It's always wonderful when a small idea turns into an attention-sucking, labor-intensive, and detail-oriented work of art. I was approached recently by our local magazine, St. Augustine Social, to create map imagery for the city's upcoming 450th Birthday Celebration. I jumped on the opportunity, mostly because I had never done such a thing. Needing inspiration, Google happened. I was greatly inspired by the cartoony, flat, Adobe Illustrator-made map style that's popular (which to me is very reminiscent of Grandma Moses). I borrowed this light-hearted approach, but searched for a way to make my own. In addition to not having a skill set with most things Adobe, I foresaw something with layers and hints of depth and shadows. And well, something a little more me. Tangible. Thus, began my Sharpie, Scissor, cut-out, taping, painting extravaganza of the tiny city I live in.
After a quick building prototype, I dove in. I made a rule for how to use the thin and ultra-thin Sharpie, and told myself to stick to it. The line variety gave it a fun iconic look, but helped to reduce perimeter details on my shapes, so that I could easily cut them out without too much carpal tunnel-inducing scissoring. I knew layering was in my future, so I trimmed the pieces with a thin white border to differentiate buildings, but also reveal the process at the same time.
Getting a lay of the land, I decided to make "Up" the obvious North. Not only did this orientate our image appropriately for a magazine, but it differed from every local map I've seen. We are a city always seen from the West on hand-drawn maps, and to me, that's just confusing.
Just as soon as I got the process down, I employed the method learned from some forgotten Math class.... "pluggin' and chuggin." I'm sure it had something to do with Algebraic formulas in high school, but in this case, it helped populate a city one building at a time. I started with the landmarks (tallest buildings in the city) and then doodled my way down one street at a time, just as if I were walking it.
I developed the illustration this far until I realized that I was creating it solely by memory. And at that moment, this project became even more special to me. I've been in this city for a total of 9 years, and to be able to recreate this city from memory is a sign of being Home. Every building I drew had context in my story within this city. Whether it be the school I attended, the pavilion where I set up my drums once on Good Friday, the hotel with the nicest lobby bathrooms that I still use on occasion, the cross I once lived near, the strip of shops that some friends and friends of friends own and operate, the Aussie coffee shop where I get a buzz and a Clif bar with Sarah, the fort that I always sit next to but almost always get a wet butt by doing so, or the bridge that, for me, defines a "Love//Hate Relationship." So, in drawing these places, I realized I could say something for each. Each place the setting for a memory. And essentially, this illustrated map, for fun, for a magazine, became my own little memory bank.
As I said before, to get involved in a project so demanding, yet addicting, is a joy. "There's always something more that can be added," I would say. And then again. And again. When it came time to add color, I was careful. I knew I could so quickly undo two days of work with five minutes of careless mixing. And through much deliberating and worrying over color, the tiny city of St. Augustine came alive. With not one person drawn, the buildings and their terracotta rooftops and their stylized shapes were enough to give this illustration the undeniable identity of St. Augustine, FL.
This piece in my eyes, after 4 days of repetitive process, is a huge success. In addition to the cover image for the Celebration Guide, I created more functional maps of street closures and events to aid with the organization of people's plans during the celebration. I am so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful opportunity, publication, and well, city. I am also excited for this work to be seen by audiences I rarely reach (unless all readers of this magazine get pops at Hyppo Cafe). Can you find your own great memory within this map?
In partnership with St. Augustine Social, we are making this illustrated map available for purchase. This reproduction captures, amazingly, the depth of each little paper cutout, and I couldn't be happier with it. If you are interested in owning your very own 18 x 24" representation of St. Augustine, click below.