I’m at the very final stages of completing revisions for my co-authored article on a distinctive early 14th-century grave slab. The ‘Smiling Abbot’ is thought to originate from Valle Crucis Abbey Denbighshire, and seemingly commemorates a Cistercian Abbot Howel (Hywel).

The article has been through peer-review and I’ve revised the article significantly as a result. If the editor and referees are satisfied with the revisions, hopefully it will be destined for publication in the RAI’s Archaeological Journal.  However, one of the legitimate concerns of one of the peer-reviews was that I insert far more images of other effigial slabs and brasses for comparative purposes.

Now this request is legitimate but it is really far more difficult than it sounds, not only in terms of reproduction permissions, but also because many are not published. When the images I require are published, they appear in varied media: as colour photographs, as black-and-white photographs, as line art deriving from rubbings. Moreover, they involve images from different types and scales of media: including memorials in tile, brass and stone, making parallels difficult to visualise. There is a further theoretical concern: I’m fearful of including only a few extra images of single slabs for risk of seemingly emphasising the parallels between the ‘Smiling Abbot’ and these particular images.


I’ve got a partial solution to this problem. I’m far from a good archaeological illustrator. Yet over the years I’ve found it essential – due to restrictions of available technical skills, funding to acquire such resources, limited time to access said resources (either my own schedules or those of publishers), or perhaps most often because I need to refine the design as I go along and experiment – to utilise my own drawing skills. Obviously I rely heavily on the power of Adobe Illustrator to do this and create bespoke images to supplement my academic arguments in print. Most of my attempts are not exactly ‘art’ – they are simply selective re-draws of photographs and line drawings by others. Yet in doing so I not only get to circumvent copyright (not a small consideration of cost and logistics when trying to prepare academic works) but also I get to select those elements of images I want to discuss and compare.

At the moment, I’m trying just this. It is proving time-consuming and I haven’t found evidence has been done before, so it is a bit of a concern whether it will work. At one level it is quite a simple idea: I want to create a montage of early 14th-century heads of ecclesiastics from effigial slabs and memorial brasses. The aim is to directly compare them visually with each other and with the ‘Smiling Abbot’.

Above are my first two: one from a tile from Warden Abbey, one from a brass in York Minster – one is a re-draw from a photograph, one a re-draw of a section of a line-drawing from an academic publication. Below is a version of the image near its final form.

I hope it works and feedback welcome!