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Illustrating the Archéologie du Québec

May 1, 2015


Here’s something a little out of the ordinary for this blog. I don’t usually show my commerical art work – but last year I did a project that was so interesting, I thought I’d share.

These are illustrations for Les Editions de L’Homme, working with the Pointe-à-Callière Museum on the scientific monograph AIR – Archéologie du Québec – Territoire et Peuplement.

It was a great pleasure to be using my drawing skills on a topic like this. I suppose this is similar to the design work I’ve done for video games, but somehow has more meaning to me – knowing these things might really have happened.


This first drawing shows Jack Cartier making contact with First Nation Indians near present day Gaspé Quebec.

There’s a lot of storytelling going on in this scene. From the little details of costumes, to the acting in the poses, and the use of each character’s gaze to navigate the reader through the image.


It’s tremendous fun to bring history to life with your drawings. You get the opportunity to sneak your opinions into the composition.

Here we have Cartier’s sailors in the distance erecting a ‘navigational marker’. So they can come back with trade goods. Yeaaah. That’s it. Trade goods. They actually did this. Can you believe the cheek on those explorers?

He is clearly claiming the territory, and it isn’t fooling the natives one bit. He gives a little speech to the gathered chieftains, which probably didn’t go over that well, as he ended up having to kidnap their leader’s sons and take them back to France.

I’m not sure of the logic there – to somehow use the hostages to prove that he had arrived in China? Cartier did leave us with the town of Lachine. Named as part of his proof of establishing trade routes with the far east. I’m a little fuzzy on the history there.


Going back a bit further in time we have Canada’s early caribou hunters. 17,000 years ago these Paleo-Indians would have been the first humans to enter the Americas. Having crossed the land bridge of Beringia as early as 50,000 years ago, but needing to wait until the Laurentide glaciers melted to get here. I know what they felt like, as we wait for spring in Montreal.



Originally I had sketched this family group of hunters to include a young girl getting hunting lessons from her father, as an older uncle moves out to the attack.

It seemed to me, we don’t really know what life was like – but if people are in a survival situation, then whoever is good at hunting, would do the hunting. Regardless of their gender. And regardless of that theory, if I had kids reading this textbook in school, I might want them to see a girl up front with a spear.

But, eventually it was decided we needed to replace her with a boy.

I wouldn’t have tried such a radical idea in the first place except that my method for this sort of thing is to sketch each character separately, and digitally collage them together into the final drawing. So, even though I expected I’d be switching her out later on, it was worth a try, as it’s easy enough to take her out of the history books. We’ve been doing that for centuries.


For those who are curious, the first round of drawings are done in pencil on tracing paper, in a big stack of sketches all taped together into the composition.  Then I make final ink drawings on drafting vellum, and transfer those to watercolor paper for painting (via a medium format printer). In this case I painted all the figures individually, then assembled them on top of a background – somewhat like an old-school animation cel. This guaranteed I’d have a second shot at the sky, if I needed it.

In the past I might have done this all digitally from start to finish – but I enjoy the effect I get, mixing pencils, dipping pens, and watercolor, with digital collage and color correction. You really can’t get the same natural effect of watercolor with any kind of digital art available today. I don’t imagine it makes any difference, you could work in any media, but the Pointe was generous enough to allow me to handle it any way I chose – so this was the approach that was the most fun for me.

That’s the perfect kind of illustration job! You don’t get too many like this.






19 Comments leave one →
  1. tobiahbarneylovesmath permalink
    May 2, 2015 12:31 AM

    I do like the image.

  2. Margaret permalink
    May 2, 2015 1:05 AM

    I loved reading this. Both for the history and the way you work

    Thank you, Marc.

    Regards.  Margaret  

  3. May 2, 2015 2:06 AM

    Shame about the girl hunter. Are there any females in it?

    • May 2, 2015 5:39 PM

      In a sketch on horticulture! Gardening and the three plants called the sisters: squash, beans, and corn.

  4. May 2, 2015 3:43 AM

    Great works!

  5. Bill H. permalink
    May 2, 2015 4:08 AM

    Great post Marc and the story behind it makes even more compelling.

  6. May 2, 2015 6:36 AM

    Amazing work Marc.

  7. May 2, 2015 8:31 AM

    What a fascinating post. Your artwork is breathtaking as always. I was completely absorbed in the visual narrative. It was also interesting to learn something of your process. I admit to being disappointed that given an opportunity to write females back into history the client still requested that you replace her with a boy hunter.

  8. Nathalie Z permalink
    May 2, 2015 9:50 AM

    Loved your post, the story behind the final pieces and all the art work. Thanks for sharing.

  9. May 3, 2015 4:42 AM

    amazing work, looks great, enjoyed reading the history as well

  10. May 4, 2015 2:54 AM

    do you any tutorial?

  11. May 4, 2015 10:20 AM

    Beautiful amazing work. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Louise permalink
    May 6, 2016 7:41 PM

    I am really impress with your drawing and your choice of color.
    What size and kind of paper you use ?

    • May 6, 2016 8:14 PM

      All sorts of things! I like smoother paper for pens – like Strathmore Bristol – that’s a nice one. And my favorite watercolor paper is Fabriano Artistico. But I use a lot of things – you end up with a lot of random pads of paper over the years :) Sizes – between 9×12″ and 22×30″- again it varies a lot :) but that’s like the range from a small portrait up to a large landscape. Thanks! ~M

  13. Bruce Martin permalink
    August 8, 2017 8:33 PM

    Wonderful work and generous sharing of your experience. I always wait to read your next blog as I know it will offer great lessons to lesser ( eg., me ) artists (sketchers eg., me ) and encouragement.


  1. Sketching for Collage : Greater than the Sum of it’s Parts | Citizen Sketcher
  2. Bringing Montreal’s History to Life | Citizen Sketcher

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