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Throughout history, humankind has hopped off our wooden ship, headed for the tallest hill we could find, stood on top of it and drawn the outlines of what we could see; defining the limits of the land, the oscillating curves of the landscape and the twists and turns of riverbanks. Always fallible, always representative of the map-maker’s personal biases and perspective of what they need from the land, the first ever maps have a lot in common with the modern illustrated maps of today. While the aim of atlases and ordinance surveys is to get you from a to b – with no surprises along the way and no excess information – the illustrated map is just the opposite. It is full of surprising details, challengingly inaccurate geography and personalised perspectives on where you should go. Discover some amazingly talented illustrators in our list of the best illustrated maps out there.

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Betty TurboMap of Anchorage

Oregon-based Betty Turbo illustrates the kind of life we wish we led; filled with amazingly kitsch colour combos, thick, jazzy typography spelling out catchy slogans and lots of funny animals dotted around the place. Her illustrated maps are no different; inscribing flat panes of colour with interesting info like where to see ‘ravens ravishing rubbish!’ in Anchorage. In researching a map, she seems to be lead primarily by taste (our kinda girl) saying that “I like to go through the ritual of having a coffee, however that goes in each particular city, seeing what the café culture is like and watching the people go by.” Movement is combined by observing patterns and textures around the city; small sketches or iPhone snaps keep these images fresh in her mind, and then from this smorgasbord of vernacular typography, textile patterns and even plant life, she produces a vibrant map at home. The funny, colloquial style of her maps reflects her desire to represent her emotional attachment in a kind of pictorial narrative, because “generic, all-purpose tourist maps already exist, so you can let go of the need to include EVERYTHING. By picking the parts that are personally meaningful, you let your emotions creep into the picture and are more likely to create something that will resonate with your viewers.”

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Nate PadavickMap of Jackson, Wyoming

Nate Padavick is so talented it hurts. Combining artistic graphics with an amazingly thorough mathematical precision, his maps are accurate and beautiful. Each one covers a huge space, with so many nooks and crannies that you’d be hard-pressed to be able to explore everything he puts on offer. The guy has been to 30 countries in his lifetime, designed thousands of greetings cards, and runs three different websites showcasing both his, his sister’s, and other upcoming artists’ talent. He clearly both loves and lives illustrated map-making. Apparently a favourite with illustrators, Nate says that he thinks Berlin is the city which cultivates the most creativity, because “fashion, art, design and good urban planning are folded into everyday life in a seamless and natural way.”

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Nik and Marina NevesMap of Recife, Brazil (Gol Magazine, 2014)

Married couple Nik and Marina have what looks like the perfect married life together. Having both grown up in Brazil, they met and travelled the world together, collaborating artistically all the time, and are now settled down in Berlin. Having made homes out of Barcelona, New York, London, Munich, Rome and Paris beforehand, their artistic style has the colour and vibrancy that you would expect to be ingrained in the Brazilian mind-set, but tempered by a kind of modern European subtlety. Impressionist swathes of colour are inhabited by two dimensional figures in varying perspectives, racing around the city. A scratchy flat texture and popping shadowed typography give the maps an affectionate retro-feel. What is most lovely about these maps though is the story behind the artistic process that the couple share; researching together, Maria then choses the colour palette and organises the information, which Nik illustrates and writes onto. Combining two perspectives, the maps remain surprisingly accurate and informative, with Nik saying that he has “a great passion for all sort of illustrated infographics; the way they tell a story in pictures. It’s like drawing a comic sometimes.”

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Eva NaccariMap of Palma di Montichiaro

Eva Naccari grew up in Agrigento, but now lives in Macerata, which is apparently very peaceful and full of beautiful greenery – a ‘paradise’ for an artist. Talking about Agrigento, Eva says that it is famous for its ancient Greek architecture. An appreciation of the beauty in impressive brick and stone is prevalent in her maps, which focus on iconic buildings in the chosen city; perfectly suited too to her linear, ‘vectorial’ graphic style. The matt blocks of colour are evocative in their richly suggestive combinations. Eva is no stranger to visual/mental associations though, and the emphasis on colour is intentional. She put it beautifully when she told me that for her, “maps are just like flags. When I was a child I was really obsessed by flags and the memories they evoke. Now I like the fact that, with few forms and colours, they are a synthesis of an identity. It’s the same deal with maps.”

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Tom WoolleyMap of Newcastle

Tom Woolley sounds like a fun guy. Based in West Yorkshire, he has travelled to far-flung places like Japan and Hawaii, but his artwork is strongest in its appreciation of Britain’s haphazard, winding lanes. A prodigious output of illustrated maps on his website shows a consistent stylistic use of beautifully gaudy combinations of pastel colours. Surreal buildings are set in bright relief against the background, with surreal, nonsensical proportions. Tom said that he started drawing as a kid when he and his older brother made comics together to make each other laugh. This mischievous approach to drawing comes across in the way that Woolley makes each city seem cool, yet childish at the same time. He says the best way to get to know a city is to listen to people’s accents. This individual touch is partially founded in Woolley’s love of illustrator Alfred Wainright, whose drawings of the Lake District are “lovingly crafted – you really get a sense of his personal attachment to the hills.”

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Caitlin WhiteheadMap of Big Bear California

Caitlin Whitehead only started travelling when her fiancé convinced her that she wasn’t going to die on a plane. Her interview is littered with cute facts like that, and her maps are a reflection of this sweet outlook on new experiences. For instance she tells us that the reason she wanted to draw a map of Stanley Park was “so that people go there and just see their MASSIVE trees”, and that drawing a map “is like describing a friend to someone who has never met them.” Eschewing navigation apps on her phone if she wants to really experience a place, she gets lost a lot, but seems to have a pretty great time doing so; even if “her gut instinct is going to lead to us wandering around in the woods after dark”. Her maps are populated with fun, remote finds encapsulated in small pictorial icons, and so that you can definitely find your way to each one, her maps are based on accurate geographical mappings taken from Google, rather than just her gut instinct.

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Kate MasonMap of Adelaide

Kate Mason used to work in business, but left to raise her children and indulge in her creativity by painting and illustrating from home. You can see the influence of hours spent with lively children in her artwork, which resembles the naïve, whimsical art in kid’s story books; lots of peaceful smiling koala bears and long-haired girls making friends. Her map is a cute insight into the quirks and upbeat atmosphere of Kate’s hometown, made from fuzzy scanned-in textures and delicate digital drawings. Having travelled quite extensively, Kate says she is inspired by Japan, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and that she loves maps, or “little aerial views of the world” because, using a characteristically folkloric metaphor: “they reveal all the treasure the city has to offer”.

Words by Morgan Harries

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