Workshops at Cambridge Friends

I was recently invited by an art instructor at Cambridge Friends school for pre-K through 8th grade in Cambridge, MA to teach a short program as part of their Makers in Residence program.

We discussed the subjects relevant to the different grades and settled on exploring the connection between biological imagery and maps with 3rd and 4th graders, and a more materials-focused approach for 7th graders.

My first class of the day was the 7th grade. They were just starting watercolor, and my pattern-based approach would be their introduction.


I gave a short explanation of what I do and what my inspirations are, and then set out the activity. Students would be sketching out drawing “rules”—something iterative (i.e. building on itself, like a doodle or a mandala) that they could use to fill a page. I asked them to first sketch out four patterns on scrap paper and then choose one to expand on and fill a page of watercolor paper. We used waterproof micron pens so that when we subsequently interacted with the design using watercolor, the pen wouldn’t bleed.


For the 3rd + 4th grades, who were in the midst of learning about maps, I chose to do a shorter thumbnailing exercise on maps and then a materials-based approach to expanding the chosen sketch where we gradually introduced waterproof pen and water-soluble pencils.

I introduced the aesthetic connection between maps and biological imagery, although most students were less abstract and chose to do a map based on an existing place.

I always find I learn a lot from the way students interpret my lessons. Some of the solutions they came up with this time were particularly interesting.

I loved this 3/4th grade project where the student decided to sketch the same map twice—with different (and thoroughly labeled) zoom levels.

It surprised me when the 7th graders complained that they didn’t know how to fill the page before the time was up, even when I provided intermittent time checks. But when I suggested making their patterns larger as they finished up to fill the available space, that seemed to solve the problem—and didn’t ruin the design, as I suspect they feared.

Overall, I appreciated the opportunity to hone some of my workshop materials, especially when it came to using thumbnails and describing iteration as a “rule” instead of the mathematics-tinged words I tend to use like “algorithm” and “fractal”. I hope it helps start the students thinking about alternative ways to use watercolor and new tools to facilitate their own creativity.

“Imaginary Mapmaking” at Peabody Essex Museum

Last weekend I took the train up from Boston to Salem to teach a workshop at the Peabody Essex Museum on connections between maps and biology as part of their participation in the Big Draw festival. The blurb for the workshop was:

Maps and geography surround us in our daily lives, but did you know that the growth of cities had anything in common with the growth of trees, or the cells in your body? In this workshop, we’ll use maps and geography as a starting point to explore the variety of fractal, biological imagery in our world through drawing. Emily Garfield is a professional artist who uses geographic imagery in her work but is just as inspired by the maplike imagery that exists in nature. She’ll present some of how she develops her new drawing projects, and we’ll use these techniques to explore how maps as a graphic format relate to other natural patterns like cells and trees.

Some of the slides from my presentation:

Some of my more biological map artworks

And some of the biological imagery that inspires them

Participants took the materials in different ways! It was a more drop-in event so some people came for a moment to draw something they liked, and others stayed for the whole 2-3 hours and really dug into the material and the maps they found in their minds.

Hubbub workshop

Last month I taught an imaginary mapmaking workshop as part of Hubbub, a children’s book festival produced by Boston Book Festival.
There was a real range of ages, small children and older children as well as the adults with them, and I tried to come up with something that might have some interest for everyone—and be executable within an hour.
I first asked participants to draw some thumbnails. I like teaching thumbnailing (which I remember learning for both high school art and college-level animation classes!) because it helps people get their ideas on paper without resorting to being precious or finicky about it.
Then we chose from those thumbnails to work on a larger drawing. This is the way that I do pretty much everything—I sketch out visual ideas or conceptual algorithms for a piece starting at the smallest scale and continue to develop it as I scale up. The initial concept is usually pretty fully-formed already, so the critical part is to get it down as soon as possible.
hubbub-workshop-2 hubbub-workshop-4
I’m always really impressed with what people draw. Even if they themselves aren’t proud, it’s always fascinating to me to see where people take my instruction and what they bring to it. Everyone has such different ways to map!

DeCordova mapmaking workshop

Last weekend I ran a workshop on imaginative mapmaking at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA. The focus was on mapping emotions and experiences, not just geography, and I was fortunate that the weather was nice enough that we could explore the grounds in the service of our mapmaking.
We began the workshop with a short presentation of my work—I find it’s hard to explain these ideas without any visuals! I’m also always intrigued, on an almost scientific level, to see how themes from my work come out in participants’ drawings.
My take on emotionally mapping the room
Then I led a short exercise in visualizing and thumbnailing, and we were off! Participants took pen, pencil and watercolor out to the grounds to draw a map of their senses and experiences. One great project made a heatmap of the area. Others diagrammed movement and even unrelated memories.
Overall, I made some great connections and helped show participants a different way of thinking about drawing. Maps are interesting because I realize they inhabit this middle space between abstract and figurative drawing: they’re recognizable like figurative drawing, but you would never call them “from life”—even though they are (no matter how realistic they are, in my view).

Imaginary Mapmaking workshop at Parts & Crafts

I will be teaching another workshop for kids this Saturday November 8 at Parts and Crafts (577 Somerville Ave) from 1-3pm. I’ll have some of my sketches and inspirations handy, as well as lots of materials to get creative with mapmaking!


From Parts & Crafts:

A map-making workshop like you’ve never seen it before, pairing fractals, biology, the patterns of cells and neurons with worlds of our own devising. Hosted by Emily Garfield, a local artist specializing in cartography and flights of fancy. Come for open shop, stay for the workshop!

The class is $25, or $15 for Parts & Crafts members; register here to attend.

Parts and Crafts events are geared towards kids 7-12 years old.

Somerville Skillshare

Last weekend I taught a short workshop on imaginary mapmaking at Somerville Skillshare, a day of free workshops held at the Armory. I was blown away by the response—people were lining up for it when I got there, and even though we admitted over twice the number of people I had originally planned for we still had to turn people away because we were out of seats!

Here’s what it looked like while people were drawing:



I had some prepared paper, some printouts with imaginative maps that inspire me, and some of the drawing materials I regularly use, and it was fascinating to see people turn them into maps. Here’s some of the art that came out of the 50-minute workshop: