Off the Map
Check it out: Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Draw Me My Life. Shown here is one of the featured images, a map showing the French cycling routes of Charlie Owen, an intrepid athelete whose wife commissioned this work as a surprise birthday present. I’m happy to be associated with The National Geographic, granddaddy of American global curiosity. I’m equally happy to work again with Jenna Schnuer, a clever journalist and haiku diarist. Jenna first wrote about Redstone Studios for Lexus Magazine in Winter 2006.
ARTIST'S CUSTOM MAPS EVOKE LIVES OF HER CLIENTS
DURHAM, Conn.—From a young age, most of us are familiar with maps. They show us how to get where we're going, or outline the borders that give us a sense of the world we live in.
But the maps Connie Brown paints are different. They tell personal stories the routes a runner used to prepare for the New York City Marathon; the journey a couple made to China to meet their adoptive baby; a map immortalizing a Midwesterner's beloved farm. Each is painstakingly hand painted by the Durham artist after months of consulting with her clients.
The resulting canvases reflect Brown's attention to detail: the farmer's yellow tractor peers over the green landscape of his farm; an inset charts the elevation at each mile of the runner's race; a temple and Buddha highlight sights the couple visited on their journey through China.
Brown started her mapmaking career at a PTA meeting in 1989, when she met another stay-at-home mom, Julie Ruff, with an interest in art and experimentation. Neither had a background in cartography. Before having children, Brown had earned her master's degree in English and taught at a prep school.
Ruff and Brown agreed to meet once a week in a studio to have some "creative time for adults." For a while, they focused on buying old items at flea markets and reselling them as hand-painted artifacts. But in the early '90s, Brown realized she needed to make more money to sustain her family. That's when she hit on the idea of custom-designed maps, and the two formed Redstone Studios.
Soon Brown and Ruff were hitting the libraries, studying the design of old maps. Their first canvases came together very slowly.
"It was not as easy as it looked," Brown said.
The breakthrough came in 1998, when an editor at The New York Times decided to publish a short article about their business. Almost immediately, calls flooded in.
"Then we were in business," Brown said. "Doing something we didn't know how to do."
Since then, Brown, 56, has been working nonstop. Her partner retired four years ago, and today Brown works out of her basement with part-time help from her husband, Duncan Milne.
Their home is easy to spot. A gold and black sign marks the shingled 19th century schoolhouse on Main Street by its old name: Durham Academy. Downstairs, Brown and Milne work surrounded by brushes, books, paints and, of course, maps.
Brown usually focuses on about three commissions at a time. First comes the process of story gathering. Clients send photos, maps, old diaries and sometimes more. When Brown worked on the canvas for the adoptive couple, she received a box full of personal artifacts.
"It was literally a treasure chest," Brown said.
Next she begins the design. With each commission, Brown learns a new design vocabulary, she said. For a map of a Montana ranch, she's researching Depression-era cowboy style. Another painting, made to commemorate her son's time with the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso, is bordered with an African textile pattern. Each detail, down to the lettering, reflects the sense of a particular period or place.
"It's my job to marshal information and images and then scatter them spatially," Brown said.
Planning a painting can take anywhere from a month to more than a year. Then she carefully begins the intricate brushwork, using acrylics to get the watercolor-like detail of the maps. Painting a canvas takes two to three months to finish.
Milne helps with tasks suited to his strengths as an architectural engineer. He was the first to say, "Let's do it," when Men's Vogue magazine asked Brown to take things into the third dimension and create a globe. And it was he who studied dozens of satellite images to plot the exact expanse of the Hudson River watershed for a commission by the Beacon Institute in New York. That project is now tied to a school curriculum on the watershed and a documentary about their work.
"It was a real milestone," Milne said. "It makes you feel like you're contributing something other than something pretty that hangs in people's living rooms."
In 1999, Liz Perry commissioned a large work for her father, Vice President Dick Cheney. The map of the Civil War exploits of Cheney's great-grandfather hangs in his office near the White House. Brown and Ruff presented Cheney with the map over lunch with him and President Bush.
Brown's clients also include globe-trotting CEOs and the New York Public Library, and her maps have been featured in such magazines as House & Garden and Forbes.
Small paintings begin at $5,000, and the largest have sold for as much as $50,000. There are some affordable options for those with a modest budget. Limited-edition prints of maps of places like Martha's Vineyard, Tuscany and East Africa sell for $300 each.
Brown currently has a yearlong waiting list. And she said she finds each assignment interesting and challenging.
"Sometimes it's cartographic, sometimes it's a new design vocabulary," she said. "I get to learn something different every time."
© 2008 The Hartford Courant
ON THE MAP
Small talk nothing. When Connie Brown and Julie Ruff met at a PTA function in 1989, their chat led to a new - and lucrative - business for the two stay-at-home moms: creating custom maps. "We were pleased to discover that we shared an interest in scientific art, especially from centuries past," says Brown. Though neither one had any formal art or cartographic training, they started dabbling in mapmaking. "We essentially apprenticed ourselves to old maps," says Brown. Adds Ruff, "We would go to exhibits and pore over books."
Then, as Brown likes to tell the story, they "hit upon this damned good idea along the way."
Working together as Redstone Studios (www.redstonestudios.com) - run from their homes in Durham, Connecticut, and New York City - the duo draw and paint maps that detail the important places and moments of their clients' lives. "Almost everything can be celebrated geographically," explains Brown, such as the route adoptive parents took from the U.S. to pick up their new daughter in China or the area surrounding a family's much-loved summer cottage. Though many of the themes are modern, the look of the maps is straight out of a history book - they'd probably fool Blackbeard himself.
Ruff, 55, and Brown, 53, have created hundreds of maps since they started. Some of their most memorable commissions include a map a breast-cancer patient commissioned for her doctor of his favorite summer getaway, another detailing the training schedule - and final result - of a runner's first New York City Marathon, and another, "How the Cross Family First Came to America," that, quite literally, put an entire family on the map. Both artists love the challenge of telling a story graphically. Ruff once drew a map of a Navy officer's 26-year career - but had to come up with a creative solution for hinting at all the secret submarine missions he couldn't mention. "I drew three dashed lines that started to fade, and he really liked that," she said.
Now, for clients who aren't quite ready to commission one-of-a-kind pieces, Redstone is producing limited edition maps of "beloved places." Printed with archival pigment on 100 percent rag paper, the launch collection includes Martha's Vineyard, Costa Rica, and Tuscany.
But no matter the map, neither artist makes a single pencil mark until she has enough background information to do the job justice. For commissions, that includes many discussions with the client to find out as much as possible about the characters, the place, or the events they want to detail. The work is "enriched by all the interaction with people," says Brown. "Some maps end up being so much more profound than you thought they'd be."
© 2006 Lexus Magazine
When Men's Vogue suggested to Redstone Studios - makers of one-of-a-kind maps that resurrect the cartography of bygone ages - that they work in 3-D for the first time, they took inspiration from a pair of giant globes, one terrestrial and one celestial, that Louis XIV commissioned from cartographer Vincenzo Coronelli in 1680. The Sun King's beloved globes, which recently went back on display in Paris's newly restored Grand Palais, are about fifteen feet in diameter, with space inside for 30 awed visitors. Redstone's version is a more desk-friendly size (diameter: 18.7 inches) but it's no less striking, thanks to a painstakingly hand-painted surface that pays homage to Coronelli with whimsical ships and sea monsters, as well as the nonexistent Frisland - a North Atlantic isle "discovered" by two Venetian adventurers who claimed to have found the New World. "Cartography was like gossip back then," explains Redstone's Connie Brown. "One mapmaker did it and the others followed." Mapmakers wanting to follow Redstone will have their work cut out for them. (Available in a limited edition of 20, $6,000 each; redstonestudios.com.)
© 2006 Men's Vogue
My Personal Journey
If a journey you've taken deserves to be celebrated, don't settle for snapshots or souvenirs - call the artists at Redstone Studios. Working from your recollections, photographs and flights of fancy, Constance Brown and Julie Ruff will paint original maps of the paths you've trod, the sights you've seen and the history you've lived. The result will be a work of art that takes you back on the road, anytime you care to go. Custom maps, from $4,000, at Redstone Studios. (860)349-1521, www.redstonestudios.com.
© 2005 Forbes fyi