Campfire on Wildcat Island

SAB Gallery, Leeds Met University
15 September 2012
I am not ashamed to say it – I am a geek for maps. Well, not entirely…I don’t get giddy over elevations or delirious over grids or anything. I just enjoy looking at, and interpreting, maps. They have a huge history all of their own (which this workshop has inspired me to delve in to at some point) and provide relief to ramblers all across the Yorkshire Dales every day. This workshop’s main focus was fictional maps, although to be honest it covered a broad smattering of other (some very) surreal ideas as well.

The map from Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.

The day was a bit of an odd one for me, as I’d been at work for the morning then practically flew across Leeds to get to the gallery on time, to then do the same in the other direction to get back to work. It was invigorating, to say the least. So that might explain why I’m working from notes at the moment, as I think I may have dropped my brain somewhere on Woodhouse Lane…

The workshop was lead by a lovely lady, whose name escapes me (for shame!), and began with some very cerebral questioning of what maps are and could be. The idea that maps are true to life is possibly totally false – how can a flat map show you the round earth? And GoogleMaps/GoogleEarth was interpreted more as a snapshot of time rather than reality. Maps have their place of prominence because of their history and prestige. They have centuries of technique and mastery behind them so who would question a map? There’s scope for a lot of mischief there. Imagine a map of Leeds where it looks correct but there are little quirks about it. Something that disorients, something that comments, and something that encourages the user to explore. Are maps even about exploring? Surely they are proof of where explorers have been before.

When I embark on map-making, its about charting my own journey. I want to share the places I went to, what I did, and to some degree, how I felt. This approach is used to great affect in The Collected Works of T.S.Spivet by Reif Larsen where a 12 year old boy chronicles his life as it unravels around him. At this point in the workshop, I kind of lost my mind a bit. Some very heavy ideas were thrown about that I had no chance of ever grasping but basically took this away from it – maps are good for documenting, and maps don’t have to represent real places.

It is at this point that we moved on to maps in fiction, where the uses were far more clear cut. Authors made them for the sole purpose of working from them when they are writing then discarding them when done. Maps made for the reader to use so they maintain a sense of place, even if its totally imaginary.

Oooh, brainstorming time

Now it was time to get hands on. Given the option of working from a text first, i.e. your have scene from a book/film or your holiday shenanigans, or drawing the map first. I went for a random map first, and because I’m super speedy, I did a second map, which was a pencil recreation of my illustrated Wales adventure. Pretty much everyone went for map first and everyone did something quite different. At times I felt wholly out of place but I can certainly say I had my mind stimulated.

The definition of a map was bent and warped so many times in this workshop but I loved it. It was challenging and I love the scope for maps and map-making in other capacities. The only down side was that the workshop felt far too short! I could have stayed all day and learned more about maps…remember, I am not a geek!

Using random shapes from coloured paper, I created my Songbird Isla!

One chap developed a whole history and story for his imagined isles.

A summer of travelling for one lady.

A map of personal origins