My love for maps — the paper, folded, find-your way kind of maps — goes all the way back to childhood. I was the map holder on family trips. I wanted to find myself with a pointed finger on the colorful paper. My idea of heaven was heading to the auto club and loading up on maps for every trip I could imagine ever taking. Globes, atlases and tourist maps were and still are enticing to me. Any map, any time.

Reading was a big part of my childhood, and finding a book with a map in it was a bonus. Books with maps on the endpapers were the penultimate invitation to adventure! For the first half of the 20th century endpaper maps were very popular all over the world. And some authors, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, employ mapmaking of their stories to make sure the narrative is consistent. I am actually working on a map for the endpapers of a book on the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Arthur Ransom was a British author who often employed endpaper maps.

In my library there have long been numerous books on maps and cartography, including some treasures of pictorial or illustrated maps. One of my favorites is actually a series of books published in 1992 called Spade and Archer’s 50 Maps, which highlighted Los Angeles, Boston, Florida, and various other cities and states.  Talented artists contributed maps to each book highlighting obscure subjects in each place. The mapmaker I loved best in this series is Istvan Banyai, a writer and illustrator born in Hungary, who moved to the US in the mid 80s. He gave me permission to share them here.

Istvan’s maps are hilarious and astute. The Somewhat Literary Map shows the magazine stands in Los Angeles in the shape of a magazine. There is a snobby little quote insulting New York at the top of the page, and he even pokes fun at the Californian, who has one shoe on, one off, and a trademark ankle bracelet. She flips the pages of a book with her well-manicured and painted toes, standing amid dinosaurs, convertibles, body-builders, and the quintessential bottle of Perrier. Istvan captured both the essence of California in the 90s and jabs at its intellectual competition with eastern cosmopolitan cities.

In discovering the maps of artists like Istvan, I realized there was a large group of folks already doing what I wanted to do, using maps as artistic storytelling devices. And, the more I read and learned about the history of cartography, the more I realized that maps have always been more art than science. Truthful cartography is nearly an oxymoron since maps have always been subjective and reflective of a personal or cultural point of view. In the early centuries, western maps were heavily influenced by religious beliefs. The doctrine stated that there were four corners to the earth, and by decree, mapmakers made four-cornered maps for many years. In elementary school, I was told that brave Columbus sailed off to find the Indies on a flat world, facing the grave risk of sailing right off the edge. In fact, by the time Columbus sailed the ocean blue, scientists had known the world was round for at least two thousand years.

Sea Monster stories add intrigue so I use them frequently.

So, culture, religious zest, and marketing efforts made by the explorers themselves resulted in maps that are more fantastic than factual. Sea monsters were added to show the bravado of the explorers, a marketing effort of sorts. False information from popular people stayed on maps for hundreds of years before being challenged, and if you were in the in-crowd, you may have had an island or country named after you, despite the fact that you did not discover it. Such was the case with Amerigo Vespucci, who arrived in the Americas 500 years after the Vikings and many other countries’ explorers. But he was in with the latest go-to cartographers so he got his name on the map.

Some early pioneer groups made false maps to lead other pioneers away from the route to important discoveries like passages for ships and gold mines. The history of cartography reads not a little bit like the history of your days in high school. 

The graphics of maps and the stories they illustrate seduced me easily and now I am a full-fledged cartophile and a member of a very large and ancient community. We are attracted to everything about a map: the colors, compass roses, cartouches, grid lines, neat lines, sea monsters, calligraphy, and the crazy stories they tell, all of it appeals to a cartophile. 

My enthusiasm for maps was so complete that it amazed me that not everyone wanted to make one. Why wouldn’t you? Maps can be made of many materials and tell nearly any story, in as much time as you are willing to take. They can be in the form of board games, books, pop-ups or posters, postcards, or the page of a journal. The possibilities are endless. That there seemed to be a broad interest in this way of working led me to design a class on mapmaking, which I called Personal Geographies: Mapping Your Stories. In the class the projects were based on a combination of mapping traditions, which I had come to know through reading lots of books about cartography and its history, and finding ways to illustrate our own stories through maps.

Board games are almost always maps and inspired this one.

I replaced the street names on a vintage map of Paris and added names of those who influenced my art

I have taught mapmaking now in various forms for 11 years, and this has led me to encounter many, many map lovers. I now call these folks “Arty Cartophiles”, though many of the people who have come to my classes were not artists at all. I have had sociologists, teachers, families, historians, adventurers, crafters, journalers, therapists, artists, and the just plain curious. I came to believe that a book needed to be written about working this way; it was art making that was unique, fun, therapeutic, and interesting for students of any level or experience. Every class produced brilliant maps, every single one. My first book, Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed Media Mapmaking, was written in 2011 and I feel lucky I got to write it. Someone needed to.

Cartophiles are radically diverse in our interests, but what we all have in common goes beyond just the appreciation of legend, land and compass rose; it is curiosity. When curiosity is set into action, when our wondering makes us want to wander off in search of something, the act of exploration is launched. When we set off into personal terrain, the possibilities are endless. Visually expressing these explorations of the mind, dreams and memories may easily result in mapmaking. In my classes and books we make maps of memories, our hearts, hands, bodies and dreams. We make maps for those who cannot make their own (our pets or ancestors); we make them of our dreams and futures.  

The first art map I remember making was for my daughter. It illustrates her whole world at the age of four (left). This map was inserted into the back of a book I made about her titled The Realm of the Ice Princess (upper center). This map was inspired by the 17th century maps by John Ogiby (lower right), which are called strip maps. Strip maps are linear illustrations of non-linear journeys. Strip maps intrigue me, because they are not about true geography, but about getting where you are going with efficient directions. Ogilby’s maps were very successful in the UK, and eventually morphed into the enormously popular Triptik, a traveling aid used by auto agencies for many years in the U.S.A.

I am going to leave you with the Map of My Heart…

I started with a map from northern Canada and tweaked it in Photoshop to look more heart shaped. I then labeled the islands and bodies of water, added dates important to me on the lines of longitude, and a scale. The water areas are Sounds of Children, Sea of Longing, Straights of adolescence and the like. The islands are named for people and experiences that have affected my heart. One of my students ingeniously named this project “heartchipelago.”

You don’t have to do this on the computer, you can easily draw the islands, or the mainland of your heart, and I would recommend that you do. And I would go further to say that if you do this project with a child, it will warm you to the core of your being. 

Enjoy the journey!

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Tags : artmaps
Jill Berry
Artist, Author, Teacher, Explorer

1 Comment

  1. Was just telling my sister about you – here in Fresno. Perhaps a map of my trip here which includes a day up to Yosemite – the congested bits and the not so much. It includes Catalina Island as I flew by, Santa Monica and the Great San Joaquin. Becky has a pool – a major feature for the map.

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