Soho and Covent Garden – mapping village history.

Although I live in Brighton, a city, it definitely feels more like a village. It’s the kind of place you meet familiar people whenever you head out and social vectors are so tightly intertwined that somehow everyone knows everyone else.
London, on the other hand, feels like a proper, grown up city, swarming with millions of strangers in an ocean of faceless concrete. And yet. And yet…There are still pockets of village-like places that hold an individual identity there, a quiet echo of the old times before those villages melted into one another entirely. Before they got mixed up in the urban stew that we might recognise today. So it was with great pleasure that I was commissioned to map Soho, one of those old areas of London with a distinct character and colourful history.

The commission was for a private client and the map features particular places of personal importance to them including book shops, restaurants, theatres, bars and coffee shops. The map also branches out somewhat as far as the River Thames, Chinatown and Covent Garden, all with distinct histories and characters.  Coming in at a whopping A2 in size, I based it on a traditional style with decorative compass and ornate cartouche in watercolour and ink.

Soho was originally farmland developed by Henry VIII in 1536 when it became a royal park.  In fact, the name ‘Soho’, which first appeared in the 17th century, may have come from the sound of a former hunting cry. By this time, it had become a parish in it’s own right and the upper classes had begun to move in,  developing a number of beautiful buildings like Leicester House, Carlisle House and St Anne’s Church on Shaftesbury Avenue.  It also attracted many immigrants and after 1688 a large community of French Huguenots settled there, so much so that the area became known as London’s French Quarter.

A map of London by the famous mapmaker James Ogilby. It’s not strictly of Soho but shows what the City looked like in the 17th century.

Between the mid 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, the aristocrats had moved out.  It’s said that this abandonment by the aristocracy and the distinct French influences led to Soho’s particular character. The cramped, cholera-ridden streets slowly began to fill with music halls, small theatres and prostitutes and it gained a reputation for seediness which continued well into the 20th century.  Soho became London’s established red light district with strip joints and sex shops on every corner, populated with drug dealers and criminal gangs.

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A map of part of Soho showing the multiple cases of Cholera in 1854. Image: Wellcome Trust.

By the 1980s, the sex industry had declined and the area became more gentrified. Instead of a dim spotlight on those grimy underground stages, it shone instead on Soho’s Shaftesbury Avenue which became a brightly lit theatreland.

The restaurants and cafes established in the 19th century by Greek and Italian immigrants became increasingly fancy.  Even today, there are still echoes of those first foreign settlers –  Milos serves classic high end Greek and Mediterranean food and Zedels gives us a glimpse of Parisian glamour.

The music scene is still represented with multiple record shops and studios. It can be traced back to 1948 as the first place where modern jazz was performed in the UK and Ronnie Scotts today still plays the best of international jazz music.  Soho, too, was the centre of the Beatnik culture and cafes like Soho Grind keep tightly hold of that 50’s vibe.

It was fascinating to see how those ghosts of the past kept reappearing in different guises.  Perhaps that’s simply the way places work – one layer builds on another, slowly, changing far less than we all imagine.

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I could happily get into pontificating about psychogeography but let’s just leave it at how much I enjoyed this commission.   It goes to show how much can be absorbed from simply looking at maps, taking time to learn about a place, its shape and its buildings and the patterns and names of its roads. Next time I find myself in Soho, I will look at it with very different eyes.  I learnt so much and it was a pleasure to take time over mapping this little London village full of story and personality.

 

 

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Follow that Hare – combining the contemporary and traditional for The Mead Gallery.

Autumn has finally crept up on a long hot summer and with it, a lovely autumnal commission for The Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre at The University of Warwick.  The gallery has recently acquired a new loan, ‘Acrobats’ by Barry Flanagan, an elongated bronze statue of two hares, precariously balancing on each other, standing tall in the beautifully landscaped grounds of the campus.
In celebration, the ‘Follow that Hare’ project was created. I was commissioned to create a new hand drawn map of the grounds guiding the visitor past the sculptures of the collection and taking in seasonal sights such as swallows’ nests and reddening oak trees. With it came an autumn field guide for children, full of nature facts and games;  something that could be used by small explorers as part of the specially designed backpacks (which also include pairs of handy binoculars!).
The map itself was an interesting piece to work on. I was told to base it on a wildlife map of Brighton, originally created for ONCA Gallery, using similar style and lettering. Unusually for me, this meant drawing in ink but colouring mainly with Photoshop which I’m really not used to – I figured that it would be useful chance to deepen my digital experience. Combining the hand drawn with such a recent creative tool made me think about how I could blend the traditional with the contemporary.

The map was entirely hand drawn with parts coloured by hand in ink and watercolour as you can see here. The rest was coloured using Photoshop.  Spot the spelling mistake.  Photoshop is also useful for making corrections.

The map came in at slightly under A2 and I had to use multiple maps as reference because of the size and complexity of the building layout. Architecturally, the University of Warwick is an interesting institution.  From above, buildings are blocky but with unexpected angles and shapes – complicated but great to utilise the strong geometrics as surface patterning.  Part of my love of urban maps is the negative spaces and rhythms found between buildings and how their shapes can appear almost like contemporary abstract art. For me, the flat pixels of digital colouring add to this contemporary feel.

The printed map and the folded version.

The autumn field guide is entirely hand drawn in black pen and ink without digital colouring but it echoes the map in it’s use of hand lettering.  Titles; contemporary sans serif capitals, sometimes with openers filled in, are in a style I developed myself and use often.  In contrast, the main body of the text – flowery, traditional and cursive – is based on Deutsche Normalschrift.  I wanted the booklet to be contemporary but have a feel of an old nature journal, perhaps written and illustrated by some tweed clad gentleman of the ’20s, slightly damp and crawling through bushes after a rare mallard.  As ever, I love drawing animals, plants and birds, so it was definitely a fun part of the commission.

A double page of birds from the Autumn Nature Guide and the back of the map showing more illustrations from the book.

A page of seeds from the Autumn Nature Guide showing the cursive style of the main body of the text.

I’ve just received the map and guide in the post this morning but it was published in time for Freshers’ fair last week. Future talk involves using some of the design for hoardings and an information booth.  Regardless, I think what’s important for me is that hopefully I managed to contrast the contemporary and traditional, the modern sculpture in steel and stone with the fading greens of the early autumn trees successfully.  And as a further aside, I have a secret fantasy that perhaps some hungover student might have dragged themselves out of bed and taken themselves on a walk of art and nature one misty Warwickshire morning.

The Spy Who Dumped me: my maps hit Hollywood…

It’s been a frustrating year of waiting for projects to be finally released so that I can talk about them.  My work for ‘The Spy who Dumped me’ is no different. In the June of 2017, I was commissioned to create an A2 hand painted ‘map mash-up’ of the city of Prague and Prague zoo (Zoopraha) as a prop for the film, screening this August (2018). It stars Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon and Gillian Anderson and is a Lionsgate production.  Proper Hollywood.

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The film involves two girls, one of whom has recently been dumped by her boyfriend. She discovers that, in reality, he was a spy and so they take on his badass work, of course chased by dark forces across a variety of European countries. My illustrations were turned into a tourist map the girls take with them to navigate Prague.

The map is based on the real life city but famous buildings are randomly attributed zoo animals and transformed into their associated animal houses. For example, the palace becomes the lion house, the station becomes the aviary and the Charles Bridge becomes the penguinarium: penguins taking the place of the iconic saintly statues standing over the river. Painting the animals was a particular pleasure of mine, reminding me of my background in children’s books. I was especially pleased with the cheeky giraffe on the map cover…

Zoopraha cover

The animals were all labelled so although I love lettering by hand, there was pressure to make sure the Czech words were correct. The internet’s not always reliable so I had no idea if they were right and wondered if angry letters complaining about Czech spelling would start pouring in…

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I’ve been commissioned several times before to create illustrations for tv/film props but have never made the final cut. Believe me, there have been fruitless hours sitting through costume dramas, sometimes scene by scene, straining to see my work…But this time it was different. The map actually appears as a key prop – a set up for a joke: (The Spy who Dumped Me is a comedy thriller).  It’s glimpsed for seconds but there nevertheless.

I hit the (very metaphorical) red carpet last night at the ‘glamorous’ Brighton Odeon multiplex. Regardless, I still drank a glass of slightly warm fizzy wine to my little map, glowing in the yellows of Prague, and the first illustration of mine that has actually made it to the screen.

Czech spelling mistakes or not, I knew I’d make it to Hollywood one day….

zoopraha compass

A Map of The Silver Screen Heritage of Brighton and Hove

I live in the seaside city of Brighton and Hove on the South Coast of England which has, for centuries, had a name for it’s creativity. So it really should be no surprise that it was once a centre for English film making in those black and white days of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. My latest map was commissioned by Carousel, an arts charity, as a special edition publication to promote ‘Modern Marvels’, a festival celebrating this cinematic heritage and new work by students with learning disabilities.

Early filmmakers, George Albert Smith and James Williamson lived in Hove, working on film between 1897 and 1905, a period when it developed as a new technology and a new form of entertainment. They both made important contributions to the art of editing and narrative.

Was sleepy Hove, the Hollywood of it’s day? – I don’t know(!?), but one of the first major film studios in Britain was based in St Anne’s Well Gardens there, a sedate park with tennis courts and a bowling green today. George Smith, a former stage hypnotist and psychic, created his ‘film factory’ in a glass house in the Gardens in 1897. Films were inspired by his experience of contemporary music hall, mesmerism and the magic lantern. They tell stories of steam trains, hapless housemaids and the wonders of X-rays using clever editing trickery.

George Smith at work.

One of James Williamson’s first films was a short, made on location at Brighton’s West Pier in the hot summer of the late 1890’s showing bustling crowds enjoying the holiday atmosphere. He then developed Smith’s techniques into longer multi-shot narratives. Action films and comedy capers followed, all shot around the city or in his own studio in Cambridge Grove, also in Hove.

James Williamson.

The handpainted map shows the sites of both studios but also the film locations with tiny vintage camera icons. I gave the lettering, compass rose and border a hint of Art Nouveau, the predominant style at the time, and the negative space (the space between the details) became a cinema-velvet-curtain red.

Carousel’s film festival, Modern Marvels, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, runs until November 2018. A travelling film booth shows the original black and white films alongside films made by students with learning disabilities, autism and additional needs. The project gave them an insight into film-making and visual story-telling, using green screen, making music and sound effects, working alongside experienced film-makers.

 

New hand drawn map workshop dates.

A short post to let you know I’m running two hand drawn mapping workshops at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne, Sussex. Both workshops will have the same format so if you can’t make the August date, perhaps the September date might be better for you.

carousel compass rose

As part of the workshop, students will learn:

– how to research the territory with notes and sketches. (NB: there will be a short walk around Eastbourne).
– simple gridding up techniques.
– how to use negative space effectively with pattern, illustration or stories.
– how to create decorative compass roses and cartouches.
– how to design personalised feature icons and keys.
– easy to draw but simply elegant hand lettering.

Camp No-mans Land compass rose

These workshops are running in association with the Towner’s current Arts Council Collection National Partner exhibition, ‘At Altitude’, which is a ‘ selective look at the historical impact and the continuing appeal of the aerial image.’ I’ve been and it really is worth seeing.

river don compass

 

Inspired by sources ranging from the first air balloons to Google Earth, the show features work by luminaries such as Jananne Al–Ani, Michael Andrews, Ken Baird, Tacita Dean, Charles and Ray Eames, Simon Faithfull, Mishka Henner, Dan Holdsworth, Kabir Hussain, Peter Lanyon, Christopher R. W. Nevinson, Cornelia Parker, Carol Rhodes and Wolfgang Tillman. There’s also a new installation created by Timothy Prus of the Archive of Modern Conflict and a site-specific commission for Towners Collection by Annabel Howland.

zoopraha compass

 

Workshop dates:

Sunday 12th August. 10.30am – 4pm.

Saturday 15th September. 10.30am – 4pm.

Pay what you can. Suggested donation – £45.00 although no-one will be excluded on ability to pay. Book for one session only.

The workshop is for all creative abilities.  Please be aware that, weather dependent, there will be a short walk as part of the workshop so wear appropriate clothing and footwear.

Book here.

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Illustrating ‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’: a Harry Potter baptism of fire.

Back at the end of last year, I was commissioned to provide some illustrations for a film tie-in book for Warner Brother’s ‘Harry Potter’ franchise. I’d read only a few of the novels by JK Rowling and seen a few of the early films so this project – ‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ – became a complete Potter baptism of fire. In case you don’t know (where have you been?!), the original Marauders’ Map shows the secret passageways of Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards that Harry Potter attends. The iconic map was created as an prop, first appearing in the third of the films (and shown on the front cover of ‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’.). The map’s a total tour-de-force and was drawn by Miraphora Mina of graphic design duo Mina.Lima. I guess my own connection with maps was the thinking behind the commission. Using the map as a base, ‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ takes you around the floorplan of the school with information, photographs, and drawings for each room. I provided the little drawn icons.

Flick through it and you’ll see some images which are looser and in pencil. These aren’t mine and come from the films’ ‘look book’ – a visual guide used by anyone involved in the films’ design to maintain consistency throughout.  It was interesting to work for a licensed film franchise for the first time and see how different it is to straight publishing. Obviously accuracy of the characters and icon elements was all important as there’s an established ‘world’ based on work created already. The internet was certainly an amazing tool because scene and character information was so easy to get hold of – I spent a long time browsing film and fan websites for accurate images.

And so within some fairly strict boundaries, I created the illustrations – tiny dragons, broomsticks, potion bottles and magical beasts- reflecting the style of the original artwork in tightly hatched ink. I certainly know a lot more about Harry Potter now than I did at the start.

All of the images were checked by Warner Brothers’ People and JK’s People. I can honestly say that I’ve never worked for people with ‘People’ before. It goes to show how large an enterprise it is and also how protective they are of everything involving Harry.

‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ is a fun and informative little book to bring some Potter magic to your world – it even comes with its own wand. If you have a burgeoning witch or wizard in your life and they know the right words, get them to wave the wand across the pages and watch the secret images appear.

I too had fun dipping into such an established creation that seems to have a life of its own and is still steadily evolving. It really is a great honour to be connected to this British icon of children’s literature.

‘The Marauders’ Guide to Hogwarts’ is written by Errin Pascal published by Scholastic/Warner Brothers and available across whichever universe (magical or otherwise) you currently occupy!

Summer Camp

Even if you don’t live in the States, you’ve definitely seen the films of all American kids heading off to a Summer camp in the great outdoors.  All female private members club, The Wing, has organised it’s own Summer Camp experience for members, taking them out to the Adirondacks, not far from New York City. Camp No-man’s Land (dates: August 17th-19th 2018) was based at the heritage Echo Lake campsite with it’s beautiful forests, lake and wooden cabins built in the 1940s.  I was asked to create a map of the camp for The Wing’s online microsite of the event and associated print and signage at the event itself.

Camp No-man's Land online

The online map for Camp No-Man’s Land.

The Wing was created in 2016 as ‘a network of co-working and community spaces designed for women.’  I first heard about them though social media and was really attracted by their strong branding aesthetics of shell pink, midnight blue, celadon green and ochre colours.  Working spaces look bright, clean and calm and there are exercise rooms, lounges, bookshelves and coffee spaces. Perhaps like the Gentleman’s Clubs of old but updated and given a 21st century treatment for 21st century women. Events happen regularly too, from clothes swaps to feminist film nights to mover-and-shaker speaker nights (Hilary Clinton for example…).

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Print version of the Camp No-man’s Land map.

As they say in the promotional blurb, Camp No-man’s Land sounds like it will be ‘damn good fun’!  Activities include speakers and music, hiking and kayaking, beer pong and karaoke (if that’s your thing…), sunrise yoga and facials (more my thing, though sunrise is a push…), screenprinting and pickling workshops (much MUCH more my thing…)… Having spent some time exploring the campsite on Google Earth for this project, it’s a really beautiful place of sun dappling and bracken.  I imagine foraging in the woods there or listening to ghost stories by an outdoors fire watching the sparks dance in the evening blue…

Explore the Camp No-man’s Land microsite and see my map in action for yourself here.

The online map was initially drawn by hand and to a large size – actually about A2 in all.  The sizes needed to work for both the online iteration but also the print version too.  Working by hand means that I have to create to the maximum size of the eventual image because crispness will be lost as soon as any digital enlarging happens.

I took a careful look at the general brand visuals which are quite distinct.  Lines had to be clean and simple and some time was spent experimenting with different ways to create unfussy tree shapes for unfussy forests. There was a particular colour palette of cream, ochre, moss green and a rosy pink to work from but matching ink colours was more difficult than expected.  In the end, much was tweaked using Photoshop to fit more exactly.  My evangelism to working by hand is flexible and I never have a problem adjusting things digitally if necessary!

I’m pleased with the resulting map.  It still has elements of maps I’ve illustrated before but The Wing brought something new to my style through it’s simplicity.  My only regret is that I won’t get the chance to go to Camp No-man’s Land myself, bunk overnight in an old-school cabin – just like they do in the films – and hang out under those trees in the damp green of the Adirondack woods…

 

 

New map drawing workshop!

 

This is a short post to let you know that I’m running a short hand drawn map workshop at ONCA Gallery in Brighton alongside the exhibition ‘The Long View’ by somewhere-nowhere.

8th June, 10am – noon

£15 – tickets via Eventbrite

For adults of all levels of artistic experience.
By the end of this 2 hour workshop you will have all the skills to make a basic hand drawn map!

Participants will learn how to:
Walk the turf and make observations
Grid up and draw out
Create basic but elegant hand lettering
Draw decorative compass roses to complete your map

Please bring a notepad (or equivalent), a pencil, a ruler and clothing appropriate for taking a short walk outside.

Then stay and enjoy The Long View exhibition in the gallery.

Address:

ONCA Gallery
14 St George’s Place
Brighton
E Sussex
BN1 4GB

Telephone: 01273 607101

See you there!

 

 

 

Travelling to Mexico on the information highway.

It’s funny, as an illustrator, how many places I visit before I create a picture.  And by visit, I mean metaphorically travelling down a fast paced information highway, halting occasionally at random pitstops for a quick look around or perhaps, a longer stay. Throughout my career, I’ve visited many locations, hiking the snowy wastes of Greenland, schlepping through the deserts of the Middle East and wandering the streets of Beijing, all via a screen in my studio. This post is about approaching the internet with an explorer’s curiosity and how it can lead you to creative inspiration.

Back at the end of last year, I was commissioned to create the front cover and contents page of the May/June issue of Cricket Magazine, an illustrated publication for children in the States. The theme was ‘Hummingbirds’ and even for a small project like this, the journey was no different.

I have never seen a hummingbird in real life so I started the project with some rambling research, opening creaking digital doors and exploring little known cyber pathways. As usual, I was sucked down an internet vortex leading me to unfamiliar worlds. There were steamy jungles, brilliant blossoms and tiny hovering birds, far from the familiar wrens and robins of the English garden.
The lime greens of the feathers and the hot pink of the flowers reminded me very much of the colours found in folk embroidery, from Russia in the North to Latin America in the South. I set sail on more random research adventures and landed up on the warm shores of Mexico, home of an incredible textile culture.

Elvira Gomez. Photograph by Thelma Datter.

Mexican folk embroidery has been in existence from pre-hispanic days, developing centuries ago from its roots with the Mesoamerican Otami peoples into the form today known as Tenango. It features the flora and fauna of the region in unreal colours and geometric patterns. Broad flat stitches neatly cover the cloth and larger pieces can take years to complete.

Photograph by Thelma Datter.

Mexico is also the home of the white throated hummingbird.

It’s a beautiful thing when two paths converge. By exploring, allowing myself to travel without boundaries, I had found connections between two diverse subjects and a way to visualise and create something new.

White throated hummingbird by Dominic Sherony.

With Mexican embroidery as inspiration, my pages became filled with twirling blossoms, their distinct shapes, a useful foil for further patterned collage. The hummingbirds danced above them, drinking their nectar and making nests in their magenta petals. I wanted the whole image to become a riot of blooming decoration where botanics and birds took equal precedence in the pattern.

So it’s with the publication of this month’s Cricket Magazine that my short metaphorical stay in Mexico is done. I’ve come away with small souvenirs of understanding and a place to return should I ever need inspiration for beautiful bright birds and flowers. The internet is my ticket to travel. It allows me to reach places I have little knowledge of and, if fortune smiles, lets me leap across subjects and make creative connections. Despite all its faults, it’s a vital tool in the illustration suitcase.

 

As I look out on my very English garden today, relishing the May warmth, the sky is the palest of blues and the lilac tree, a delicate mauve. It’s certainly good-looking in a reserved, polite way but there’s a large part of me that would like to see the joyful pink of the hibiscus, the shocking blue of a hummingbird and the unapologetic azure of a Mexican sky, not just captured in pixels on a screen, but for real one day.

 

 

An Interview for Illustrator Saturday.

8A15FDE2-DCED-450D-AFFF-133795A0EEDFI was recently honoured to be interviewed by Kathy Teaman for Illustrator Saturday, a weekly post she promotes on her wordpress site http://www.kathtemean.wordpress.com.  Kathy was a regional advisor for SCBWI, the Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators in the U.S. for many years and her very popular blog exists to help both published and unpublished authors and illustrators, with expert industry knowledge, technical tips and information from children’s book editors and agents.

You can read the interview here.