Drawing the Champagne regions

I was approached by Ten Speed Press (part of Penguin Random House) to draw maps for a book project on the topic of Champagne. They were specifically interested in a set of maps detailing the different areas where the grapes are grown, and their geographic features.

The project initially required a few sets of sketches before we came to a solution that incorporated the level of information they were looking for while still focusing on the craft and texture of the maps.

This was one of the most didactic projects I’ve been contracted to do. My niche is typically abstract maps that evoke the geography of a place for aesthetic scene-setting purposes, but for this I had to balance clarity and legibility of information with aesthetic style.


In the end, the project comprised 8 maps (7 different regions and 1 map of how they all fit together). The visual and didactic style was fairly consistent across the 7 regions, despite some fairly large differences in geographic scale, and that style was echoed in the overall map as well.


It was an excellent experience to map something with that much specificity, and I’m glad we were able to work together on it. You can find the finished book on Penguin’s website here.

Scotland map commission

Last fall I was contacted by David Collins Studio to work on artwork for the lobby of the Gleneagles Hotel near Auchterarder, Scotland.

The image they liked was a more abstract imaginary map with lots of brushstrokes, along the lines of my Schema series, and the source image was a map of the region that the hotel had in its collection.

From the outset the project was going to be a challenge to design because of the scale. The brief was to make 15 panels, each around 23” x 17”, hung as “tiles” that fit together into a map.

My usual process involves drawing a few thumbnails based on the area and focus of interest, developing a chosen thumbnail into an intermediate-sized sketch, and then expanding that to draw the full-scale drawing.

With this project I was still designing it as a single image (up until it got to a larger scale), but I knew there would have to be more steps between thumbnail and full-size than usual. As it turned out, to finalize the design we actually went in between scales a bit as well.


Choosing colors was also a preliminary concern because the work was going to be hung as an original artwork, not as a print, and the colors needed to match the hotel lobby’s decor.

Because of the style chosen, the image ended up being designed first by the streets and waterways, and the color distribution was determined later with a smaller-scale sketch overlay. I did several color sketches on an overlay over the roads, composited them together, and the studio chose an arrangement.

Two of the overlay options for the map design

Four options combining overlays with the map design

The chosen design, mocked up into panels to draw from

Once I got to the point of expanding the design to the individual panels and working on them, scale came into play again. The first steps (tracing the roads, inking the design, and filling in the water areas with watercolor pencil) were relatively easy, but I had to start thinking at different scales once it came to painting in the color.

I had my directions for the overall distribution of colors, but within each panel there was a lot of space! Detail that I would have glossed over at the small scale of the color sketch was much more stark at a larger scale. Additionally, when the roads were scaled up they became less apparent. I worked on subtly highlighting them using the watercolor strokes, and at the end of the project the lines of the roads got retraced as well.

First and last steps on one panel

(Everything comes back around—I’m finding myself using a similar style (i.e. adding watercolor with alternating indifference and attention to road boundaries) with recent projects now!)

The project soon took up a whole room:

Panels in various stages of completion

I was thrilled to see the first photos from the work installed. I wasn’t able to ever see all the panels together in person (I used a digital composite of photos of each panel that I kept updated with their current progress as a tool to adjust color over the whole image and make sure individual panels matched up), and I loved seeing it in the space.

Photo credit Simon Rawlings, via Instagram

Photo credit Simon Rawlings, via Instagram

Providence map commission

I just finished my biggest project to date—a 9-panel map of Providence and Narragansett Bay for a commission. I had expected that working in 15″ square panels wouldn’t be impossible, which was true, but it was still more unwieldy than I imagined, especially when I had them all up on my wall for a week! Here’s how the process worked:

01 providence sketch panels

I made a small pen and watercolor sketch of the area they wanted and split it into panels in Photoshop

02 pvd map2 tiles

For the second round of sketches I added more detail. The water here is done with Photoshop fills since I didn’t have the time for watercolor, but I couldn’t stop thinking that it looked a little like a Dr Seuss illustration…

03 grid method

Once the sketch was approved I printed out each panel and started transferring the image to the full-scale watercolor paper. I traced out grids on 9 pieces of paper…

04 pvd pencilled in

…then filled in the design from each panel, square by square. It takes a while but I actually found that since I’ve been doing so much sketching from life lately, transferring with the grid method has gotten easier; I’m more used to judging distances and negative space. It wasn’t quite like the grueling experience it was with the Indianapolis map…!

06 working on pencil panels

Once all the panels were pencilled, I took them home and set them up on my wall. Because I’m working from one panel at a time, I knew that some of the relationships between panels might be off, so I took some time to make sure the roads lined up and were scaled correctly. I also added a lot of detail along the shoreline and small roads, referring to Google maps a lot (thus the laptop on the chair).

Working on a project this big was really physical; I had to reposition myself constantly to work on the different panels on the wall, and I had to take a lot of breaks as my hand got tired!

08 all pencil panels

Here’s what the panels looked like all together with their final pencil detail! Once this was approved I was ready to ink and watercolor.

10 painting panels studio

The watercolor was supposed to be similar to my Boston map, so I worked off a print of it to get the colors right. Here’s my color trials:

09 color samples001

and that panel in progress:

10-2 painting panels

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some of the panels were really difficult, particularly the ones with wide areas of water that branched. All the pigment came from watercolor pencil around the shoreline, and it was tough to keep it all wet and avoid getting hard lines in the middle of the water.

12 painting panels

13 painting panels

It was also really bumpy with all that water!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When they were all done we photographed each one and also scanned them

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…and then they had to be packed! I ended up adhering each one to its own sheet of drawing paper, using photo corners I made from strips of paper. I stacked them all between cardboard and wrapped it in bubble, tape and more cardboard and shipped them in a box for protection.

Here’s what all the panels look like together:

17 all panels

I can’t wait to see them installed someday!

Indianapolis map commission

I recently finished a commission for a large-scale map based on Indianapolis. It was an interesting chance to explore a place I knew nothing about. Here’s a breakdown of how the process went. When I learned where they wanted to focus on, I started with a map screenshot for reference:

indy map

I traced the rivers and major roads onto watercolor paper, filled in some smaller blocks and colored everything in to make the smaller sketch: indy second draft

When that was approved I could start transferring it to the large paper. I used the grid method to copy over every line from the smaller sketch. Here’s the pencil drawing in progress (it takes up my entire drawing board!): indy drawing pencil

Here’s me inking late into the night:

03-2 inking

And here’s what the large-scale drawing looked like in the end, after tons of work: indy final drawing

I did some post-processing after that (made it greyscale and greatly increased the contrast) so it looked more like the sketch. The final product will be a large-scale print for a hotel room, so the final deliverable is just a digital file (but the biggest digital file I’ve ever worked with!). And now I have a 40″x23″ watercolor drawing of Indianapolis adorning my studio room.