A treasured mapbook


Dear Artist,

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.


A hot area in the Rosses. Mosey-driving in these areas is filled with delight at every turn.

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.


I kept track of my mileage between hotels and other lodging. This was the longest day — 166 miles.

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.


Robert today near Doagh, Donegal. Blackberry photo.

Best regards,


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


The book contains black and white photocopies of Ordnance Survey Maps arranged in chronological order of the planned trip.


This is where I am right now, staying with ‘George’s cousin’ and painting out at the tip of Rosguill at Doagh.


The yellow felt-tip lines indicate route; the red marks, stops, photos, painting sites and other items.


This was my walk and jaunting car trip around Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. X is a painting spot.







Workshops in Ireland
by Jerry Lucey, St Miguel de Allende, Mexico


“First snow”
acrylic painting, 8 x 10 inches
by Jerry Lucey

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.

There is 1 comment for Workshops in Ireland by Jerry Lucey

From: Helen Tilston — Jun 12, 2009

Ireland’s light is special and the changing skies are so spectacular. I was born in Ireland and lived right by the Atlantic ocean — we awoke each morning to the singing of seals as they frollicked on the rocks just outside our bedroom. A magical childhood in Kinvara/Aughnish area of South Galway.


Desperate traveller
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.


Google Maps
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.

There are 2 comments for Google Maps by Bonnie Butler

From: Anonymous — Jun 11, 2009

Virtual Paintout

Google approves using Street View for art!

After speaking with Google’s Maps Team, it has been determined that artists can use images from Google Street View as reference for creating paintings and drawings, and the artists can sell these works.

From: Patsy — Jun 13, 2009

Carol, I am so pleased to hear this! I have downloaded photos occasionally as inspiration for a painting. Because I have not had the time or a place to paint since I moved to Northern Ireland just over a year ago (an agonising situation!), I haven’t actually used any, and was wondering if I would be allowed to – I don’t mean copying.

On another tack – wanting to get to know the country, when it’s nice weather and I have time to go out for a drive, I use Google Earth photos to find good places – it’s brilliant.


Wanderings on paper
by James Culleton, Montreal, QC, Canada


“Art city parade”
watercolour painting
by James Culleton

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


“In the can”
oil painting, 6 x 6 inches
by Kathy Weber

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.



There are 2 comments for A source of wonder by Kathy Weber

From: Sherry Purvis — Jun 12, 2009

Beautiful painting. Such depth and wonderful looseness.

From: Linda Pruehs Pratt — Jun 12, 2009

Lovely, lovely little painting. The colors are scrumptious.


Loving maps
by Kittie Beletic, Dallas, TX, USA


“Lucy’s window”
original painting
by Kittie Beletic

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


“Paynes prairie”
acrylic painting, 24 x 36 inches
by Linda Blondheim

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.



Helpful practices
by Luann Udell, Keene, NH, USA


wood sculpture
by Luann Udell

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.




There are 2 comments for Helpful practices by Luann Udell

From: Win Dinn, Painted Turtle Gallery — Jun 12, 2009

And how very maplike is your lovely bear sculpture, Luann – it ‘reads’ beautifully!

From: Luann Udell — Jun 13, 2009

Win, I never thought of that! But you are right — it DOES look like a record of someone’s journey, an idea that melds beautifully with how I think about my work. Thank you for the beautiful insight.


Mark or forget
by Annette Waterbeek, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada


watercolour painting
by Annette Waterbeek

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.

There are 2 comments for Mark or forget by Annette Waterbeek

From: Daniel Feuermann — Jun 12, 2009

Beautiful watercolour,Annette!

From: Richard Brown Cobble Hill BC — Jun 13, 2009

AJolly Nice piece Annette. I love the way you handled the water hitting the rocks.

Question? How did you do that? dartnal@shaw.ca


Amazing and wonderful maps
by Helen Zapata, Phoenix, AZ, USA


“Fall glory”
original painting
by Helen Zapata

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!


Get lost
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA


original painting
by Rick Rotante

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.

There are 3 comments for Get lost by Rick Rotante

From: Peter Brown — Jun 12, 2009

Rick – – I, too, love getting “lost.” Or maybe we should call it “wandering.” I prefer the two-lane roads to the Interstate, the bumpy path over the well-worn trail. I like surprises. Some of the best things that have ever happened to me, happened because I wasn’t where I thought I was.

From: Liz Reday — Jun 12, 2009

Nothing can replace being there! Travelling the world, immersing yourself in the sights, smells, sounds and people of a foreign country is such a blast. So I’m going to India! I’ll bring a pencil at least, maybe watercolor. Rick, that is a masterful painting, I bet you were doing it from life, as no photograph could capture that. Beautiful!

From: Rick Rotante — Jun 15, 2009

Liz – Yes that was from life. Five hours with the model and then some without on her surroundings. Thanks.

Peter – As painters, surprise is an integral part of the process. Why not get lost and see what happens.


Venice, a map of dreams
by Alfonso Tejada, Vancouver, BC, Canada


“Rio Ognissanti”
watercolor painting, 22 x 13 inches
by Alfonso Tejada

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.

There are 4 comments for Venice, a map of dreams by Alfonso Tejada

From: Ursula Medley — Jun 12, 2009

Me too!

From: LKP — Jun 12, 2009

No discussion of “Venice and Maps” would be complete without a mention of the Barbari map of the City, done in 1500. After seeing the original in the Correr Museum, I began collecting information about the map and it is a fascinating tale. Appropos of nothing, years later I happened to be in Washington DC at one of the Smithsonian museums and – lo and behold! – came upon an exhibit dedicated to the history of the map with a gallery talk by Eric Denker. Not one of those once-over-lightly talks…..but, rather, a detailed and definitive dialog on this endlessly-fascinating subject. It was one of those days when you think: It doesn’t get any better than this.

From: Daniel Feuermann — Jun 12, 2009

Don Alfonso…I have seen your watercolours from Venice, and they are great! You should post one for all of us to see…

From: MGK — Jun 12, 2009





oil painting
by Karla Bogard, CA, USA


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)



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A treasured mapbook



From: Frank Hills — Jun 09, 2009

A tip…I marked a book of maps of the Baja peninsula for a couple of years in 4 colors….Then a quick rain shower showed me that I had better use permanent markers next time.. (not water based)

From: JoRene Newton — Jun 09, 2009

I have made drawings as my husband and I traveled from Texas to our summer home in Colorado. My drawings and notes have been my “map” since 1986. It is indeed a treasure map, for from those drawings have come the inspirations for my paintings. I will add the other maps to my journals. Thanks

From: Michael, Dingle — Jun 10, 2009

If you’re winding the soul of the country under the wheels of the car, over intermittant times, it’s easy to forget when and where. I put in times and dates so I can go back again on anniversaries. The map becomes not only reminder but a celebration of places been and attempts made.

From: Patsy — Jun 10, 2009

Rob! You’re here in Ireland – I would so love to meet you. I live in County Antrim, just outside Antrim town. The weather is just as amazing as it clearly is in Donegal, judging by your photo. Looking at the map, I see it’s a bit of a trek to the main road from Doagh, but from Letterkenny to Derry I would estimate 30 minutes, and then not much over an hour from Derry to Antrim – through the Sperrins, which are wonderful mountains. But if you don’t have time to travel as far as us, do try to see Grianon of Aileach, five miles your side of Derry – a great stone fort on top of a mountain, with wonderful views of Lough Swilly. I am a map freak, by the way – no GPS/satnav for me!

From: Patsy — Jun 10, 2009

No doubt your trip is planned, but in case there’s leeway, I would like to say that at the self-catering apartments I run (the reason I have no time to paint these days), although we are crammed for June, there are weekends available in just one of the one-bedroomed apartments, and a few mid-week days in July. (Tempt, tempt!) And Northern Ireland is a much cheaper destination than the republic. I think that’s enough advertising for now. ;-)

From: Peter Dunnahy — Jun 10, 2009

Robert, I’m in Skibbereen. Come on down and have a jar. I’m on your list.

From: Jeanne Marklin — Jun 10, 2009

My husband is doing a sabbatical at Trinity College this fall, and we will be traveling around Ireland whenever possible. If you have some suggestions, or have posted about it, please pass them on. I’m a photographer and fiber artist. I imagine making photos, and picking up found objects to use as resists on fiber. Also, where did you get the maps? Although I have a GPS in my car, I really love maps, and can relate to your use of them.

From: Richard Rudnicki — Jun 10, 2009
From: Paula Timpson — Jun 10, 2009

‘All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us — As my dad and I enjoyed my son Jamesey, we had no idea where we would end up. This is how the days go… we follow Jamesey’s beautiful flow, so life is very spontaneous and open, which is wonderful!

Yesterday we sat Jamesey up in a little tree that seemed to be made for him. It was just his size and he felt comfortable sitting in its curve that held him upright so he could see life from a’ high’ point. Jamesey loves trees like I do. He sang and he laughed. My dad and I caught the cool breeze this June and we were happy simply, ‘being’ together. It is not where we run to, or what we do, as much as who we are with and if everyone is happy , then we are pure harmony in life – time does go by – it is these small moments that make life big and beautiful! Memories forever in the heart! Amen

From: Rene Wojcik — Jun 11, 2009

I Basically do the same thing as you. Living in Texas (and a retired geologist) I use a geological highway map of the state. Making a copy of my route through the state just as you have done a half a world away. I put my route in a binder as well. It works great. I usually annotate the map as I travel as far as noting geological stops along the way. For others who are interested almost every state in the U.S.A has a geological survey that can assist you if you are interested in the geology of your trips.

From: Darla — Jun 12, 2009

Many years ago, I did a series of frontispiece maps for an author friend (and ended up doing them for the publisher for the rest of the series). You probably know the kind — “quest” maps for fantasy novels. The maps can be very simple or include illustrations of the various places and events.

What if artists did their own illustrated maps of a local area? I think that would be delightful, and it might be something to draw in new buyers, as well. You could put in whatever you liked.

I’ve also been fascinated by the way that road and river patterns mirror the lines in a leaf, branches or tree roots, or even the vascular system of animals.



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