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A detail from the finished map

Map Making on a Local Level

- Part 1 -

WHEN I VISIT A CITY FOR THE FIRST TIME, I buy a map, find a cup of coffee, and try to get a sense of the place before heading off to explore. I have at least fifty maps I've kept as trip souvenirs (and many more are bucket list reminders). At a glance, I can tell you where I went, what I saw, and the people I met.

A few maps in my collection

Maps are curious things, the perfect storytellers. Beyond sources of basic information, they can change our minds about a place and have the ability to convince us certain things are worth checking out.

A year ago I began work in earnest on an illustrated map of my city, specifically the downtown business district of Macon where I spend the majority of my time. Downtown is the place where interesting things are happening and the area deserved an illustrated map.

First I had to ask the question: Why didn't a map already exist? Technically, one did, but it was perpetually out of date and made the area look dull as soup. Why didn't a BETTER map already exist? That answer revealed itself rather quickly: because it takes significant time, a certain passion for the process, and most importantly, it's freaking hard work, people. And that wasn't all. I wanted a map that was useful to everyone. Otherwise, what's the point?

I had this crazy idea that aerial photos would make my work as an illustrator a breeze. ((HA!)) Digital aerial photos by satellite (in)conveniently drop image information at seemingly random intervals. I would squint at a photo, muttering to myself, "There's a building there. *Right* there." On the screen there was nothing but a blob. It was like an alien worm had swallowed the building where I ordered espresso once a week. That, the mad squishing and stretching of buildings, and the wack-a-doodle arched perspective, and you have to take matters into your own hands.

Initial sketches relied on aerial images. Unfortunately perspectives were skewed from the center-outward. Each building required adjustments, especially the "missing" ones.

Missing buildings, alleys, and compressed rooflines were corrected on walkabouts.
There is no substitute for walking with a sketch pad. Yes, you read that right. I walked and reviewed the area, building by building, block by block. Normally I can maintain invisibility in public, but stare at a building and take notes, you WILL attract attention. Apparently I looked "suspicious." Countless pedestrians asked me what I was doing, but only one police officer stopped me (it's the safest district in the entire city). After explaining the project, I was still waved on. I had to go back later to finish that block after the officer was gone.

Once downtown was thoroughly walked and reviewed, it was time to put everything together.

(More to follow in next post)


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