As I said in my first Anatomy of a Map post, each commission carries with it a happy surprise. Here’s the happy surprise in this project: my client Anne Armfield turns out to be an amazing nature photographer. Clients often take photos on their trips–we all do, right? Especially now that digital cameras and phones allow us to take lots of pictures. And most clients take good photos, good enough for me to use as the basis for map illustrations. Anne’s photos, however, took my breath away: they’re extraordinarily beautiful. I mean, look at these zebras! I marveled at the 190 shots she sent, wondering how we were going to choose just a few candidates for the map.
We managed, Anne and I, to make choices–after that, however, I was on my own, pretty anxious about my ability to do these images justice. Above are my painted zebras–pretty decent, less splendid than their models. It was an honor and a challenge to work with this gifted artist. I’ve kept Anne’s photos on my computer: sometimes when I need a break and a shot of inspiration, I look at them. In the next few posts, I’ll treat you to more examples of her work.
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Raise your hands if you want to make letters like this. Such a pleasurable pastime, if you like that sort of thing. This is from the title page of Literarum latinarum (1541), a treatise on the Italic hand written by the famous map-and-globe maker Gerard Mercator, and here’s the text, translated from the Latin: “How to write the Latin letters which they call italic or cursive.” Mercator provides page after page of instruction, available to us (well, maybe–it’s out of print) in facsimile with an English translation by A.S. Osley. I happened upon this facsimile volume in a used bookstore in Blue Hill, ME; it’s an excellent and beautiful handbook. Below is Chancery, a modern, more streamlined version of Renaissance italic:
Sometimes I use a combination of Chancery and Mercator’s italic, saving the really fancy Mercator capital letters for water place names. I used both in Anne’s map, but for the Roman upper and lower case lettering and for the numbers, I used–as I mentioned last time–Bell Roman, one of my favorites. Here it is, from Jan Tschichold’s classic Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering:
Isn’t it beautiful? Look at the numbers, especially that delicious 2. And the ampersand–oh, all the gorgeous ampersand styles! These are easy to master if you’re hand-lettering: just make plain letters and add the thicknesses & serifs & flourishes that characterize the style. Practice a little, and you’ll get the hang of it. Mercator’s italic, Chancery, and Bell Roman are just three, the three I happened to use for this project. There’s a whole world of historic and contemporary lettering styles and fonts, each with its own history.
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Here’s a detail from the commercial map of East Africa which Anne annotated for me: the circled numbers refer to a list of locations she compiled. You can see that the numbers are heavily concentrated; if I wrote the corresponding place names right on the canvas, they might render the map a “nomenclatural gray” (I borrow this term from Denis Wood and John Fels’ excellent book The Natures of Maps, published in 2008 by the University of Chicago Press). Instead, I decide to follow Anne’s example by providing a key:
I’ve “superimposed” this list on a part of the map that bears no significance to Anne’s purpose–in fact, I enlarged the scope of the map’s field to include elements like this list. Of course there is no actual map underneath the list of names: this is a bit of mild trompe l’oeil.I like the faux parchment look–having seen it in antique maps, I frequently appropriate it for my purposes. Looking at the map, you’ll see that aside from the red numbers (every map needs a touch of red!), I’ve only included enough general place names to provide context. I have one purpose here, and that is to show my client’s East Africa. There is no Board of Map Correctness hovering over me.
Now look at the lettering styles, both on the map and in the list of place names. For every project, I ponder which lettering styles would work best. Lettering casts a particular spell and contributes greatly (though quietly) to the look and mood of the map. Obviously, the names and numbers have to be legible. But they have to be graceful and consistent with the design style I’ve chosen for the map. Here I’ve used Bell, a slightly old fashioned Roman lettering, along with Bell’s distinctive numbers (each lettering style, in fact, comes with its own numbers). For the country headings in the faux parchment list, I’ve used Chancery, an updated version of a 16th century lettering style. And I’ve busted out elaborate Renaissance lettering for the Indian Ocean. Obviously I’m a big ole map design nerd, but I bet you, too, would enjoy forming these letters and numbers. We’re the species that invented writing (and alphabets): it’s in our blood.
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I’m a mapmaker, right? So first things first: let’s think about how we arrange the pertinent geography. Cartographically, Anne had two aims: (1) to focus on 36 place names in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania; and (2) to show the continent of Africa, highlighting all the countries she and her husband have visited. If I give full tribute to her East African place names within the frame of a map of the African continent, I’m making an impossibly big map. Solution: zoom in, zoom out. The main map, with its concentration of place names, is East Africa: zoom in. I’ll relegate the continent to an inset map: zoom out. Anne has very kindly provided me with a map of East Africa–she’s annotated it with all the locations they’ve visited, keyed by number to a typed list. She wants me to get it right, so she’s put a lot of time and thought into the information she provides me. You see how it’s total collaboration, the client/mapmaker relationship. Here’s the inset map: the countries Anne and her husband have visited are deeper in hue than the others. By the way, do you remember that Anne asked me to include a porcupine quill on the canvas? Here it is, holding up the scale of miles.
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July 2010. Anne Armfield came to me, as my clients do, with a wish list looking worthy of an exotic scavenger hunt: a porcupine quill; Masai beading; exotic animal skins; a hot-air balloon, a Hemingway quote, a map of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania with 56 place names circled; and, finally, masses of gorgeous animals to depict–leopards, rhinos, ostriches, lions, giraffes, cheetahs, Cape buffaloes, elephants, an array of beautiful/amusing birds. My mission: to combine–with as much beauty and clarity as I can muster–these elements on canvas as a birthday present from Anne to her husband, with whom she has sojourned in East Africa. I knew it was a great project from the get-go, and I was exciting about starting.
After nearly twenty years of making maps for people, I’ve established a routine for the design phase. I begin to apply a formula, but with every new job, there’s something new to figure out. Louis Kahn famously said that all “problems” are actually challenges, and I agree: the challenges keep me interested, keep me in the game.
By the same token, each commission carries with it a happy surprise. And sometimes the challenge ends up being the happy surprise. Stay tuned for this series, in which I profile every stage of Anne’s project, including the challenges and blessings.
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Posted by Connie on April 11th, 2012 with tags: homemade maps
, map workshop
, round maps
Here’s a hand-drawn map by Betsy Booz, who attended one of my workshops. The problem with teaching a one-day workshop is that it’s nearly impossible for me to accomplish more than provide basic direction, and nearly impossible for attendees to design and complete a map in one shot: that’s why I’m going to teach three-session workshops from now on. Hazel Jarvis, featured recently, took her idea home and painted a map on canvas; Betsy, who lives here in town, returned to my studio for a couple of little refresher sessions. Her nostalgic map, executed in colored pencil and pen on watercolor paper, shows the camp she and a friend attended when they were kids–in fact, she made the map as a gift for this friend. At home, Betsy worked on the map in leisurely fashion, weighing design options, and ended up providing a key beneath the round map to identify salient locations. Note her interesting use of negative space on either side of the map at the top, and her use of the map convention called “breaking borders.”
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Posted by Connie on April 9th, 2012 with tags: Ciao Domenica
, homemade maps
, round maps
, Sunday Taylor
Sunday Taylor has once again featured a map of mine in Ciao Domenica, her exquisite blog about literature, travel, gardens, and the beauty of life. Sunday used my recent Scottish Highlands map (you’ve seen it!) as a departure for a lovely and literary commentary on travel and the associations certain place names evoke. She included four photos taken by Meg Moulton, my fellow hiker and sister-in-law. This photo shows a beautiful scene just north of Loch Lomond. For this post and others, visit http://ciaodomenica.blogspot.com/.
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Posted by Connie on April 4th, 2012 with tags: Hazel Jarvis
, homemade maps
, map workshop
, round maps
Enough of my maps–here’s a wonderful map by Hazel Jarvis, who attended one of my round map workshops last spring. Wow, I’m a phenomenal teacher, right? Alright, full disclosure: Hazel Jarvis is an accomplished and inventive painter in her own right–visit her website, The Art of Hazel Jarvis. Furthermore, she teaches painting at her lovely home studio and at The Garden Education Center of Greenwich; if I lived in Fairfield County, I’d be tempted. While I can’t claim to have taught her a thing about painting, I did provide the pointers she needed to create this map, which is, by the way, 16″ in diameter, acrylic on canvas. But you don’t have to be an artist of Hazel’s caliber to make a great map–if you attended one of my workshops, and want to share your work, speak up!
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At the end of last month, I teamed up with Wendy Brawer, founder and director of Green Map System, to give a map-making workshop at her studio in the East Village as part of the annual Gel (Good Experience Live) Conference. Gel is a great event; as a featured speaker in 2010, I attended the whole conference and came away inspired. Like last year, Gel 2011 inspired me–not just the speakers and activities, but the interactions and energy among attendees. The workshop Wendy and I gave this year was a city mouse/country mouse, tech mapping/manuscript mapping kind of thing: let’s just say I was the homemade map country mouse, as opposed to downtown Wendy, who infuses technological mapping with local and very human sustainability patterns. However different we are in approach, our aims–to deliver meaningful maps–are identical, and we loved the idea of giving a workshop together. Here was the challenge: we had 2 hours to provide a tasting menu of our respective map-making practices, and to demonstrate how we dovetail. Luckily, our attendees–young, creative, savvy, curious (typical Gel conference profile)–were quick studies, and moved back and forth between Wendy’s activities and mine. Despite the time constraints, many of our guests managed to create clever hand-drawn maps. For more details and photos, see Wendy’s blog entry on the workshop.
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In honor of St Paddy, I dined on corned beef, cabbage and potatoes–and, in a rare departure from wine–beer. But I’d like to honor a more contemporary Irish spirit, the on-line Irish culture magazine Vulgo, whose NY Diarist, Julia Judge, just happened to feature me at just about the same time a genealogical search revealed that I’m more Irish than I thought. Here’s the article. Read it first, of course, but check out the whole magazine–subscribe, even–it’s really good.
The map-making workshop I announced in my last post filled up immediately: that’s what happens when you combine “free” with wine and cheese. I’m planning to do another one on Sunday, May 22nd, from 2-5. Again, it’s free, and we’ll have a fortified social hour at the end. For the substance of the workshop, see my 2/27/11 post.
I’ve volunteered to be the program coordinator for the New York Map Society for the 2011-2012 season. The Map Society meets once a month for a lecture at the New York Public Library, or a field trip elsewhere in the metropolitan New York area. We’re interested in all aspects of mapping and cartography, not just antiquarian matters. If you’re aware of a speaker, map exhibit, map organization, or event you think we should feature, please let me know. Even if you can’t help me out here, check out our schedule and come to a meeting.
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