Off the Map

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!