Map illustrations. Illustrated maps. Pictorial maps. Map art. There are many different names for a form of mapmaking that is, to appropriate a phrase, “not intended for navigation,” but rather for purposes such as advertising and promotion, political propoganda, decoration, or simply pure art. You may not be able to find your way home with such maps, but that’s not to say they don’t have a purpose.
I’ve reviewed books about maps in this general field before. Stephen J. Hornsby’s Picturing America (reviewed here) explores the rich pictorial map tradition in the United States during the early and mid-20th century. The Art of Map Illustration (reviewed here), on the other hand, is a focused, step-by-step guide to the how of modern-day map illustration.
“An Anciente Mappe of Fairyland,” produced by Bernard Sleigh around 1917, is a marvellous conflation of classical myth and fairy tales. Nearly five feet wide, it was apparently designed to hang in nurseries. The echoes of its design elements can still be seen in later fantasy maps and children’s book illustrations, such as E. H. Shepard’s maps of the Hundred Acre Wood and Pauline Baynes’s maps of Narnia, though none of them are this vibrant.
The Festival of Personal Geographies explores the use of art in creating personalized maps. Running until March 19 at several venues in Ames, Iowa, the Festival consists of an exhibition (“‘Index to a Place,’ an exhibition of prints, drawings and paintings that use the graphical languages of maps as a starting point in their creation”) and four workshops on personalized mapmaking. The event is organized by local artist Tibi Chelcea and hosted by ISU’s Design on Main Gallery. Free admission, free registration.
With Barely Maps, Peter Gorman has reduced maps to their most minimalist, and their most cryptic: a grid of abstract shapes that represent the geometries of states, neighbourhoods, subway stops or intersections. Gorman started desigining them a few years ago as a side-gig, he writes. “Then, last year, my print ‘Intersections of Seattle’ went viral, and I decided to make the map-based art prints a full-time thing. Now, as I get close to 100 original maps, my next project is to compile a book of my designs, along with the stories that inspired them.” The maps are available for sale on Etsy; the book, he hopes, will be available by the end of 2019. [Kottke]
We’ve talked about James Niehuesbefore: the legendary artist has painted hundreds of maps of ski resorts and recreational areas since the late 1980s. I was excited to learn that he’s producing a coffee table book that includes all of his maps. It’s being crowdfunded on Kickstarter. Pledging $75 or more gets you a copy of the book; other pledge levels get you a high-quality print. Clearly there’s some interest: at the moment the project has raised more than $223,000 from nearly 2,000 backers, 28 times its target of $8,000, with three weeks still to go. [Kottke]
Creative Cartography: Since 2014, students of Ellen Meissinger’s Art on Paper class at Arizona State University have taken discarded maps from ASU Library’s Map and Geospatial Hub and put them to use as raw material for art projects. Every year since then those projects have been the subject of an exhibition hosted by the Map and Geospatial Hub: this year’s exhibition, Place and Space, opened on 7 November and runs until the 26th. (That’s next Monday. Get a move on.) [WMS]
The latest cartoon from Itchy Feet, a comic about travel and language by filmmaker Malachi Rempen, is a “Map of Every European City.” In the comments, the cartoonist says, “Having been to every single European city, I can safely say with confidence that they all look exactly like this.” I don’t think he’s wrong.
A new exhibition opened at the Leventhal Map Center today: Crossing Boundaries: Art // Maps “juxtaposes contemporary works of art with selected maps from the collections of the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center at the Boston Public Library. These pairings and trios create dialogues that illuminate the crossing of the traditional boundaries of art and maps, and stimulate a fresh appreciation of both media.” Runs until 20 April 2019; if you can’t make it to Boston there’s an online version.
Since 2014 Anton Thomas has been working on a large and detailed hand-drawn pictorial map of North America. Done on a 120-×-150-cm piece of art paper with coloured pencils and pen, and full of little pictorial details, The North American Continent has taken more than 4,000 hours to draw—and re-draw. In an update earlier this month, Anton estimates there are still 200 hours of work remaining; he expects to be done by December, with prints going on sale early next year.
The map was the subject of two talks Anton gave at NACIS last year: see Drawing a Continent by Hand and Methods of a Hand-Drawn Map. And take note: Anton lives in Australia, but at the moment he’s in the U.S. to give talks and work out printing and distribution. He’ll be giving a presentation tomorrow evening at the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. (Another talk is scheduled for October 24 at the Rumsey Map Center in San Francisco Stanford.)
But computer mapping may be about to overtake hand-drawn illustration. John M. Nelson has created an ArcGIS style that does the very thing Dan Bell does by hand: emulate the maps of Middle-earth executed by Christopher Tolkien and Pauline Baynes. The style is called, naturally, My Precious: John explains it here and here, and demonstrates the style with this map of the Americas.
There are, of course, some flaws in this method: a mechanical representation of a hand-drawn style risks falling into the uncanny valley’s cartographic equivalent, especially when mountain and forest signs are clone-stamped over large areas. And to be honest I’m not a fan of the Aniron font: those letterforms were used in the Lord of the Rings movies, but never the books’ maps, and now they’re found on damn near every Tolkien-style map, and we hates it, precious, we hates it forever. But Nelson is basically emulating modern fantasy map practice: modern fantasy maps are invariably done in Illustrator, labels are computer generated rather than hand-drawn, and hill signs are clone stamped. Applying it to real-world maps, and GIS software, is new, but a difference in degree.