Diagrammatic Illustration

Exercise: Giving Instructions

From the three choices given for the diagrammatic exercise I chose to illustrate ‘A map to my house’.  I chose this because travel and map illustration is an area I am particularly interested in. Alan Male describes a diagram as “an illustration that depicts the features of an object, a system or a manufactured or organic process by way of an exposition that goes far from pictorial reality. The visual language can comprise graphical or symbolic representation and contextually does not work unless the information or message is clearly elucidated. “ Male. A (2007) . It is important that illustrating diagrams clearly depict what is intended but there is scope for stylisation. The images do not have to be realistically accurate, as long as it is clear what they are intended to represent.

With the definition clear in my mind, my next step was to research map illustration. Due to my interest in this area of illustration, I have previously collected reference images of illustrated maps on Pinterest.  There are a range of different styles. Some, like Benoit Cesari, (image 1) use mostly text in their maps. Josie Portillo’s illustrations of each feature are very detailed (image 2) while Libby Vanderploeg (image 3) uses more graphic images.  Some maps like image 4 by Lucy Letherland are focused on depicting one particular thing, in this case, dinosaurs. All have a very pleasing aesthetic while also providing the viewer with information about the features that can be found in a place, and where in that place they can be found. The icons they use to represent the features are a mixture of images of actual landmarks and images of things such as an item of food, to show that that can be found there as shown in image 5 by Livi Gosling.

I came across an article in which illustrators were giving tips about illustrating maps.  https://www.digitalartsonline.co.uk/features/illustration/30-brilliant-tips-for-creating-illustrated-maps/ . Something a few of the illustrators spoke about was use of colour, particularly choosing a limited palette for clarity.  Daniel Gray (image 1) is well renowned for his use of a limited colour palette, both in maps and children’s books. Liz Mosley’s map of Manhattan (image 2) depicts the subject very clearly using a limited palette.

For my own map, I started by using google maps to ensure accuracy in my illustration in terms of directions. This helped me decide that the starting point for finding the way to my house should be the train station.  I then drew the area between the station and my house. I drew this out a number of times to see which way the map would look most visually appealing.

After working out what landmarks I would need to include, I went out and took photos so I could draw from observation before illustrating.  I would have drawn outside if it wasn’t so cold! For some of the features, I decided to draw the actual building and for some, an icon to represent it. For example a teapot and cup to represent the tea rooms.

In the article previously mentioned, a few illustrators spoke about using colours linked to the place being illustrated.  I live in a place called River so I chose a bluish green colour palette as a starting point.  

Most of the maps I looked at include lettering but the brief said to keep this to an absolute minimum so I decided not to include any on mine.

When illustrating from my observational sketches, I tried to simplify the image while still leaving it recognisable.

Once I had made roughs of all my icons, I drew out a rough layout for the whole map put together with my intended colour palette at the top. I kept the greenish blue colour palette running through the icons but I did also use brick and stone colours to try to keep the landmarks recognisable.

From this I was able to see that I had created a map of River, rather than a map to get to my house.  There were lots of features on there which were unnecessary and complicated the directions. So I drew out more layouts focusing on just the area from the station to my house and reduced the number of features on the map to only include those important for helping someone find the way.  The image below shows two layouts.

I decided that creating the background, road layout and each icon separately and assembling on photoshop would be the best way of working on this.  That way I could continue tinkering with the layout and positioning once I had all parts ready.

The first map I made had all the features of a similar size making the map look quite uniform.  It was clear and easy to follow, but seemed a little boring. I didn’t really like the roads coming to the edge of the background either.  

While I haven’t used text, I have included the house number as I thought this was necessary in a map to my house.  The other option would have been to draw all the houses in the street and make mine bigger but I think this would have made the map look cluttered and lack clarity.  The next two versions were quite similar to each other, the only difference being the size of the trees. In the map on the left I have left more negative space and the road can be seen more clearly. The trees in the one on the right obscure part of the road but do make a barrier over the part not to be followed which I think actually makes the map clearer to follow. I find it more aesthetically pleasing too. However it still didn’t seem quite right and I didn’t want to have to use a house number.

I tried out landscape to see how well that worked. This was really interesting because it made the map look almost 3d. The scaling looks weird though because I made the church smaller than the house because it is not such an important part, but it is in the foreground so should be bigger.

I wanted to explore this more 3D look further so I made another version with the scaling more ‘correct’. I actually don’t like it as much. The train is too big in the foreground and was not drawn for this layout so is at an odd angle. With the collection of houses big in the foreground, the way to my house is not really clear enough. I decided to go back to the portrait versions but I found this really interesting and is something I would like to explore further later.

Creating the landscape version above made me realise that the collection of houses need to be less prominent in order to make the destination of my house more clear. So in my final version, I made that icon small and put trees in front of it. Aesthetically, I do think text would look nice, but it isn’t actually needed because I think this clearly shows the way to my house without having to use the house number. I think I mostly kept my illustration style consistent. If I was to do this again though, I would add flint texture to the church to make that more synonymous. I also wouldn’t use the sandy colour on it. It was on my original colour palette, but I don’t think it works in the actual piece. I would keep the stained glass windows to blue and green too. I would also change the train icon. Although it is blue, the darker shade doesn’t work well with the rest of the palette.

I really enjoyed this exercise. I have learnt a lot about position and layout, careful colour palette and consistent illustration style and am even more interested in this area of illustration for the future.