Orchid charts the adventures of Julius Chancer as he races to find the mythical Rainbow Orchid ahead of Urkas Grope’s fiendish (but stylish) assistant Evelyn Crow. More recently Julius Chancer has been tracking down a lost suit of samurai armour. Antiquities, adventure, even attractive French aerobats – these stories have it all!

 

Jules & Lily off in the Mercedes

Ask an Artist: Garen Ewing

Your Julius Chancer adventures feature lots of references to archaeology – were you interested in ancient things and peoples as a child, or is it a recent interest?

I’m really interested in the concept of undiscovered things and places, and I think this has been a staple of the type of adventure story I’ve enjoyed since childhood. I really love the idea that an object or a place can reveal the story of people long gone … and I guess that is archaeology, though I can’t claim to have been specifically interested in that subject until more recently. Having said that, my first and longest-lasting comics love is Asterix, which encompasses ancient things and people quite nicely.

The Rainbow Orchid draws on the archaeology of Mohenjo-daro; what made you choose this site in particular?

About the time I was starting to develop The Rainbow Orchid I came across a series of travel books by David Hatcher Childress, a sort of self-styled Indiana Jones type figure who wrote about alternative historical theories while visiting the places in question. One of these was Mohenjo-daro, which included tales of ancient warfare and pre-historic super weapons. At the time I was open to the idea that some of this might be true, and it intrigued me greatly – as well as providing inspiration for some of the story elements I was developing at the time. In the following years, through lots of research and also through a process of me becoming a lot more rationalist and skeptical, I no longer found Childress’s ideas convincing, but I still enjoyed the premise as a basis for a good adventure story.

Sir Alfred Catesby-Grey and his assistant Julius Chancer are historical/archaeological sleuths (and researchers); how did you decide on their profession?

I think I just knew I’d need that kind of a character for the story I wanted to tell. At first it was only Sir Alfred, a kind of authoritative mentor who would be useful for background information and research. Julius’s initial role in the story was as Lily Lawrence’s chauffeur. I soon decided that Julius would be much more interesting as a ‘historical researcher’ himself, and the scope for further adventures would be far greater too. It’s a terrific character occupation for an author (me) who loves both detective mysteries and history.

          

Your work is often compared to the Tintin adventures, but are there other comics/artists that influenced your creation of The Rainbow Orchid? Do you currently have any favourite comics (on any subject) you would like to urge people to track down and read?

I’m a long-time fan, since about the age of 6 or 7, of Tintin, but it was discovering the work of Edgar P. Jacobs that really inspired me to take that route with my own story. His characters of Blake and Mortimer have a bit more science and history thrown in to the mix, and are a bit less cartoony than Tintin, which is probably closer to the template I prefer for Julius Chancer. Jacobs was a member of Hergé’s studio, and another colleague of his I’d very much recommend is Roger Leloup who created Yoko Tsuno, a young Japanese electrical engineer who has a number of exotic ‘scientific’ adventures – very good stuff.

I would also highly recommend the work of Jacques Tardi (Adel Blanc-Sec, amongst many other great works) and Lewis Trondheim (I like the ‘Dungeon’ series, but also his Lapinot character and the recent Ralph Azham). Away from Franco-Belgian comics I like Miyazaki’s Nausicaa and Osamu Tezuka (especially Black Jack and Dororo). My favourite British comic of the moment is probably Bryan Talbot’s Grandville series – but, really, there’s so much good stuff around at the moment.

You recently had a short Julius Chancer story – “The Secret of the Samurai” – in The Phoenix comic. Do you have plans for any more Julius Chancer stories (and are they likely to involve any archaeology?)

Yes, I’m working on the next Julius Chancer book now. I suppose it does include a bit of archaeology in that part of the story will see Julius travel to a lost island where some ancient relics are discovered – not necessarily all dead or inanimate! I’m also using a real local ruin, the remains of a seventeenth century manor called Brambletye House which I became very interested in after stumbling across it on a country walk one day, many years ago.

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Thanks Garen!

Please head over to Garen’s website to find out more about his work and characters. There are sections of the comic to read online, an insight into Garen’s working process, and you can even join the Adventurer’s Society!

Dr H.