Off the Map

THE TARTANIST (and other odd jobs)

March 29th 2010

In my line o’ work (forgive me, I’m getting all Scottish here) I’m challenged not only cartographically but also artistically:  my clients ask me to illustrate all kinds of things.  For Gary Clarke, zoologist and zoo director, I depicted the dung of various African animals, based upon black and white photocopies he sent me–I colorized them, Ted Turner-like.  I’d like to point out that Google images, my source for oh so many illustrations, fell short on the subject of dung.  For another recent client, I depicted the cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park. Do you know that album cover?  Not so easy.  But, you see, my client is from New Jersey, not from London–or he’d have chosen, maybe, The White Album. For my current project, I depicted a gathered swath of McIntosh tartan.  Google offers a flat square of McIntosh, but not a nicely draped sample.  For that, I had to dash into a Scottish shop in Alexandria, VA to buy a McIntosh scarf.  I’m absurdly proud of my McIntosh rendering:  I challenge anyone to paint a better version.  Now that’s just sad.  But here’s the point:  my clients ask me to illustrate these oddities in order to bring life to their maps.  It’s an old approach, formerly called “chorography,” in which the mapmaker fleshes out geography with pictures that bring life to the place.  I’m actually happy to continue the tradition, and I look forward to the next odd job.