Visualising Heritage

We survey, record, and illustrate the historic environment using innovative approaches to create a specialised record of beautiful and informative illustrations. As a specialist team of heritage illustrators, photographers and graphic designers we help people explore and analyse heritage with new eyes, enhancing understanding and enjoyment whilst promoting innovation. Leading and innovating in our approaches we seek to use a wide range of techniques to bring heritage to life to communicate to our varying audiences.

Click on the links below to find out more about some of our approaches to visualisation.

Reconstruction art

This technique is the attempt by an artist to visualise scenes from the past almost as though the artist themselves were there drawing what they saw before them. Information is drawn from archaeological remains, environmental evidence and ethnographic sources.

Reconstruction drawing of a Cornish prehistoric settlement of round stone huts.
Reconstruction showing life in the Iron Age at the Cornish site of Carn Euny. © Historic England, Judith Dobie

Technical reconstruction

Whilst reconstructive art will visualise scenes from the past , technical reconstruction and illustration will take a more measured approach which lends itself to the illustration of architecture.

Cutaway drawing showing back to back housing, Manningham, Yorkshire
Visualisation showing back to back housing in Manningham, Yorkshire © Historic England, Allan Adams

Archaeological illustration

Records and illustration of archaeological sites and objects are essential for the presentation and understanding of the sites.

Site plan showing the excavated remains of Chester Amphitheatre
Site plan showing the excavated remains of Chester Amphitheatre © Historic England, John Vallender

Analytical site drawing

Using traditional survey techniques to aid understanding by observation and close contact with building fabric, particularly useful for vernacular buildings and architectural details.

Survey section drawings, of building at Low Park, Alston Moor, Cumbria
Survey section drawings, of Low Park, Alston Moor, Cumbria. © Copyright Historic England, Allan Adams

Analytical site survey and illustration

Whilst measured and drawn methods have significant strengths, successful illustration can use theodolites, CAD and 3D modelling.

A 3-D model of stairs from a historic building in london
Stairs illustrated for a Survey of London project using 3D modelling. © Historic England, Andy Crispe

GIS and cartography

Heritage data is in essence spread spatially, using GIS can deliver both on a traditional such as the Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall walking maps as well as providing access through digital platforms to spatial data such as the Stonehenge Landscape Survey.


Using imagery to present information quickly and easily has been vital in understanding the big data sets created by the Historic Environment.

Infographic of the financial worth of heritage.
Infographic of the financial worth of heritage. © Copyright Historic England, Vince Griffin


In collaboration with our Heritage Crime team we have been developing arresting graphics to support an ELearning package for Police Officers about tackling heritage crime on war memorials.

Story telling

Our work also includes the use of animation, graphic novels and video to tell the story of our heritage. Used most recently on a film and accompanying graphic novel about the bombardment of Scarborough during the First World War.



Our guidance

Our guidance on visualisation techniques is designed to give clarity to complex subjects.

Drawing for Understanding

Published 31 July 2016

This guidance describes a method of recording historic buildings for the purpose of historical understanding using analytical site drawing and measuring by hand.

Understanding Historic Buildings

Published 24 May 2016

This guidance sets out the process of investigating and recording historic buildings for the purposes of historical understanding.

Guidance on digital image capture and storage to assist those involved with the making and keeping of images of the historic environment.

Digital Image Capture and File Storage

Published 29 July 2015

This publication offers guidance on digital image capture and storage to assist those involved with the making and keeping of images of the historic environment.


Paul Backhouse

Paul Backhouse

Paul Backhouse is the Head of Imaging at Historic England and oversees graphics, design, photography, cinematography, digital publication and Geospatial survey.

Contact Paul Backhouse

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