Mapping Ditchling.

Ditchling is a pretty village, warm with half-timbered character, hugged by the Sussex Downs.  It has a long connection with the Arts and Crafts movement and was the home to printmaker Eric Gill in the early 20th century. I was very honoured to be asked to run a hand drawn mapping workshop at the award winning Ditchling Museum of  Art + Craft last weekend.


As part of my workshop, I take my students outside to walk the territory of the location they are mapping (as far as is possible and weather permitting). How else can you understand where you are, unless you experience it personally? So, as preparation, I decided to walk the territory myself and hand draw my own map of Ditchling.

My initial sketches were rough. It’s hard to map on foot, especially in the rain. But what’s important is that the mapmaker marks the features he finds important, either by sketch, note or photograph. It doesn’t need to be perfect.

Back at the studio I hit more formal references, comparing my rough sketches with other paper and digital maps of Ditchling, including both OS and Google Satellite maps.  It’s always interesting to see where my maps differ from the others, and indeed, how they differ between themselves. It just goes to show that there is no such thing as the Truth.

Using all of the references, including my own, the map was drawn up using a gridding technique. It’s always at this stage that I, as the mapmaker, decide what features should appear in the map. The map is a personal understanding of a place, after all.


For me, it was the black and white cottages and the jolly post office at the crossroads, the flinty church dating back to Saxon times with its rows of solemn trees and dark ancient yews. It was the Anne of Cleves House, slightly dishevelled; a ghost peering forlornly through the diamond paned windows. (She likes to keep doors open apparently.) It was the Bull Inn squatting confidently next to the car park and the rival White Horse, blustering it out manfully up the road. It was the Old Meeting House sitting amongst the haphazard gravestones of Quakers waiting for redemption, silent from centuries of peaceful prayer. And it was the Georgian brick house on the high street, once belonging to Eric Gill.

Who knew what sad and terrible things happened there…


The Museum of Art + Craft was created to house some of Gill’s work and we were based in the studio there.  Although there was certainly no sinister atmosphere at all in either museum or village, his work and name seemed to be everywhere and I felt his presence permeated the place.  I still appreciate the simple beauty of his lettering and can’t quite connect the clean honesty of his work with his crimes. I wanted to echo something of his style in my map, nevertheless, and chose to do it by making the road system dark and picking out the lettering in white, as I had seen in some of his prints. But there, the similarity ends.

Cut to the workshop and each student had a different experience of Ditchling as we walked it’s green dampness. One took notes of bus stops and telephone boxes, of the shapes of fences and boundary lines, whilst another marked the signs of spring in the clumps of snowdrops and wild daffodils. Each eventually made a map of the Ditchling they alone had understood, felt and seen. Each map was stamped with their own personality. Very far from the industrialised digital maps that the Arts and Craft Movement would have railed against if it had existed today.

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And so now, there exists 7 new maps of Ditchling, particular to an individual mapmaker and to a particular time. Although Eric Gill would have approved of a process founded on working by hand, I hope it was not his ghost who looked over us. I hope it was that other ghost, in the Anne of Cleves House,  perhaps slightly heartened that we had unlocked doors to get outside and walk the village. And heartened that we were firmly keeping the door open, not shut, on the craft of hand drawn mapmaking.


A map to find your way through Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s day comes but once a year, and love it or loathe it, you cannot avoid the commercial juggernaut that is the Valentine’s card, in the UK and US at least. Valentine’s cards have really only been around for a few hundred years but the sentiment of describing romantic love visually has been around for much longer… And sometimes through the (usually tongue in cheek) format of the map.

Our urge to understand the world through maps has been subverted to the concept of mapping emotional territory, skipping away from physical geography and heading, map in hand to the undulating but sometimes terrifying Lands of Love.


This first map of ‘the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart’ was created in the USA some time in the 19th century by a ‘lady’. I have a suspicion though, that this was by a man with no high opinion of women. Clues lie in the geography of a place, ‘exhibiting … the dangers to travellers therein’.  Journeys need to be navigated through the frightening regions of Fickleness, Coquetry and Sentimentality. Oh – and there’s a steamboat that will take you from the Sea of Wealth to the Land of Selfishness.


The anonymous artist who created the next Map of Matrimony seems to have a more balanced view of relationships. Created in 1825, it looks like a genuine cartographical map at first sight but come closer, and you’ll see a land detailed with regions called The Vale of Gladness, the Region of Rejoicing and the Land of Promise. Don’t get too comfortable on your journey though, because you might also meet the Quicksands of Censure, the Coast of Desperation and the Mountains of Delay, inhabited by lawyers, apparently.

There are several other beautiful examples of these kind of maps and they were all inspiration for my own map of a heart. Mine is pure Romance with a heady dose of idealism. There is no cold cynicism here, despite an image based on a scientific diagram rather than the traditional icon. Yes, dear readers, that’s really what a map of my heart looks like. Even if I get grumpy when I’m hungry, I sure need a lot of sleep and I’ve got a thing about overhead lighting, the interior geography of my heart is still gentle. Perhaps a swim in the River of Realism might be refreshing as inhabiting those lands is never that easy.

a map of my heart200 cleaned up

So to all of the lovers out there, who cheerfully wander the ‘Meadows of Can’t Wait for the Next Time to Hold You’, I wish you safe travels.

But although my map may be idealistic, it was at least made with kindness so I send it as a Valentine’s card to those whose journey is harder. To those unrequited lovers who get caught in the ‘Rapids of Pining for the Unavailable’, to those with loves who are lost across metaphorical mountains, to those who have lost all hope and those who are simply working out if it’s OK to journey on their own. I wish you a very happy Valentine’s and an easy route to navigate whichever Land of Love you find yourself in.

I wrote my first book!

I have illustrated many books before but a few weeks ago I delivered the first book I have both written and illustrated to the publishers. Not only was writing it a first, but it was also about maps and for adults – another couple of firsts.  It was a total unknown for me and what a ride/learning curve/marathon it has been… To say I hit the road with only a very basic map to my final destination would be an understatement.

The deadline was an incredibly tight one – so tight that when I planned it out I knew there would be no weekends off or much of a social life for a couple of months.  I would need to write 500 words a day and complete 5 illustrations by hand every week.  Almost one picture every 24 hours. Usually I’d expect a couple of days for an illustration….

I wasn’t totally sure it was doable but the only way to find out was to get pedalling and see.

Marvin the cat did his best to advise...

Marvin the cat helped with quality control…

It turned out that I loved writing although I had never really done any professionally before. I’d wake up and while I was still in bed, over toast and coffee, I’d start. The 500 word per day limit seemed daunting but actually I found I was writing more and having to heavily edit and cut back. My tendency was to go for wordiness and the struggle was to remember this was a fun ‘how to’ book about hand drawn cartography and not a scholarly treatise. I also had to find the balance between writing about me and my personal experience and writing for the reader. A tricky one realising how loud your ego can shout.

The research was heavy because the plan was to include writings about both historical and contemporary maps.   My PC was jammed with a row of open sites and my reading list similarly stuffed with links.  Pinterest became overloaded with a library of images I’d obsessively collected, finally divided into chapter headings after the sprawl got too much. The book will eventually run to a couple of hundred pages but I can’t imagine what it must be like to write a novel or anything academic requiring way more research. I learnt so much though and it felt like a crash course in cartography.

Creating the illustrations was fun and meant I got to be particularly playful in my work. I’d planned out the design of the book initially so that each page looked different from the others with a variety of media. I got to incorporate the methods I used in my fine art practice and hand lettering (drawing in pen and ink) with the more painterly side of watercolour and gouache that you see in my picture book illustrations.

It started to become a very personal book;  Friends and family became inspiration for any representations of people; maps were based on places I had visited like New York, Reykjavik and Tokyo.

My nieces became the inspiration for these two characters....

My nieces were the inspiration for these two characters….

Regularly working 10 hour days, I stopped when the light dimmed or my eyes started complaining. But somehow, because it was so enjoyable, that lovely combination of resentment, boredom and exhaustion never really came knocking.

And now I have delivered the final package to the publishers with a weird selection of envelopes of mock-ups for the photographer, covered drawings, paintings, digital scans and instructions written to an embarrassing level of control freakery.  The say I have over the book may be small and my copious planning is perhaps slightly redundant, but this is all part of the learning curve.  In the end, I am purely creating work (rather than a Nobel-Prize-winning life-time’s worth of research) for a client who has his own remit and understanding of his market. Both my words and images may be changed to fit into this and it’s good, if hard, to be accepting of that.

We will just have to see what comes of it all, won’t we? However the final publication looks, the adrenaline fuelled insomniac scribbling, hours spent painting that just flew by and wonder-filled map discoveries will have been totally worth it. It’s been some adventure.

And next time, if there is a chance to both write and illustrate another book, I’ll be able to take a more detailed map with me for sure. In the meantime, a celebration is definitely in order.

Marvin and fizz.

Marv agrees….





‘You never know what will happen…’

In 2008, there was a devastating recession in the UK.  Money was tight and as a freelancer, work was very thin on the ground.  Contracts were cancelled and I took on second and third jobs to keep the wolf from the door.  I struggled to create sample work that I thought would be commercial, bring in money, give people what they wanted. All resulting in a big fat Nada…
I was worried but friends kept telling me not to give up because, ‘you never know what will happen….’

It was a difficult period but with hindsight, also creatively very productive.  Once I had relaxed into the acceptance of having no work and without the constrictions of deadlines and designer visions, there was time to make art that was entirely my own.  It was a surprise that my heart steered me towards fine art and what I wanted to make had very little to do with children’s picture books.

I was drawing regularly at life classes and at a weekly drawing-in-a-pub meetup group.  Paintings and portraits were created in biro, in acrylic – so little like my usual watercolour illustrations that they looked as if they had been done by someone else.  Only a few have been exhibited and looking back, seem a little clonky, but I learnt so much and was so excited by, I suppose, the idea of transformations, of new choices and other, future possibilities.

It was also the time I became interested in making maps as fine art objects.  I’d illustrated maps for children’s books before…

…but had come across the illustrative map work created by fine artists such as Grayson Perry, Adam Dant and Stephen Walter – for adults, shown in gallery contexts and with something different to say about how we perceive, or indeed map, the world in general.

Inspired, I made my own map of my home town, Brighton, annotated with stories both personal and historical.  Further maps of the history of coffee, the flightpath of a particular Barbestelle bat and the moon followed.  Always I mapped places that fascinated me.  There were no particular rules to follow and I mapped purely for the fun of it.

Out of the blue, a few gallery shows came afterwards; at Onca Gallery and for Correspondence. My most recent mapping adventure took me sailing across the North Atlantic as part of an artist residency tracking whales which also resulted in a gallery show – ‘The Whale Road‘.

It is from there that we come most up to date.  In 2015 I was approached by a fairly well known publisher to see if I was interested in writing a book about hand drawn maps.  I was asked to make a rough list of potential chapters and a few sample pages back in September and after a long, long, long wait (during which I had actually given up on the idea that it would be published), have finally been given the go ahead.  It will be the first book I have both written and illustrated, my first book for adults and my first book about maps.  My first meeting is tomorrow.

I suppose my point is (and also note to self…) that you never know where life will take you and even if it’s tough, good things can eventually (sometimes years later) come from the times when you think you are struggling.  It’s always worth opening yourself up to exploration and playfulness – doing something just for the heck of it even if you don’t expect to make any money from it.  And if another recession hits, or my book illustration work dries up for a while, I’ll try to continue to make new work which comes from the heart.

Perhaps I’ll go back to those paintings and drawings again…. You never know what will happen…


We Dream of Blue Whales


My maps are finally ready to print!

In the Summer of last year, I took part in an artist’s residency across 1300 miles of the North Atlantic in a sailing boat mapping whales for an international maritime conservation database.

The resulting work was the triptych, ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’ which was shown in the exhibition ‘The Whale Road’ alongside work by the three other artists on board. You can read more about this huge adventure on my fine art website, about the journey itself, my work process shortly afterwards, and the final pieces and exhibition… There are tales of drownings, hurricanes, smuggling, ghost ships and the hunt for some very elusive sea monsters and finally about the inspiration behind ‘We Dream of Blue Whales’…

I am very excited to get the prints back from the printers so please feel free to contact me on here if you would like to know more.


Illustrated artists map of the flightline of a single Barbastelle bat.

An artists map commissioned by ONCA gallery in collaboration with Sussex Wildlife Trust for the exhibition ‘Making Tracks’ in July 2013.

The map is based on the flightline of a single Barbastelle bat – Starbeard 3 – from a roost in Butcherland, Ebernoe Common in Sussex using data from a SWT field survey. I was interested in how bats use echolocation to navigate; they effectively shout and listen to the echoes returning to locate themselves. With that in mind, I included echoes of the people and history of the Wealden landscape that you can still see if you look closely too. I learnt lots about that area: – the old days of charcoal making, forest glass and limestone kilns and the fact that there are 30 words for the word ‘mud’ in Sussex dialect…

The long shape of the map is based on the original English strip maps of the first days of mapping.  You can see a larger and complete version here.

The name Starbeard comes from the translation of Barbastelle – Beard: barba and Stelle: star.

The exhibition opens on July 5th 2013 and continues for two months in Brighton, UK.