The Chain Mail

Welcome to The Chain Mail - a visitor’s guide to the sights and sounds of Historic Scotland

Painting a Picture


Many of our sites have exhibitions and signage with drawings of how they might have looked when built – but have you ever wondered how do we go about commissioning a picture of something from history?

Reconstruction drawing of Caerlaverock Castle by Alan Sorrell

Reconstruction drawing of Caerlaverock Castle by Alan Sorrell

The process of commissioning and completing a reconstruction drawing is a long and complicated one.  Both we and the artists need to draw on a range of different sources, including:

  • archaeological and architectural evidence at the site
  • documentary evidence that may exist about what alterations were made and when
  • evidence from similar buildings or comparable sites, bearing in mind the location, status and period
  • knowledge from a wealth of sources about how a building of that era, type and status might be constructed and decorated
  • knowledge from a wealth of sources about clothing, furniture, food, domestic pets, livestock, etc that might feature in the illustration
  • knowledge from a wealth of sources about the surroundings – agriculture, neighbouring buildings, etc

We often consult experts on specific details, and also rely on our own in-house experts to identify issues and spot errors. It is normal to go through several sketches, identifying and correcting errors, before arriving at the final illustration.

The illustrators we use have a good understanding of architecture and history, and are outstandingly skilled in bringing together that knowledge with their artistic flair to produce illustrations that are both accurate and attractive.

In the end there is always some guesswork involved – but the guesswork is always informed by knowledge. And because knowledge is always expanding with new research, illustrations often have to be revised to incorporate new information.

Reconstruction Drawing on sign at Hailes Castle


About Author

Ali George

Ali works in the Communications Team helping to tell the many stories of Historic Scotland to visitors, members of the media and anyone else who is interested!

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