Seckford Hall Hotel – editing stories on a map.

Seckford Hall is a beautiful Tudor mansion set in incredible countryside near Woodbridge in Suffolk.  It’s now a large country hotel with restaurant, pool and spa; my clients asked me to create a map of the hotel, grounds and surrounding area for the guests.  As usual, I researched the area online before I started and, as usual, I found it to be a place full of stories.  This is a tale of how mapmakers act as ‘editors’ – deciding which stories to add to a map, in the client’s interest, and which stories to lose…  Tailoring a map to the needs of the patron is how it’s always been, right from the beginning.

Map of Seckford Hall. A4 in size, hand drawn and lettered in ink and digitally coloured.

The hall was built in the 16th century by Sir Thomas Seckford, an official at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, although the site goes back as far back as the Domesday Book.  Thomas cared deeply about the poor and apparently his ghost is said to roam the halls even now, angry at the injustices of the world. People love a good ghost story….


Sir Thomas Seckford.  Author – Larry Moran

Sir Thomas was influential at the court and one of his duties was to accompany the monarch on her journeys around the country.  It is, without doubt, a boast of all historic homes in Britain when royalty has visited and it’s known that Elizabeth I did make her court for a while at the hall. Imagine what a grand sight her entourage would have made, precariously navigating the muddy roads of the time.

Queen Elizabeth I

And guests enjoy hearing of the talented and famous too.  Another visitor was Enid Blyton who stayed at the hall in 1916.  She loved the ‘haunted’ bedroom and the wild farmland.  The rumour of the secret passage (between the hall and Woodbridge) must have certainly inspired storylines in her ‘Famous Five’ books.  Singer, Ed Sheeran, (one of the world’s most successful musicians) also made an appearance at the hall, shooting a short video there before presenting the MTV music awards in 2017….

In the surrounding area, guests can visit Sutton Hoo, famous as a site of one of the most important historical finds in Europe ever.  In 1939, the remains of a huge ship and massive treasure hoard were excavated from a barrow grave, probably belonging to a great 6th century king.  The craftmanship is stunning and who knows what sad and grand ceremony took place on those windswept plains a thousand years ago.


The Sutton Hoo helmet.

And of course, one of the strangest stories connected to the hall is the UFO sighting in nearby Rendlesham Forest in 1980.  Around 3:00 a.m. on a bitter Christmas night, a weird, brightly lit phenomenen was reported descending into the trees by a security patrol at Woodbridge RAF base.  The men investigated and found what they described as a glowing metallic object with coloured lights which started moving through the trees. The event was never investigated as a security matter but is the most significant UFO sighting in the UK and sometimes described as ‘Britain’s ‘Roswell’.

File:Supposed UFO landing site - Rendlesham Forest - - 263104.jpg

Supposed UFO landing site in Rendlesham Forest. Author: Simon Leatherdale.

All these are big, interesting stories but the story connected to Seckford Hall that I really like, is that of Christopher Saxton, mapmaker.  He was asked by Sir Thomas, in his courtly capacity, to make a survey of the entire country – a huge request.  How many muddy roads did he walk?  How many windswept plains or dark forests did he explore?  How many things did he notice but could not include (or chose not to) in his maps in deference to his patrons?

From his research, Saxton created an atlas which was published in 1579 by command of the queen. It was the first atlas made from a survey and was ground breaking at the time.  Within the long timeline of mapmaking, Saxton was very important and he’s important to me as a mapmaker.  However, to the average visitor, his story probably doesn’t count for too much. I had to consider how important he was to my clients – they were the patrons who had employed me after all.  Eventually, and with much regret, I realised that, with all these big stories, there simply wasn’t enough room to include him.  And so, the story of Saxton, the mapmaker, important to me personally but not totally vital to the hotel, was left out …

And that, friends, is how mapmaking goes sometimes.  Maps have documented places throughout history and there will have been many reasons behind the making of a map and many patrons with different agendas.  Each time we look at a map, we should never forget one thing…

There will be many stories that are lost…







Growing Wild FM – talking on the radio about maps.

If you live in Brighton, you’ll know that appearing on Radio Reverb is a total rite of passage and my own time came a few weeks ago when I was interviewed about maps by Charlotte Petts for her award winning show Growing Wild FM.

It was a slightly nerve-wracking experience, especially as I’d just come back from holiday and had to get my head very quickly in gear to talk coherently about maps.  The last time I was interviewed for radio (a local BBC radio station, I think), I was so nervous that all my words came out in the wrong order…

Anyhow Charlotte made me feel very comfortable, allowing me to wax extensively about maps and map history for a full 40 minutes in my front room and negotiating my cat in the background at the same time. Luckily the extensive waxing was edited down, the words (mostly) came out in the right order and despite saying the word ‘fascinating’ way more than necessary, here is the result.  Have a listen – it’s a really interesting programme including interviews with several inspirational map makers, all female, whose take on maps is very similar to my own.

Flying high with Ridley Scott – sketches for his Turkish Airlines commercial, ‘The Journey’.

Last year in the long hot summer, before a nasty bout of shingles laid me low for a few months, I was commissioned to create a series of drawings of Istanbul.  These would be used for the interior of a sketchbook, a prop which would feature in film director Ridley Scott’s latest commercial for Turkish Airlines titled ‘The Journey’.

Ridley Scott, famous for films such as ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Gladiator’, started his career in advertising and occasionally still directs commercials.  They appear as short films, beautiful haikus of narrative that are often longer than the average ad – these versions are shown online if not on tv and cinema screens.  ‘The Journey’, lasting around 6 minutes, shows a cat and mouse chase between two beautiful women in the historic Turkish city, Istanbul.  It’s unclear who they are, although some undercover spy story is definitely suggested.  They weave their way through the ancient buildings and baths of old Constantinople, one using the images in the lost sketchbook of the other to show her the way.  The final scene shows their journey continuing by plane to Bali. Perhaps the cat and mouse chase never ends. Perhaps they never meet.

My job was to draw multiple scenes of Istanbul buildings and people that featured in the plot, periodically dotting the tiny brown Moleskine book with quick sketches and leaving room for the designer to add notes and menus and postcards.  I was asked to make drawings naive – ‘like an art student but not as accomplished as a professional artist’. Things were left undone and unravelled, things were drawn over and over as they are in my real sketchbooks.

The work was stimulating – skylines flashed with minarets; the port teamed with fishermen or leathery old boys selling feed for the flocks of pigeons; markets were busy with stalls and buildings of state were elegantly decorative. After working on it for a few days, the book was finally packaged up and sent off to the set in Istanbul and approval by the art director.

At one point there had been talk of flying me out to sketch in situ but the heat would have made life difficult for me. Instead I’d made do with discovering the place and the people online, trying to forge a link with the mysterious sketcher without ever meeting her character.

I was also asked to draw a portrait of the other main protagonist played by Sylvia Hoeks.  Supplied with a number of headshots, you’d have thought this would be fairly straightforward.  In reality, it needed some time with constant calls from Turkey requesting quicker and sketchier drawings – ‘Do it in three minutes….’, No! – a minute!’, ‘No!- 30 seconds!…’. The call goes dead and I rush back to my paper and scan and send again.

There was an internal struggle between wanting to create a decent likeness in my own style and understanding that these were not ‘my’ drawings.  In this case, the artist must become the actor and express another’s style and sensibility as the script requires.

Like most film jobs, the illustrator employed by the design team, can never be sure if their work will make the final cut.  Additionally, I was working alongside a second illustrator in Turkey, also producing sketches, so I didn’t know if anything of mine at all would appear until I actually saw the film itself.  In the end, both of our work appears in equal measure.

I like this – we have a strange bond, although I don’t know his name. He feels strange and mysterious. He must have been working away on sketching the city at the same time as me, perhaps drawing late into the sweltering night too. And perhaps this is at the heart of the story. Two people brought together by drawings in a sketchbook and a fascination with beautiful Istanbul and who, as the enigmatic plot of ‘The Journey’ suggests,  will ultimately never meet….

‘The Journey’ by Ridley Scott for Turkish Airlines appears in 30 second, 60 second and 6 minute versions and was premiered at the Superbowl on 3rd February 2019.





Here be Whales

It’s with great pleasure to announce that ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’, the triptych charting my journey on the Sea Dragon from Iceland to Sweden, is to be shown in a new exhibition ‘Here be Whales’ at Left Bank Leeds in association with Hull Maritime Museum and the universities of Leeds and York.


The show has been curated by Martha Cattell, Hondartza Fraga and Sophia Nicolov. I cannot justly paraphrase the aim, written beautifully succinctly in the exhibition publicity, so have copied it and pasted below:

‘Here Be Whales is an exhibition bringing together a number of artists who explore and question the authenticity of whale representations. It reflects, in ethical terms, material and cultural methods and how these are challenged, not only by whales’ damaged past, but also by their threatened present and speculative future. As the author Boria Sax states ‘every animal is a tradition… when we contemplate the inner life of animals, myth is finally our only truth’. Considering the past and current ‘traditions’ and multiplicity of whale depictions, this exhibition seeks to offer alternative ways to interrogate the process of myth-making and animal.’

Work ranges from drawings to textiles, scuplture, collage, photography, video and installation. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources –  from historical whaling and 20th century whale strandings to the lashing white tail of the fictional Moby Dick. The all female line-up of artists have taken their experiences from afar afield as the icy rock of Husavik in Iceland to the damp metallic grey of the British North Sea and the rusting shells of old whaling units in Canada.

More about the show and the artists can be found here.

cihelen cann we dream of blue whales

Exhibition: Here Be Whales

Artists: Helen Cann; Martha Cattell; Angela Cockayne; Filippa Dobson; Hondartza Fraga; Caroline Hack; Sophia Nicolov; Marina Rees; Kathy Prendergast

Gallery: Left Bank Leeds

Address: Cardigan Rd, Leeds LS6 1LJ

Dates: 4th Feb – 29th March
Visiting hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 10-4pm

Opening Night: Wednesday 6th February, 6-8pm
Curators Talk: Wednesday 27th March at 6pm, followed by a screening of the movie Whale Rider (2002)
Free entry to the exhibition, costs may apply to related events.


Midwinter wishes

birdpinetreeHCann72 - Copy
The Midwinter Solstice is stumbling towards us. The light is dimming on the year and this ending time gives me a chance to look back on what has happened in 2018. Although the outside world seems to be manically dancing in chaos, my own little world has definitely had a good year.

Highlights have included making a map of an American summer camp (for The Wing); a map of a campus arts and nature trail (for Mead Gallery at Warwick University); a map celebrating vintage film history in Brighton (for Carousel arts charity) and a map of Eastbourne and reasons to love it (for Towner Art Gallery).  My work has appeared in a Hollywood film (‘The Spy who Dumped me’) and as part of Warner Brother’s ‘Harry Potter’ franchise in ‘The Marauders’ Map Guide to Hogwarts’. I’ve very much enjoyed giving a variety of mapping workshops in galleries large and small from ONCA to Ditchling Arts + Craft Museum and to Towner again. Forthcoming work to be published or screened in 2019 include prop details for a major TV drama (produced by Badwolf for the BBC ) and for Turkish Airlines (a commercial by Ridley Scott, no less) and inclusion in a book for Thames & Hudson.

And now, it’s time to rest, time to wrap myself up in the candlelit darkness and wait to see what the new year brings, whatever that will be.  I sincerely wish for peace and success for all those small worlds that make up the outside world.  Perhaps then the chaotic dancing would stop.  But if it still continues,  I can only hope for further peace and success for my own little world in 2019.

And, of course,  I very much wish the same for your little world too….

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

birdpinetreeHCann72 - Copy


Everybody loves Eastbourne

In the Summer of 2018, Towner Art Gallery ran a project called ‘I Love Eastbourne’, encouraging Eastbourne inhabitants to think about what they loved about where they lived and, may be, even encouraging them to fall in love with the place again…

Using a researcher, they gathered positive data and collected conversations which were eventually turned into a mass of bar charts and lists.  I was commissioned to create this map of Eastbourne to turn the data into something warm and beautifully visual.

Eastbourne colour72

The map needed to show all the distinct civic areas in the town, (the ‘wards’), notable features in the town such as the station or the theatres, include some of the information collated as bar charts and some quotes taken from the gallery visitors.

It wasn’t an easy task. There was so much information additional to the usual map information I needed to consider. I had to find the best way to represent it clearly.

I took a leaf from the artist map makers Adam Dant who is contemporary and Macdonald Gill who worked mainly in the first half of the 20th century. They both use the written word frequently in their maps and often present it within a banner form. I kind of like the way banners give maps some movement and highlight the text as part of, but apart from, the map itself. For my map, the quote banners, feature banners and banners naming wards were delineated using distinct shapes, colours and lettering style.

Lettering was also important for the cartouche – an extended title banner proclaiming an elegant ‘Eastbourne’. The typeface had been specially designed by Kate Whiteman for Towner,  purposefully reflecting the font of an old map of Eastbourne in the gallery collection. A steady hand was needed to replicate the parallel lines of the engraved look but I think it was worth it.

Eastbourne colour sample2100

As you can see from the above, there was also a decorative border to the map. I decided that the best way to incorporate the information from the bar charts was to convert them to pie charts. These could then be presented as decorative discs for each ward and appear regularly as visual stop points around the frame which was inspired by high Victorian pattern.

The map was painted and hand lettered in watercolour, gouache and ink and came in at just over A3 in size. The original was bought by Towner and prints are planned to be sold in the gallery shop.


From a visitor’s viewpoint, Eastbourne is a beautiful place. It still retains its elegant facades and pretty curlicued street lamps. Metal railings are painted a bright glossy blue and the pier stands grand with its golden domes. The beach is clean and the green and white of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters can be seen hazily in the distance. There is so much to like about the town; so many parks, so much culture, so many active opportunities… I hope the work done in the ‘I Love Eastbourne’ project has helped to highlight all of those good things and that the people of Eastbourne can look at the map, showing all of that positive data, and be extremely proud of their town.


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.


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.

map feature examples72

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.



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.


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…


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