Nowadays, with Satellite GPS and Google Maps, it’s possible to virtually traverse the surface of our planet. Afghanistan, for example, reveals a feast of benign abstracts: patterns of desert, river, orchard, obscure caves and the rectilinear walls of farmyard and mosque up and down a ragged, mountainous terrain.
There’s the undeniable joy of moving over a landscape — maybe it’s the simple delight of simulating the flight of a bird. As well as guidance, a map gives a feeling of control, and maps can be counted on to return lively earthbound memories. You can cruise maps, and you can make marks on them.
For visual artists, an easily created mapbook is useful for planning trips and keeping track of creative events along the way. For this purpose, commercial or government maps need to be photocopied in black and white. I like to enlarge them a bit and assemble them in the order I want to cover the territory. Below, we’ve illustrated a mapbook I use when working in Ireland.
Right now, I’m painting at the coastal village of Doagh on the Rosguill Peninsula in Donegal. I drove through here twenty years ago under black skies in rain unbeatable to wipers. At the time, I made a note of the place and wondered if I’d ever come back.
Marking maps while travelling makes a permanent position-finder and a spatial record of the routes taken. Using a variety of coloured markers, I note photo-locations and reference, views, paintings, mysteries, weather conditions and ideas generated. I’m not afraid to use words like “wonderful.” Sometimes it’s the only word you can find when you’re high on the world.
Maps are a curious mixture of space and time. Many a wintry night I’ve taken my Irish mapbook to bed and cruised again these narrow roads. Many a night I’ve held again the black Guinness drawn from that pub over there. I’m remembering an old fellow, a regular and probably gone now, who asked what I did for a living and what I was doing at Doagh. Being coy, perhaps philosophical, and attempting to avoid heavy questioning, I told him I was marking maps.
“Odd sort of life,” he told me.
PS: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” (Gandalf in J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings)
Esoterica: On that earlier trip, I had attempted to circumnavigate Ireland by car along the coastal roads. I wanted to get down to every coracle village I could mark. As you get older, you get more adept at moving less and loving more. Ten or so clicks a day are all you really need. Two or three set-ups does it, and even though the paintings may not always be as great as one might wish, there’s the feeling of an evolved life, of beating back your demons. When the big trip comes to its end, this will have been paradise enough.
A treasured mapbook
Workshops in Ireland
by Jerry Lucey, St Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Coming from a family with roots in County Cork and having lived in Greystones just to the south of Dublin, Ireland has a special place with me. I often wonder why more North American-generated workshops don´t take place there. The west coast can be an artist´s dream. Been a few years since I visited, but when I was there I saw a couple of workshops (painting holidays) being conducted by British artists. While in Ireland I met Keith Fenwick, the artist working with Winsor & Newton conducting watercolor outings.
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by Sarah Hollier, Australia
I am a ‘desperate’ traveller and always want to travel up the last side road or just 10 km further to see what is there. This compulsion has tainted all my trips since I was 18 and went to Europe for the first time. Now, with the help of your Quotes, I will live in the here and now and treasure the memories I have and not wish uselessly for those I do not attain.
by Bonnie Butler, VA, USA
One huge benefit of using Google Maps is the many pictures that come up on the map. Uploaded by others, they are often of key sights along a painting route. I have used them to aid in choosing set-up locations for time-sensitive Paint-Outs. They do much of the scouting for me.
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Wanderings on paper
by James Culleton, Montreal, QC, Canada
I, too, have a passion for maps. A few years ago while I was living in Montreal, I received a grant from the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec to rediscover my French roots using blind contour drawings and a GPS. I would turn on the GPS whenever I was exploring and what was left behind were these interesting drawings of all the places I visited. It was as though I had become the pencil and the spaces travelled become the paper. These drawings of my wanderings looked a lot like constellations by the end of it all, and quite often I would be following my GPS in order to find areas of the paper which I had not filled.
The technology really enhanced my process and created a biogeographical record of my project. Shortly afterward I published a book of the drawings and the maps called “Contouring Quebec” which is available at lulu.com.
A source of wonder
by Kathy Weber, RI, USA
Great letter! I love maps. A number of years ago I worked with some other artists and was shocked to find out that they hated looking at maps and never did if they could help it. To me, maps are a source of delight and wonder. Should we take the highway, or should we take that road marked with the little dots that indicate “scenic”? And I love your idea of copying maps so you can make notes on them. I’ll have to do that on our next big trip.
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by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA
If there was ever a time when I didn’t love maps, I can’t remember it. It’s a format that works for me. I look at them in anticipation, in both frustration and relief, in puzzlement and in curiosity. When I’m asked to make a map, I’m not good at proportions. The page is never big enough for me and I tend to put in too many details. I’m not a fine mapmaker but the beauty and actuality of them can bring hours of pleasure in both reading and making them. In fact, my maps are like my art and the correlation has always fascinated me. It’s the way I see. I am glad the hired mapmakers are detailed yet precise. Otherwise, I would still be gallivanting around Boston, Massachusetts or Paris. I have been grateful for GPS around town or in a new area when I am late for an appointment. But I cherish my maps. I used to cry when I was lost. Now I relish in it, drag out the map, locate my position and either stay the course or strike out on a new path. The art of wandering is an unmistakable joy! But that’s another writing…
Mapping by journal
by Linda Blondheim, Gainesville, FL, USA
I love your map idea. I travel around the South a lot and instead of real maps, I write a journal about the places I visit. It’s a series of short notes on the people I meet, the restaurants I go to, the route I take, the culture and music of the area, and the visual feast I see along the way. I often write it in my head first as I drive and then record it on my notebook computer each night of the trip. When I get home, I use the sketches and photos I take on my trip to do studio paintings of the area.
by Luann Udell, Keene, NH, USA
Your “Treasured Mapbook” letter made me laugh for two reasons. One, what a great idea! We all know how such simple practices can help us later recall deeper memories of such a rich experience. The other reason is it would help me win more arguments with my husband about exactly where we went, who we saw, and what we did on any given trip.
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Mark or forget
by Annette Waterbeek, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
We just did just that… three weeks down south… all along the coast to the Mexican border… Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, then home… dawned on me to mark the map with words like beautiful landscape… nothing here… want to return…
You forget… if you don’t. I make my mark right on the map… the Mojave Desert claimed the top part of my map… I’ll have to redo… on another trip.
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Amazing and wonderful maps
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA
I adore maps! My daddy made sure that all four of us kids knew our directions and knew how to read a map. If we were traveling to a new place, he’d call out to one of us and ask, “Which way do we go?” A small voice would pipe up from the backseat with, “Turn South at the next light!” Woe to us if we told him to turn “Left” or Right.” He instilled in us a great sense of direction and an ease and familiarity with maps. And now with all the new satellite map imagery, I thoroughly enjoy “travelling the world” at any time I get the whim. With Google Maps, I’ve flown across the world and visited Italy, France, South America, and many more places. With the fascinating “Street View” format, I’ve stood in front of the world’s greatest monuments. I’ve meandered through the back streets of Paris, of London, of New York City. I’ve seen the mighty waterfalls of Niagara Falls. I’ve flown through Google to look upon the homes of my brothers and my sister and my daughter in the faraway places that they live. The place I visited that had the deepest impact on me was the day I decided to “visit” the Panama Canal through the magic of the satellite map. It left me breathless. What a feat of imagination and engineering.
Maps are amazing and wonderful. They truly are treasures and I always wish I could find a way to thank the people who are responsible for their creation. I love the way you use your maps, Robert! The next time I take a real trip, rather than a virtual one, I will be sure to bring good maps and new pens!
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
I can’t help but think that with every new gadget we invent we lose mind power and our ability to do for ourselves. The Internet keeps us from the library and the physical search process. The phone made writing letters a lost art. We’ve now replaced it with email. The commercial jet gets us here and there but we miss the journey along the way. We can’t stop at that great diner we found on our last trip or that wonderful curio shop that sold maple syrup in a can.
Adding machines stunt my ability to do simple math or complicated math for that matter. I can barely balance my check book without my trusty mini solar battery calculator.
GPS gets you there without any side trips and by the fastest route. The idea of getting lost is becoming obsolete. It’s good to get lost once in a while. It opened up possibilities and new experiences and took you places GPS misses due to the accurate destination process build in. We need to take the time these days to get lost even for a short while.
So I applaud you again Robert for pulling out the paper map with its scratches and folds that obliterate some locations. I applaud you for taking the time to mark your journey and for taking the time to use another dated utensil, the pencil.
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Venice, a map of dreams
by Alfonso Tejada, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Don Roberto, The map of the world is the map of our dreams. Lucky is the one that finds the map of his dreams in a lifetime. Enjoy the place where your thoughts or curiosity has taken you, because discoveries are common in the map of our minds.
Ten years ago I visited for first time Venice, after 20 years of previous research , studies of maps, plans, stories and images. I knew this small place as a collector of puzzles might do. By keeping an image at a time and recording the edges of the next piece to fit in. The map built in my mind was so strong that I knew where to go and see what I have read about. I was an expert in the morphology of a city, a place dear to my dream. When I first visited this familiar place the whole world changed. I found that I did not know what was the smell of the places, the noise of the boats, nor the sounds of people, like I’m trying to discover the secret life of a city ,Venice. Since then I HAVE VISTED THIS ISLAND OF DREAMS and the map of the city has become a map of the places and, in my eagerness to retain this piece of dreams alive, I have tried to paint the city that I love, but I have found that 10 years had passed and had not taken far enough my intention, because every visit I discover one more piece of the puzzle that I thought I knew and with delight I find out that probably it will take the rest of my life to paint the rest of the map of the city I love – Venice.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Keith Cameron of Sierra Madre, CA, USA, who wrote, “A treasured exercise in Ireland would be to mentally map every shade of green you see. The map has always been a beginning for many creative visualizing experiences, and your writing has reminded me it is time once again to take a look. As always, thank you for sharing.”
And also Brendan O’Sullivan who wrote, “We are three artists living in the Galway region and fans of your letters. If you are travelling south from Donegal and have time for a pint of plain, give us a call — Brendan, Triona, Mariann.”
And also Vita of Sutton, QC, Canada, who wrote, “The more time it takes to decide what to do, the more time we will need.”
And also Clif Dawson of Vancouver, BC, Canada, who sent this quote: “Read me carefully, follow me closely, and doubt me not. I am the earth in the palm of your hand. Without me you are alone and lost.” (Beryl Markham, 1936, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic)
Enjoy the past comments below for A treasured mapbook…