The hand-drawn map of North America: Portrait of a Continent

The hand-drawn map of North America: Portrait of a Continent


(acoustic blues guitar music) – This map is sort of a love
letter to the real world, in a lot of ways. Certainly a love letter to North America. When I was 21 I moved from New Zealand to the United States
with a one-way ticket, but I ended up staying for two years, all across the States and Canada, and immediately the
geography of North America completely blew my mind,
it’s a magnificent place. From the tundra in the Arctic, all the way through the United States, through Mexico, Central
America, the Caribbean. For me coming from New Zealand, this continental perspective
was something very new, I was very inspired by that. I became obsessed with maps
when I was really little. Why I became fascinated with
maps at that young age was, I think in part due to
the magnificent geography of New Zealand. And when I would take a
little flight from one part of the country to the other, the places in which my life was set were suddenly revealed as this
grand theater of geography. So that lit my mind on fire as a kid and I started drawing maps. After being in North America
I moved over to Australia, and there I drew a map of
South Asia and Australasia, so basically spanning from Pakistan all the way to New Zealand, and from that I learned
how to use color pencils, and this I was just doing it
in my bedroom in my free time. And then I moved to Melbourne, and that’s where I drew this thing which I initially thought would take like six months or so but, well, here we are,
almost five years later. I was living in Montreal
and then I drew a map on a refrigerator that
my housemate suggested I spruce up with a bit of art. So I picked up a, just a
pen and started freehanding this map of North America,
and next thing you know I, I think maybe six or seven weeks I spent in front of the refrigerator. This situation on the fridge
spoke to me, very deeply, and I swore that as soon as
I was next settled somewhere I would continue that idea, inevitably I had to
return to North America, as a project, because the
fridge would never be enough. I had no idea what I
was getting myself into, that’s for sure. The first key was obviously finding out the projection I was going to use and how I was going to
keep things accurate. So my friend, an artist, he suggested I use a projector to shine the chosen map onto the paper. Now there are tens of
thousands of items on this map, even myself as the artist who
drew every single part of it, I can’t remember everything there. There are 600 cities on the map, each drawn with their own
skylines, and landmarks, and cultural icons and things like that. Drawing North America
from Australia naturally is an unusual circumstance, you have to figure out
how to put yourself, how to like, try to
feel a place from afar. So, I would often watch
movies about regions, especially ones that were
particularly foreign to me, say Cuba, or the Arctic or something. So I would listen to music
from the region I was drawing, sort of try to treat mapping like you’re a method actor or something, you know. Even I went out to restaurants (laughs), bought a cigar once to draw Cuba, just to try to get myself into the zone. The map took something like
3,500 to 4,000 hours in total, and those are real timed hours, okay, so I don’t just show up
at nine and finish at five and call that an eight hour day. The map was drawn entirely by hand using color pencils and fine-liner pen. People often ask me, “What
happens if you make a mistake?”, because it’s all on one big original. A real mistake to me would be like, spilling a coffee over the original, or a gust of – the perfect
wind tunnel in the house that sort of rips it from the board. When I started in 2014, I was still really an amateur artist, I spent, what was it, three
years it took me to finish all the land area of the map, everything, from Alaska all the way to
Panama, Greenland, everything, and I should’ve been
ready to start the ocean, to move forward towards the end, except, my ability as an
artist and as a geographer had, really mostly been formed
during the lifetime of this map. And I thought I would be quite
limited with what I could fix because I used so much
pen in those early days, but then I got this, right
here, my exacto knife, and I started scratching
off the pen from the paper and then flattening it out
with my electric eraser, and it turned out I could
remove anything I wanted. So, I ended up putting an
extra year and half almost, into the map, redrawing the western half of the United States, the
western third of Canada, these are all the earlier areas, and then having to blend in this sort of Frankenstein of content, every single free moment I
had was devoted to this map, all of it, you know, and I
loved it so it was easy to do, but it certainly drives
you mad after a while. And I did wonder myself, is there a point that
this will be finished? Because you can always add more animals, and then in the ocean of course, you can always add more fish, you can always add more boats. But I had a vision for how it would go, I always had that same vision, and so I’m going to release limited edition fine art giclée prints, as they’re often called, archival quality, will last a long time, hand-signed by me. And then I’m also going to release a series of posters of the map as well, that’ll still be very, very high quality. So I think that should
hopefully split the difference really nicely between the map as a piece of collectible fine art, and the map as a geography resource. Kids tend to love maps,
obviously I was one who did, and I meet many all the time
when I speak at schools, I just absolutely love to see that passion and that inspiration. So this is about trying to show people that they should be inspired and called to adventure by setting, the setting of their lives.

2 thoughts on “The hand-drawn map of North America: Portrait of a Continent

  1. I've been following your efforts for years over social media. This video is a great teaser. Can't wait to have the maps made available to the public!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *