The Making of a Map...

I regularly get asked to take on commissions for maps by followers based on the popular map prints I create. The following article explains just how long my maps take to make, and consequently why I am unfortunately only able to carry out custom map work for a select few companies and organisations with the appropriate budget, and why I cannot carry out custom map artwork for individuals. Hopefully it is also an interesting read to anyone who considers themselves a fan of my work.

Stage 1. Research and planning. 3 Days

First I trawl the internet for anything and everything that could possibly be included on the map. This includes important towns and villages, Historical buildings such as castles and stately homes, Key roads and rivers, lakes and reservoirs, natural landmarks such as mountains and forests, local legends and points of interest, wildlife, tourist attractions, outdoor pursuits & agricultural areas. I also seek the opinions and knowledge of locals to get a better understanding of how to represent the area. These are all written out by category and suggestions from others are cross checked.

Stage 2. Sketching and adding points of interest. 4 Days

Using various sources such as google maps and OS maps, I sketch the map shape, plot the roads, rivers, borders and the coastline if applicable. I also plot the main towns and then refer to my list of places and things to add. This takes a lot of time because often many points of interest are in one particular spot so im simply not able to add them all. I have to consider which point of interest is best to include which can be difficult and often requires further research to make the best decision.

With every item on the list I have to find suitable images online for me to quickly sketch from, and in many cases the point of interest may be not be a literal object I can draw such as a building, so I have to find a way to best represent it iconically which adds time. Once I've decided which items to keep and they've all been plotted and sketched out, there will often be areas that look a little blank. In this case I refer back to google maps to try and work out how best to fill out these areas. Often it’s a large expanse of agricultural land, In which case I tend to add farm animals, fields and tractors. Or perhaps its a largely barren mountainous area in which case sheep and the odd tree does the trick… you get the picture. It’s important to me that even these “less interesting areas” are still somewhat true to life.

Stage 3. Painting. 8 days

This the BIG ONE. This is where the nicest but hardest work begins. First I paint in the bare bones. The borders, the coastline, the roads and rivers. This creates the skeleton of my map. I am doing this initially on my light table using the sketch underneath to get the structure correct, taking it away, working on it some more without the sketch, bringing it back in to check it's all still correct. Then I add in the green areas that fill the gaps between the roads.

Once these base items are done, I begin adding in, one by one, each and every landmark, point of interest, building, icon and animal that was plotted out on the sketch. To give a sense of scale, most of these items are between the size of a 5p and 10p piece (even smaller if it's an animal!). Take a castle for example; I work directly from a collection of source images online, painting with very fine brushes, trying my best to make the castle recognisable even at such a small scale. It’s a labour of love! I tend to work each day on a particular section of the map, aiming to complete all the items on and surrounding an area of green space.

Once all these areas are complete, I take a step back and look for any areas I feel might be lacking and add other items into them, trees perhaps, or tents if there are campsites there for example. I check what I have painted once again against Google Maps to ensure things are in their right place and make notes if there are things that might need to be shifted later on during the digital clean up stage.

Stage 4. Scanning and clean up. 1 day

My prints are scanned at a very high resolution to capture as much detail and colour as possible. Once scanned, the file is set up in Photoshop and the artwork is cleaned up digitally. This is my chance to get really close up with the whole image and clear up any smudges or marks, shift items if they need moving across and carefully blend them back into the painting using a variety of digital techniques. Once the artwork has been perfected it is printed out so that the wording stage can begin.

Stage 5. Adding the wording. 3 days

The printout is put on the light table and taking another sheet of cartridge paper I begin writing the wording in black ink to fit around the road or landmark. This includes all town names and any point of interest that requires wording to better represent it. This takes a lot of consideration for how each word will sit within the overall illustration and if room is tight can be challenging to get right. While doing this I constantly have to double check spelling etc to ensure it’s all correct. I also have to ink in the map title. This can be really tricky to achieve a balanced look against the map as a whole so can take multiple attempts.

If the map requires a second Welsh language version, this entire process is repeated. First my initial list of place names is checked item by item for the appropriate Welsh translation and spelling. Once that is completed, another sheet of paper is placed over the map print out and each translation is separately inked up as well as a Welsh version of the map title.

These are then scanned, digitised and individually placed on the digital map image in their own separately named layer in photoshop. This is so each name came be independently moved and adjusted until it’s in the perfect spot. Once the initial English version is created, The whole file is saved a second Welsh version, all English wording removed and then replaced with their Welsh equivalents.

Stage 6. Perfecting and Test Printing the map. 1-2 Days

Once all wording is complete, the map undergoes a thorough check by not only myself but also by a trusted local to weed out any spelling errors or mistakes in both the artwork and the wording. This usually involves around 2 rounds of often fiddly edits. Once we are both happy with the map/s, I test print the whole artwork and adjust the balance, colour levels and spacing until I am completely happy with the finished article.

If you’ve gotten this far, well done! I hope all of the above gives a true sense of just how much work goes into every map. When we add up the total number of days it takes to complete my maps it comes to 17. So if that’s split across typical 5 day working weeks, I’m looking at dedicating over 3 weeks to the entire process. 

When people ask “how much would a custom county map of ……. be” it’s this length of time that I would have to not only quote for but have to spare in order to create the artwork itself. Understandably 3 weeks wages is considerably beyond most budgets customers have in mind, and it's for this reason that I rarely carry out custom map artwork. Of course, there are occasions when a company or organisation has the budget to allow for a commission, and I thoroughly enjoy these projects when they come along and believe I am able to create a beneficial piece of work that often ads value or is monetised by the client. 

If you're a company or organisation that would like to know more about commissions, please do get in touch. If you're an individual reading this who was hoping for a custom map, I do apologise that I am unable to help but hope you understand why after reading this. And if you’re a fellow illustrator, designer or maker reading this, take this post as encouragement to be mindful of the work that goes into what you create and always charge what you’re worth. Also resist pressure to say yes to work you simply do not have time for. What you create is valuable. Your time is also valuable and should be respected.

To finish up, I am so grateful to every follower or customer who finds joy in my maps. Wether that's simply from seeing a photo on instagram, admiring a print in a stockists shop or at a fair or actually purchasing one for themselves or a loved one. I am flattered that people would want to commission me to create a map just for them but as you can see it’s not something I can do in a short time and on a small budget.

I’m always working hard to add to my map series so if your desired area is not available yet it may well be illustrated in the future.