Boston-Cambridge in 10 panels

Over the last half year I have developed and executed a wall-sized map installation inspired by Boston & Cambridge for the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC). I’ve displayed work at CIC several times before and was excited to work with them again on this commission, and creating a project in a new medium at such a large scale has been a great experience.

The long first phase of the project was devoted to preliminary research and experimentation. I knew I wanted to use the design of my existing Boston map to streamline the process, but I would need to enlarge it considerably. My challenge was to pick techniques to transform this relatively small image to a large scale, and to select materials and a display format that would be easy to transport and install in a conference room environment.

Decals and murals were considered, but I’ve been working on wood panels recently and was excited to continue with that medium. It was harder than I anticipated to quickly source 10 square wood panels of the same dimensions—I owe a lot to the friendly staff at Artist & Craftsman Park Slope! I would recommend their vast warehouse location to anyone looking for an art supply adventure.

While sourcing the panels I was also working on digitally tracing my Boston map so I could precisely scale up the roads. My idea was to use solvent transfer techniques to apply digital printouts onto the painted wood panels, so I needed a wall-scale digital image to work from.

Rather than directly reproducing the original image, to take advantage of the panel layout I chose to design each panel as an individual artwork. I produced a color mockup for CIC that divided each panel into alternating regions of white gesso, brown gesso and blue-green watercolor. These small-scale sketches helped me quickly decide how I wanted to structure an otherwise oversized artwork.

Once I had the digital map and the color sketch, I used a projector to trace the image structure onto the panels. At minimum I needed to delineate the areas for the river, the white gesso and the brown gesso, but I found it was most time-efficient to trace the streets in permanent marker as well.

Adding detail was a balance between focusing on each panel individually, then stepping back to ensure there was a consistent rhythm throughout the whole installation — which was particularly difficult since I barely had space see the entire work at once in my studio! It’s always surprising to me how increased scale immediately increases the physicality of execution. I developed a workflow of arranging + photographing all the panels every morning, then planning out the day’s work on a tablet.

After several weeks of adding detail and color, the panels were spray sealed and brought to Cambridge for installation!

The conference room has wonderful views of the Charles River and across to Boston. It was lovely to install my map while looking out at the real-life version of the streets and waterways I had depicted.

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