‘Escape from Coronaland’: Allegorical Mapmaking Workshop.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been unable to give mapping workshops due to the closure of the museums that usually employ me. However, I’m pleased to announce I ran my first online workshop for The Brighton Chamber of Commerce on the 30th April. The workshop was part of the Chamber’s Brighton Basecamp: En Route event for local business people and was a 45 minute taster session in how to draw a hand drawn ‘allegorical’ map.


Allegorical maps had their hey-day in the 18th and 19th centuries and were used to show, metaphorically, an idea or emotion depicted as a map. Common themes include love, matrimony and temperance ( ie: a tea-total lifestyle).
This 1885 example below is by George Scaife Beeching and shows the Land of Matrimony. The landmass is separated into different countries like Wedding Cake Land or Feeland, apparently inhabited by lawyers. Bodies of water like the Sea of Doubt and the Ocean of Admiration are labelled too. The artist uses both negative and positive feelings about marriage to help name his map features.


Here’s another example from 1835. ‘A Great Country’ is by someone calling themselves Timothy Temperance – obviously a pseudonym – and it warns of the dangers of drinking alcohol. There are the Lakes of Gin, Rum and Whiskey, the Islands of Folly and Animal Appetite and, perhaps the less exciting Rivers of Water and Tea on the Continent of Self Denial. I like the lovely mountain range running through the middle.


For the workshop, I created my own allegorical map to show how I and my business have faired during the pandemic over the past year. The main aim of the workshop was for participants to create their own too. My map shows the route I’ve taken through Coronaland and am still taking – this journey hasn’t ended yet – hopefully to the Land of Safety.


I concentrated on the importance of mark making in hand drawn maps. By using different types of marks we can distinguish one set of features from another. For example, short wavy marks can distinguish a sea from long flowing lines that could be a river.


Ragged zig zags make great mountain ranges and continuous curvy lines look more like hills or plains.


Short sharp vertical dashes satisfyingly represent grasslands. Solid patterned areas of continuous lines of’m’s can make beautiful forests.


By using these marks systematically, almost like a personal vocabulary, we can populate our map with a variety of distinct physical features, natural features and bodies of water.


Obviously the metaphorical labelling is all important and I enjoyed adding an escape route from Coronaland. I’ve cleared the River of Job Loss via the Bridge of Grants, gone through the Zoom Peaks, avoided the endless Plains of Homeschooling and the dark claustrophobic Quarantine Copse (so far…) and eventually will stumble over the ‘Lumpy’ Hillocks of Vaccine with a little luck.


My over-arching feeling about creating this map and workshop is not to trivialise the horror of these times but more to take a breath, think about the hardships and trials we have attempted to overcome and what has helped us (and our businesses, if we have them), over the past year. As I said, we’re all still on the journey escaping from Coronaland but it’s good to look back at where we started, how much we have learnt and how we’re adapting in difficult circumstances.

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