Off the Map

Slow Mapping Workshop

September 21st 2015

Last Friday morning September 18th, eight women (just happened to be one gender this time!) arrived for three days of intense manuscript map painting.  They came from California, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, and Connecticut–all advanced students, with cartography experience gained at previous workshops here or in other contexts. Hazel Jarvis–talented painter, mapmaker, and art instructor–taught with me on Saturday and Sunday. As a bonus, Elizabeth Porcher Jones, a workshop attendee and phenomenal calligrapher, demonstrated her art for us yesterday. Watching her form letters in her exquisite hand, all of us were transfixed. She often combines cartography with calligraphy:

Hazel and I did a little formal teaching, but mostly we acted as map-making midwives as attendees composed and then began to execute their projects– All hands were busy:

Workshop maps varied from student to student: an environmental anthropologist mapped her family’s Irish heritage; the calligrapher mapped a camp her son had attended; an eclipse-chaser mapped a lunar eclipse she witnessed in Niger; a graphic artist mapped her family’s migration from China to Cuba, Guatamala, and the United States; a linguist mapped two childhood years her family lived in Penang; a neuroscientist mapped a recent hiking trip in the Dolomites; the Californian mapped her very favorite and her least favorite restaurants in LA in saturated 1950’s design style; and a master gardener (also the only townie in the group–she lives down the street from me) commemorated her brother’s beautifully restored Victorian house in the context of its neighborhood.

Mapmakers need sustenance, of course, and breaks from the studio. We ate and drank and enjoyed sunny September warmth:

Nobody finished her map in three days: these are complex and ambitious projects, and I don’t expect to see final results for some time. Hand-painted maps take hours: maybe that bucks current trends, but there’s great value in endeavors that blossom over time, and great pleasure in performing each step with care. Hazel and I hope we gave them enough guidance to continue on their own–with recourse, if they need it, to the Redstone Studios 24-hour Cartographic Hotline. I usually correspond with my students long after our weekend together. For us and for them, there’s value in the journey. Part of the mapmaking journey is our shared interest in maps and, invariably, in each other’s lives and interests. We make maps here, but we also form friendships and support each other’s creativity and visions. It’s just three days, but it’s three days carved out of busy lives for a rarefied purpose.

I’ll be teaching a 3-day intro workshop at the Osher Map Library in Portland ME from June 24-26 2015. Contact me if you’re interested:; 860 575 4640.

Down the Rabbit Hole with Alice

September 16th 2015

A few years ago, Jon Lindseth–Lewis Carroll scholar, collector, and curator–commissioned a black-and-white map of the world showing locations of the 174 languages and dialects into which Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated. He planned to use it as the endpapers for a 3-volume work entitled Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece, of which he was General Editor. The original map (ink and acrylic wash on canvas) is 53″ wide; in endpaper form, it is 15.50″ wide.

The map provided me not only the opportunity to use Victorian typefaces & border designs, but also the privilege of paying homage  to Sir John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations:

Not surprisingly, Western Europe bristles with toponyms, so I designed an inset map to enlarge the region. Here, Alice gives it the once-over:

Another detail: 

The book’s 2015 publication date intentionally coincides with Alice150, a world-wide celebration of  the 150th anniversary of Carroll’s great work. Besides the book, Lindseth curated an exhibit at New York City’s Grolier Club featuring the Alice translations, the original of this map, and three other maps of mine (these full color) commissioned especially for the show. Last night I attended the opening; I was proud to be part of the project, and eager to see the translated works. If you’ve never been to the Grolier Club, make a trip: it’s a beautiful building with a spectacular exhibit space (free and open to the public!). For bibliophiles, Lewis Carroll aficionados, and maybe even map-lovers, the show, which runs until November 21st, is a must-see. Exhibit info here.

If you’d like to read more about the map, here’s an account I wrote for the book’s website.


Advanced Mapmaking Workshop Next Week!

September 9th 2015

Whoever wishes to know the true shape of the world, their minds shall be filled with light and their breast with joy. Hadji Ahmed

I have an amazing line-up of attendees coming to my three-day advanced workshop next weekend. For those who are alumni of my workshops, so it’ll be a reunion–and the newbies will quickly be enfolded.  Everyone is knowledgeable and accomplished: although I’m technically the map teacher, I’m more a map midwife here. At this level, the workshop functions as a design lab, a place for artist-cartographers (this year, exclusively ladies–“Sheographers,” as my friend Wendy Brawer says) to exchange ideas, inspiration, and friendship. To enhance the experience, I’ve engaged Hazel Jarvis, talented artist and educator, to teach with me–she’s also a mapmaking workshop alum! I can’t wait to see these projects blossom.

One of the returning attendees is Californian Rhonda Dibachi. Last year in the workshop, she started an elaborate map, a re-imagination of Turkish cartographer Hadji Ahmed’s famous 16th century woodblock work entitled A Complete and Perfect Map Describing the Whole World.  This cordiform (heart-shaped) map is a beautiful amalgam of Ottoman and European styles and cartographic knowledge. Though produced in Venice, it was probably intended for a Muslim market, since the text is in Turkish. Here it is in one of its incarnations (this, actually is a French copy from the 19th century, but it works best for our context; see why I choose it instead of the original woodblock):

Fast forward 415 years to Rhonda’s beautiful pen-on paper (28 x 30″) version, shown below.

 She’s updated the world to reflect current geography (I was worried about that challenge, but she was all over it) and turned it into a map about her life with her Iranian husband, showing where each was born and the places where they’ve lived. The title, in Farsi, translates thus: A Complete and Accurate Map of the World of Farzad and Rhonda Dibachi. Hidden in the winds are the names of companies where they’ve worked and/or have founded. Says Rhonda, “I imagine that these were the winds of change that have figured heavily in our destiny.” The highlighted constellations in the celestial maps feature their astrological signs, along with their son’s sign. Note her trompe l’oeil touch: the map looks like it was made it pieces, then improperly joined, a clever echo of  the earlier map. So as not to discourage fledglings, know that she did not finish the map in the course of last year’s three day workshop; she worked on it over the year.

Adapting  an existing and venerable map is a particular cartographic and aesthetic journey. Among my students, Rhonda is unusual in having followed this path. Though it is just one path among many, it’s an amazing and revelatory educational experience–I recommend that every mapmaker follow it at least once.  I do it myself: sometimes a client asks me to create a map  in the style of a particular historic map or mapmaker. I love it–it appeals to my scholarly nature; beyond that, however, I learn techniques I might not have learned otherwise. It’s great to apprentice and submit oneself to the masters.

For what Rhonda and the other Sheographers do next week, stay tuned!