I just wrapped up a delightful month of drawing, illustrating, lettering and painting - all for one complex piece. And now that everyone has received their copy of it, I can finally share it with you!
I have long been obsessed with Anna Bond's beautiful work at Rifle Paper Company. I'm especially fond of her cities of the world maps, seven of which (!) I have framed in my upstairs hallway. Back in the summer I got the idea that I'd like to try my hand at making one of these maps based on one of my favorite places to visit, Lake Junaluska - a Methodist retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, not far from Asheville. I also thought if I could finish it by Christmas, it would make a great gift for my entire extended family.
My mom and her siblings would spend entire summers at the lake when they were kids - in a little green ranch with a basement we call "Happinest." (All the houses up at the lake have nicknames; at least all of the ones built in the sixties.) Once my cousins and I came along, our families would take turns spending long weekends at the cottage - walking down to the lake to go swimming, canoeing, fishing, or biking around the 2 or so mile trail that surrounds the lake. It was such a fun place to be a kid. Fourth of July fireworks over the water were always spectacular. Some of my family now live and work at the lake full time. It's a place full of memories for my whole family, and a place my husband and I still get to visit a couple of times a year.
I started off by checking a satellite map to see the general shape of the lake from above. Then I made a very rough sketch of the lake and all the landmarks I wanted to include. I also started thinking about a big hand lettered title for the map, something that would look kind of like a vintage travel postcard.
Next I needed to make individual sketches of each of the landmarks. At this point I wasn't sure if these sketches would be part of the final map or not, but they were definitely the first step. After I drew them, studying photos and Google Street View for accuracy, I copied them onto tracing paper to simplify and finalize my drawings.
I then scanned my drawings and arranged them around the shape of the lake to see what they all looked like together and to take some artistic liberties with the geographical locations of each landmark. At this point I also had to decide whether all the buildings would be drawn flat - head on, or dimensionally. I finally decided to do both - with the exception of the three places my family has had homes around the lake, all the buildings that line the lake are drawn dimensionally, and the rest of them are flat. This of course meant redrawing several of the buildings to fit that rule, then scanning those in, too.
Using tracing paper, I wrote all the labels for each landmark in my own handwriting, sometimes writing them five or six times before I was happy with the results. And yes, once they were scanned in, I could selectively use parts of different words to get just the right 'D' or 'P' or 'M.' Thank you Photoshop, for enabling me to be an insufferable perfectionist about this sort of thing.
The next step was the most difficult - painting each individual building or landmark. I printed the map out at 200% then trimmed out sections and placed them on a little light box so I could use my drawings behind white paper as guides for painting. Each painting ended up being about 2 or 3 inches wide. Then I scanned all the paintings, arranged them around the shape of the lake, and made some slight color adjustments in Photoshop.
I then finalized my lettering of "Lake Junaluska - Great Smoky Mountains, NC," scanned that in and cleaned it up a little, then added it to the collage. The last step was to have them printed on card stock, and distribute them to my family.
I'm pretty happy with it! My relatives pointed out a few little details that I should add if I do it again, which I'll probably do before I bring a print with me to hang in our cottage the next time we're up there. This was pretty intimidating, and it did take a full month to make, but I was excited to learn that I can still work a paintbrush and that my vision for how it would turn out was pretty close to what it ended up looking like. So in case you wondered what I did over Christmas break, pretty much this.