Watercolor Washes

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Why color them at all?  The maps could remain black-and-white and they are starkly dramatic at that stage.  But for reasons of clarity, pop and broad general appeal, color has been part of map making since earliest times.  Colors provide an opportunity for subtlety, feature enhancement and contrast that are difficult to achieve with the textures of B&W alone.  And  it is a proven fact that people are more readily drawn to colored things than to the more austere B&W.  Years ago while traveling in Rome, I was in a small print shop looking at beautiful B&W engravings of neoclassic scenes.  The proprietor had a large selection encased in plastic sleeves which I was riffling through.  Suddenly, a large tour bus pulled up and he hurried over to me, took the folders I had and  flipped them over.  On the back side of each plastic sleeve was the identical engraved scene but each one was hand-colored in slightly lurid tones.  He somewhat sheepishly explained that the “tourists” all like the colored ones much better.  Nothing too judgmental, he just knew what sold better.  Despite this early piece of retail wisdom, I know that the colors afford  a lot more possibilities for artistic expression.  As each map always has at least land and water to delineate, the shades and intensities of these areas provide an immediate “flavor” for each map.  Should the Jersey Shore look like the Caribbean?  Are there indigenous colors that speak to a given area?  Are some colors more off-putting than others?  Definitely!  Color theories are many and varied and this just begins to scratch the surface, but even pop psychologists know that people have very strong reactions, positive and negative, to colors and this certainly is a factor when choosing a map.  If they are going to proudly display it in their home, they surely better take pleasure in seeing it over and over.  It is pretty rare for someone to say that they really had a bad reaction to viewing something but they bought it anyway.  Color is a two-edged sword and I try and negotiate that delicate balance in creating each map.

The Historical Ties

The Historical Ties

There is no way to get around the fact that any map is partly judged by how it fits into the long history of mapmaking.   People really like maps because of this history and to pretend that it is not a big factor is to miss an essential point.  Even though my maps are made today and are enhanced by modern technology, and other systems exist which mean that you would not navigate by my work, there is still an allure to seeing how a physical reality is represented on a flat surface.  The lettering, the titles, some cartouches, the borders and scales, all strike some chord in peoples’ memories and psyches and pull for all kinds of feelings about how the maps make you feel or what they make you think about.  And without these subconscious connections, I’m sure they would not be nearly as popular as they are.  The handmade quality of the craft is part of a long line of drawing and painting that resonates for the viewer.  I have heard many, many comments about the non-machine-made aspect of these maps and why someone thinks that is so special.   In this day and age, that seems to take on more cache’ with each passing year.  We have somehow almost forgotten that things were made in this way for the past 10,000 years and only in the last 10 has there even been another method of production.  My maps clearly pull for this reaction and help me connect with the people who really like them.  Without the implicit historical bridges, this would not be the case.

Finding the Right Expression

 

Finding the Right Expression

As previously discussed, as each map is more fully drawn, it takes on a life of its own.  The backgrounds give way to more detail.  The details require more research and careful consideration and this often leads to further areas of study not originally planned for.  This is not only OK but positively exciting.  The maps aren’t produced on a schedule and each one has to take as long as needed to reach a satisfying place.  Sometimes these investigations are really fruitful and supply especially salient tidbits that really add to the overall quality of the finished map.  And other times, they are just pleasant detours into obscure areas that don’t provide anything particularly useful to the finished product.  There is no way to know ahead of time so the search must be done.  Making a map is literally not just about the product, it is all about the process.  The “getting there” provides as much of the pleasure as the final result.  In fact, there is a bit of melancholy when a map is “finished” because it means this particular process has ended and all the pleasant or frustrating interludes along the way are over.  And until the next one is started, that aspect of my daily life is set aside.  And I won’t know until the next one if I will even have that much fun, as there is no guarantee that each place will be as fascinating as the last in terms of what I’ll find and what the research will require of me.  Finding this data and deciding how to record and represent it for others to appreciate is often the crux of how successful or popular a finished map may be.  Peoples’ gut reaction to any piece of art is pretty unpredictable and I have certainly seen this with the range of my maps.

 

Backgrounds and Layers

Background & Layers

Once I’ve been able to settle on correct and accurate data, which often includes personally walking the sites to verify certain details, it’s time to actually begin drawing the backgrounds of the main elements.  This very tactile experience really begins to put me in contact with the area I’m working on in a way that is personal and somewhat transforming.  As I draw each individual line and point, bump and node, a connection to the forms develops which is both special and difficult to describe.   And like any artwork, as the piece grows and changes, it takes on a life of its own.  Every map has been different and each one has its own unique features and problems that insure no two are alike.  These initial backgrounds form the base layers onto which all subsequent information is mapped, so their importance can’t be over stressed.  These layers, whether they represent roads or vegetation or hillsides, all take their cues from the style of the first outlines.  Even the lettering and other graphics are strongly influenced by the types of line weights, thicknesses and accents that go into making the primary shapes.  The traditional use of these classic implements, pen-and-ink and watercolor washes on paper, informs the whole process with a compositional quality which I believe most people are able to sense in a very real way.  The aspect of doing things “the old-fashioned way” really still resonates for many individuals and they feel connected to the artwork in a way that is very different than what they get from more modern, mechanically produced things.  These maps pull for a time when things were still a little simpler than they are now.

Getting it Right

Getting It Right

In my last posting, the basic form of the new maps was decided and I had gathered a fair amount of basic information that could be available.  The next big step is rectifying and justifying all the competing and contradictory data.  The big secret of maps is, despite all the great information they contain and the comprehensive manner in which that information is presented, there are often many inaccuracies in every one of them.  Usually, their main focus is quite correct.  That is, nautical maps usually get the water stuff right.  Road maps get the streets correct.  Don’t try and dock your boat using a road map!  The requirements of making a legible map mean that each mapmaker often has to show things which are outside the main focus and expertise of their specific interest.  You can easily see this in a road atlas.  Often a road will literally end in the water and then make a turn back onto the land.  The road is usually correct but the mapmaker couldn’t be bothered to correct the landform background beneath the street line.  It wasn’t critical to his product.  But someone looking at the map knows it is not right!  This is a very simplistic example but it is a significant deficit of many maps.  Just gathering material from all these different sources points up numerous discrepancies which should be fixed.  After all, the expectation of a map is that it is a faithful representation of reality.  If two maps disagree on what they are showing, they can’t both be correct.  And viewers, even non-experts, have a visceral reaction to seeing something that strikes them as wrong.  It flies in the face of what they know and it draws strong reactions.  Conversely, I’ve often observed when viewers do carefully explore an area that they are familiar with and find it to be representative of their own experience, they nod appreciatively and satisfactorily and often purchase the map.  Despite the artistic nature of my work, the “getting it right” part is still basic to describing what I do as “making maps”.  This part of the process is no small portion of the initial work.  No one wants a “bad” map.  It’s counterintuitive and puts people off.

Getting Started, Where to Begin

Getting Started, Where to Begin–Having stated in the “Cartographic Thoughts and Ideas” section about taking you along with me on the journey of making a map, this is step one of the “getting going” phase.  Decide what area to work on and begin with basic research of what already exists.  This used to be much more onerous but not since the Internet has been invented.  Although my process really stresses the hand-crafted quality of the final product, it does not mean that I am anti-technology.  There are so many useful ways to expedite and improve what I do, that it would be silly to not avail myself of these tools.  Getting familiar with the area helps in deciding even the most basic issues of how much to show, how big to make any given map, what to emphasize, what is the key nature of the place that resonates for those who know it?  Without answering these basic questions, it is hard to proceed.  In starting to do this, I’ll consult nautical and road maps, USGS and parks surveys, local maps and atlases, the Internet sources, and anything else that is known or can be found.  Just gathering and reviewing all of these items starts to shape my thinking as physical issues begin to suggest forms for the maps.  The first step is then to literally put pencil to paper and begin rough “cartoon” sketches of how I see what to represent.  These first rough sketches usually clarify things pretty quickly and help to crystallize my thinking on how to proceed.  Going from “anything is possible” to “this is essentially what I want to work on” is a huge, critical step.  Without that definition, it is difficult to get anywhere with the transcription of the 3-dimensional world into a 2-dimensional art piece.  Getting this sketch to something I am happy with is among the most important parts of the work, as I will live with the ramifications of these initial decisions for entire the process and the resulting finished product.  More next time.

Shout outs in Off-Season

I was recently down at the Jersey Shore recharging my batteries for the ongoing new maps that are in the works.  While there, I was able to visit some good friends and longtime supporters of my mapmaking endeavors.  They have encouraged me from the beginning over the past 12 years and have carried them in their shops and galleries.  Before the websites, this was the main way in which I was able to have my work shown and I am grateful for all of their efforts.  These include Cricket Luker of Wildflowers by the Lighthouse and Diane Coppola of Island Arts on Long Beach Island, NJ.  Also on the Island, Steve Fritz of Seawall Artifacts has been very enthusiastic.  Beyond these folks, I’m reminded of numerous other stores that have carried my maps and helped get me this far.  In NJ, they include Armadillo Ltd in Avalon, Squan Custom Frame in Manasquan, Tuckerton Seaport, Atlantic Artisans in Atlantic Highlands, Art Effects in Spring Lake, Great Pacific Frame in Point Pleasant, Erickson’s Picture in Toms River and Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City.  In Delaware, Your Home Art Gallery, Fast Frame, Creative Art Center and Frames with Character in Wilmington, Big Picture in Hockessin, RJ Bloomingdale’s in Newark, Rehobeth Art & Framing in Rehobeth Beach and Donald Duck Shoppe in Ocean City, MD.  All these folks have been faithfully promoted my efforts and given a broad audience access to my Coastal Art Maps.  Thanks one and all and best of luck for the upcoming season.

Facilitating Give-and-Take

As this new, communicating process is pretty much in its earliest stages, I thought it might be fun and informative to chronicle the process and see how the final results might be impacted by doing so.  For the next couple of months (at least), this post will posit my experiences in creating this year’s maps.  Look for these installment soon under the blog category “The Mapmaking Process”.  In the meantime, under this heading, I want to try and solicit more feedback from those of you who have something to ask or say.  I’m interested to know what you think of the maps, what questions you may have about how they are made, and most importantly, what you might be looking for that isn’t currently available.  As I noted in the first installment, the hope for the websites, is to be able to broaden my reach and make it viable to work on areas well outside my local geographic locale.  If this freedom works out, Florida and California, the Caribbean and other countries are all within the  realm of possibility.  As the name of my endeavor makes clear, anywhere that water meets land is of interest to me and could provide the inspiration for the next map cycle.  And, as much as I do this for the personal satisfaction it provides, I do hope people out there will like them and ultimately purchase them for their own pleasure.  They are not custom-made but are responsive to requests, so I am certainly interested in what you all think and are looking for.  I look forward to hearing from you on any of the points in this post.  Cheers.

 

Communicating about Maps

Following the initial launch of my website, www.coastalartmaps.com, and its related Facebook and Etsy sites, I got a lot of positive feedback from friends and other interested parties about the style and content.  Many folks asked very good questions about why I have done the maps that you’ve seen so far and why I don’t have others.  Most specifically, numerous people asked about Florida, a state that has a very large coastline and which many people from the greater NY area have ties to.  These questions also dovetailed nicely with thoughts about getting to work on maps that were outside of my original geographic area, something that I hope the websites will help facilitate.  Most of my creative time on these maps takes place in the winter, as a result of bad weather and more time inside, which helps them appear in time for spring when peoples’ thoughts turn more to outdoor activities (like boating and fishing) and engagement with the very areas that my maps depict.  So this time of year usually finds me working on new projects and this year is no exception.  Having done some research and thought quite a bit about who is really interested in what I do, I’ve decided to make the next maps of the Florida Keys.  These represent really iconic pieces of land and water and are locations that many, many people have been to and feel a real connection with, myself included.