The wonderful things folk do with maps

Most folk know my predilection for maps, and utilizing maps as a mnemonic device and to tell stories. I wrote a wee bit about how I used them at the time. When I was doing a round-up of the visual inspirations for my master’s work, I did a map supplement for term two because they became such a huge part of my work.

Shane Watt’s Shutterbug

There are a lot of people working with maps just now. The Guardian wrote an article back in May about why hand-drawn maps, in particular, are having such a resurgence. There’s also a really nice gallery that accompanies the piece. I’ve had a whole bunch of tabs open for ages with websites that are doing incredible things with maps and mapping data, so I thought I’d assemble a post with a few of them.

Since I mentioned hand drawn maps already is as good a starting point as any. From 2008 through some point around 2010ish, Kristofer Harzinski accepted submissions of hand drawn maps that he then uploaded and archived on his website. You can search by place or contributor, although some of my favourites are places that don’t exist.

Sergi Sedó

Another good reference is the BigMapBlog, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. Lots of high resolution, old maps. Although they’re embedded in a weird silverlight zoom-it thing, so not always the easiest to navigate.

east boston

East Boston, back when there was a swamp there…
O.H. Bailey’s view of East Boston, Massachusetts in 1879

But while looking at maps, especially old ones, is cool, I’m more interested in what people do with them.

Some people make art from maps. Right now, there’s an exhibition on at The Glad Cafe which is about maps. One of the pieces that grabbed me was a map of Scotland where the artist had cut out the landmass and places a map of downtown LA behind it. Ed Fairburn makes portraits on old military maps and then cuts into the maps in ways that are organic to the document, allowing a secondary map positioned below to show through.

Ed Fairburn

I’ve seen Mitch Miller’s work pop up around Glasgow a couple of times, mostly his work with Glasgow’s Red Road flats. He mapped the tower blocks from the viewpoint of those who live and work in them. He calls the resulting drawings dialectograms. Last year he attempted to draw a section of Duke St, Glasgow, while operating an open door studio in a portion of the Duke St Gallery. He documented this process in a dedicated blog. The images he creates are HUGE and detailed, so have a look on his site for some examples.

I have to thank Damon Herd for pointing me to Kate McLean‘s work with sensory maps. She creates maps based on the senses, specifically, smell, although there are more sense maps available for Edinburgh. (Interestingly, I have actually been to all the mapped cities.) I liked some of her non-smell based work, like the City of the Eternal Itinerant.

Kate McLean

If you’re in education in the UK and looking to collect mapping data and then visualize it, there’s a neat app, FieldTrip. One of my supervisors has used it in a community setting where people got together to do a drawing by walking around the city. Annoyingly, I am in a weird US vs UK Apple ID vortex, so can not use it. It’s a mess. Amazon is now convinced I reside in *neither* country, so I am leaving iTunes alone.

I love my adopted city, Glasgow. One of the projects I started during my masters, which never found a final form, was a map project where I collated points around the city that had personal significance for my friends: restaurants they love, the place they had their first kiss, where they have lived, their favourite shop, etc. I then created a layered map with the points, but little to no organizing detail as an alternative map of the city. The idea was for people to go out to the places listed and create their own relationship with the places. People might even go to the wrong place, as so many addresses house more than one thing. Ideally, the map would have been allowed people to add their own layer with places that they developed a relationship with via their interaction with the map. As I said, this never came to fruition, but when I collected the data, I had a google map with all these points on it that meant something to someone.

It’s a pretty basic thing, creating a google map, but you can still do some interesting things with it. For example, Old Glasgow has made a map that pinpoints the locations of their blog posts, so if you’re interested in the history of a location, all you have to do is click on the map pin and there’s a link to any posts about it. It’s terribly simple, but very handy. That blog is also a great deference for archival photos and old maps.

Along the same lines, but in a more robust fashion is a site I learned about recently via VSL, Findery. Findery allows you to pin locations with memories, pictures, facts, etc. A quick search around my home in Glasgow reveals lots of plaques and info on the Alexander ‘The Greek’ Thompson houses nearby and a shot of some nice graffiti. Could be an interesting platform to work with in the future…


I think this is the first time my work in Team Girl Comic has warranted a mention in a review! I’m not really all that upset or surprised, as my stuff isn’t usually traditional or linear, but it’s lovely to be noticed none the less. It helps when the piece has the intended effect as well.

All are excellent as is ‘The Model Family’ by Kat Sicard, which while being based on a dreadful pun achieves enough intimacy through the artwork to end up being oddly moving.

We’ve also got a new column up at Last Year’s Girl. This month I talk about the places we love in the Southside of Glasgow. Worth having a read if you’re familiar with our neighborhoods or are brand new to this side of the river. I also debuted the full poster for The Flatmates gig there. Have a look:

Flatmates poster-web