Mapping by heart…

…and by hand. In a world where every last inch and yard is navigable with Google Maps, mobile GPS and sultry-voiced Tom Toms, we can begin to forget that maps are actually subjective, creative, and selective things. We’re only reminded of it, perhaps, whenever Mrs. Tom Tom whispers in our ear to “turn left – turn left, darling – turn left” directly into the honking, screaming roar of oncoming traffic. Ms. Tom Tom might sound strangely attractive, but her purpose is darkly sinister.

Maybe it’s because today’s maps (and mapping tools) are so intent on being literal, their identities are fading away – incongruities now reflect human error, rather than human decision. Truly beautiful maps are all about decisions – from projection, to whether they include cycle paths, or churches, or pubs – maps should guide a human experience, as understood by human designers with human hearts (or baboon hearts, if not rejected).

I think that’s what’s making hand-drawn experiential maps such a worldwide hit (they are worldwide hit, right? RIGHT?)

Illustrative, experiential maps don’t pretend to give you the world as it is, but only the world as it might be seen. They revel in subjectivity, creativity and selection. This is my world, however bonkers, and so if you want to glimpse it that way, this is an illustrative clue – and nothing more.

The Guardian recently posted an online gallery of their favourite hand-drawn maps. And, drum rolling time, I was chuffed to the actual bits that they selected one of my own to feature in the series 🙂

Brixton Tree

The Tree of Brixton Pubs and Cafes…. an essential arboreal companion for thirsty squirrels everywhere (click the image to buy one…!)

The Tree of Brixton Pubs and Cafes was first included in another wonderful Londonist series on Hand Drawn Maps in 2011, before getting picked up in a Museum of London display on the same theme. Now, the updated version lives on, alongside lots of other imaginative illustrations of New York, Dartmoor, Paris and personal nonsense worlds, in the Guardian series.

Why are they catching on? Why are more people enjoying making them, and more people enjoying looking at them?

Lots of reasons, I think.  As said above, the skewing of maps away from experiential diagrams and towards utilitarian tools has aroused awareness that, as tools, they will always be flawed – there is nothing for it but to embrace it. Democratisation of mapmaking (through Google Map Makers, for example, which lets you edit places and make contributions) is a practical approach to the problem (making maps living things, and maybe offloading their inherent subjectivity towards the great unwashed), while goofy illustrators like us take another approach.

Another reason might be the angst of knowing we’ve mapped everything on this planet already, and we know more about the world’s contours, coastlines and borders than any generation ever has. If we’re going to maintain a sense of exploration in this life, exploring the act of mapping might have to be the way we do it!

But the main reason why hand drawn maps are gaining in popularity? Simple. Because they are awesome. And people are awesome. And the world is awesome. So it only makes sense that awesome likes awesome.

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