Mapping Rugby – Where sport, art and history colourfully collide.

Rugby is a place I have never been to. Of course, I’ve heard of the game of Rugby, although, with shame, I can’t say I’ve ever bothered to understand it.  I’ve also heard of the iconic Rugby School, one of the most historic and expensive establishments from which you can receive an English education. Both the school and sport have their birthplace in the town that also boasts a strong industrial heritage. In Rugby, some had hands made hard by labour – building steam engines or working on the canal system. And some had hands that were soft and only touched by the privilege and games of the traditional upper classes. This is a post about trying to bring all these diverse elements together in a map and attempting to do so with a very restrictive colour palette.

I took the call from Rugby Art Gallery with curiosity, commissioning me to create a couple of maps showing a trail of public art. A new map always gives me the chance to explore a place and understand its own peculiar culture. Just as the history of the town weaves privilege with labour, the trail features artwork glorifying the wealthy sons of Rugby and also artwork made by the everyday people themselves – by school children, by offender teams, by youth clubs. Pompous bronze effigies in municipal parks face up to peeling murals in canal underpasses providing an interesting cultural contrast.

Regardless, almost every piece reflects that rich mix of town history, culture and sport.  Stories of industrial past are shown in the carved brick mural on North Street – cement works loom and loaded canal barges lumber.  Cultural heritage crackles in the monument to war poet Rupert Brooke. The sporting story of Rugby appears in a brightly painted mural under a canal bridge showing pink legged players and madly cheering supporters…

Restrictions sometimes create an enjoyable challenge and for this commission, I was given a brand palette to work with.  If I’m honest, I found the brash cyan, majenta, slate grey and green of the logo difficult, but it pushed me to explore a set of colours I wouldn’t usually choose. I toned them down eventually so the maps could be more easily read and the eye wasn’t zinging crazily from one bright colour to the next.

The palette works best on the map cover, I think. A pale lemon is woven into some misty greens and blues, straight off the Oxford canal and dotted with the pink of the ornamental cherry trees found in Caldecott Park. The greys and blacks of the cement works and iron bridges zig-zag their way up to the title panel. The hand lettering is wrought in the original eyepopping colours. A mixture of handpainting and drawing combined with a flat pouring of Photoshop paintpot gives the project a contemporary look, despite all the historical stories colouring each map.

Although, as I said, I’ve never been to Rugby, it was a great pleasure to remotely explore the town and learn so much more about it. It seems like a place precariously balancing many different worlds and still managing to celebrate a shared cultural heritage. Hopefully I managed to show that celebration of people in the maps too, weaving Rugby’s artistic, sporting and historical stories together, knitting them into the tangle of streets and gardens and knotting them fast in a riot of colour.

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