The Big Dig

Tuesday, 5th July 2005

Time TeamTime Team

This week I've been watching the Time Team Big Roman Dig on Channel 4, and sketching a few of the archaeologists on the live broadcast. Regular Time Team historical illustrator Victor Ambrus was a big influence on me in my college days and I used to look at his drawings and wonder how he got that springy line. He has such a sure eye for a shape.

During my time at Leeds college of art, way back in the early 1970s, he gave a short talk at a Children's Book Fair in town and I arrived just as he'd fired a flintlock pistol and smoke was drifting across the room. Time Team describe him as their 'quiet artist' but he didn't have the slightest difficulty holding the attention of his young audience!

The Jorum
Ambrus-esque drawing from one of my student sketchbooks, 1972.

My doodled version of Redcoat the Fox, a character from Twice Seven Tales (1968) by Barbara Leonie Picard, one of dozens of children's books that Ambrus illustrated at that time.
Some rough ideas for my first book, A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield, 1972


Copyright Time TeamTime Team including an interview with Victor Ambrus

Richard Bell,

Making his Mark

When it came to questions, I asked what kind of pen and paper he used, hoping that if I used the same materials I might stand a chance of producing similar drawings. To my surprise he said that he used layout paper for his pen and ink artwork; I assumed the professionals must always use something permanent and expensive, like Bristol Board, which I couldn't afford as a student, and which I didn't much like when I did get a chance to use it.

I enthusiastically tried his method of using inky fingerprints to animate a drawing, but it looks mannered in my work, rather than spontaneous as it is in his.

I've just done some digging of my own in the attic and found a student sketchbook from that time and it's striking how much influence Ambrus had on my work. But trying to copy the way an artist makes his marks doesn't give you his drawing skills!

Time Team has just run a competition in which the prize was to dig a trench with Phil Harding (top, second from the left, wearing the hat) . If it had been a competition to draw along with Victor and pick up some tips on his watercolour technique, I'd have been there!

Hope they give him his own series. Next Page