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!

2014 Map Workshops: Sign up time!

March 18th 2014

In October 2013, I ran a three-day map workshop (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) here in my Connecticut studio for ten students. They came from various places: California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York City, and Connecticut.  A couple of them are seasoned artists,  and one curates a major university map collection, but none of them had much map-making experience before the workshop. By the time they left on Sunday afternoon, everyone had either finished or nearly finished a map. That doesn’t begin to describe the experience, however. As the instructor, I had prepared diligently for the workshop; furthermore, I’d drafted the help of  my studio colleague John Darnell and my husband Duncan Milne, who is an artist and an architect and a great mapmaker himself. Our efforts paid off, I think. But there was another, truly magical, reason the workshop was so successful–namely, the camaraderie that arose among everyone.  Together, we laughed, encouraged one another, wined and dined, shared our interests. In this atmosphere, everyone felt inspired and comfortable. Our attendees were ten great people, but I’m bold and optimistic enough to think that any ten people bound by this cartographic goal will create this same atmosphere.

In the next couple of posts, I’ll share student comments and some of their maps.

Meanwhile, on to my 2014 workshops. This autumn, I’m holding two:  an introductory workshop from Friday, September 12th through Sunday, September 14th, and an advanced workshop from Friday, October 3rd through Sunday, October 3rd.  Here ‘s basic info.

Three-day Introductory Mapmaking Workshop, Friday, September 12 through Sunday, September 14: If you want to master the art of manuscript mapmaking (maps made by hand, that is), come to this workshop, held in my Durham, CT studio, and learn all my deep cartographic secrets. At the same time, experience an autumn weekend in the beautiful Connecticut River Valley, establish camaraderie with fellow attendees, and enjoy country fare: breakfast, lunch and day’s-end wine and cheese.  Limited to ten students.  Last year’s workshop filled quickly—act now! Workshop fee: $600 (includes art/cartography supplies), $550 if you book by April 1st. To reserve a place or ask questions, e-mail or call; 860 575 4640.

Three-day Advanced Mapmaking Workshop: Friday, Oct 3 through Sunday, October 5:  Advanced three-day manuscript map workshop in my studio, open to veterans of last year’s introductory workshop, and to experienced mapmakers as well. No set curriculum for this workshop: choose your own cartographic adventure! Also featured: autumn in Connecticut, fortifying fare, and camaraderie. Workshop fee: $600 (includes art/cartography supplies, in this case geared to individual goals), $550 if you book by April 1st. To reserve a place or ask questions, e-mail or call me:; 860 575 4640.


Three day map-making workshop, Oct 4-6, 2013

January 16th 2013

If you want to learn the art of manuscript map-making (maps made by hand, that is), come to this workshop, held in my Durham, CT studio. By Sunday afternoon, you’ll have finished a map and learned all my deep cartographic secrets. What more could you ask for? An autumn weekend in the beautiful Connecticut River Valley, that’s what! And that’s not all:  camaraderie with fellow attendees, and food: breakfast, lunch, and day’s-end wine and cheese. Mapmakers work up a powerful appetite! Act now: workshop limited to 10 students.

Workshop Details (PDF)

Email me ( for more information.

Highland Fling: Another Map on Paper

March 30th 2012

Last September, Duncan and I hiked Scotland’s famous West Highland Way with our hiking pal Sydney and with Duncan’s sister Margaret: seven days, 95 miles, heather, mist, driving rain  (but just one day), sheep, Highland cattle, Loch Lomond, gorgeous and often wild landscapes, B & B’s, 18th century inns, salmon, scotch, scones, sticky toffee pudding, and wonderful camaraderie–among ourselves, and with other hikers. (We did this, by the way, through the Scottish travel outfitter Macs Adventure–they provided great maps,  arranged our lodgings, and conveyed our bags from point to point). The perfect occasion for a little commemorative map and as souvenirs for our beloved fellow travelers: I had copies scanned for Sydney and Margaret. Note that the route is long and vertical, but that didn’t stop me from popping it into a circle. I can’t help myself! The circle actually provided me with the “dead space” I needed for the title cartouche, designed to look like a bit of drapery; a written explanation of our week; a little key; and, on the left of the mapped route, a compass thistle (instead of a rose). I fashioned a border, but it’s as simple as can be. Like my Daily Rounds map, this is a 10″ circle within a 12″ square; unlike that map, this one isn’t a circumpunct–in other words, the map doesn’t radiate from a central point. Next up: maps by some of my workshop attendees.

Daily Rounds: A Little Map on Paper

March 25th 2012

I’ve made a practice, lately, of creating little round maps, spending an hour each day as a break from commissions. There’s a practical reason: I want to provide good, simple models for my workshop attendees (one–the subject of my last post–late next month at the C Gallery in the Santa Barbara wine country, and a couple of autumn workshops in my Connecticut studio). Beyond this  initial reason, however, I’ve really enjoyed these projects–it’s rejuvenating to try new stuff! I’m reminded of  my first (unpaid, of course) cartographic efforts, years ago, when everything was new and I was screwing up right and left. I’d forgotten the carefree fun of making mistakes, then learning from them–in my professional work, of course, I wisely avoid mistakes. All my commissioned maps are painted on big canvases (like 3 x 4′), but these little experiments are drawn in ink on beautiful colored Canson art paper, a 10″ circle within a 12″ square, perfect for popping into an inexpensive, ready-made 12″ frame.  I love this tobacco shade, but others await me–violet, chamois, amber, terracotta. You know how much I love round maps, and especially radial maps built around a central point. The central point here is our house, a 19th century school building my architect husband, Duncan Milne, recycled for us to live in. We moved here because we loved the house, the historic nature of the town, and the prospect of walking to local destinations. Note our town seal, which I’ve used instead of a compass rose–here’s to you, Durham, CT, and your agricultural heritage!