How I Started Drawing Maps
This is my first blog post, so I thought: what better place to start, than at the beginning.
I have been fascinated with maps since childhood. On family road-trips, I would busy myself gazing at various dog-eared old paper atlases, trying to work out the best route for the next leg of the journey (or at least what I thought was the best route). This was, of course, in the days before smartphones or Google Maps existed. A fan of fantasy and sci-fi books, I was always enamoured when they had beautifully-drawn maps in them, and rather disappointed when they didn't. I would generally agree with the adage "don't judge a book by its cover", but I think one can judge a book by its maps. Naturally I love The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and was quite taken by Tolkien’s maps, which were skilfully drawn by his son Christopher. And, as children do, I drew several of my own maps mimicking those I found in books.
As a (rather geeky) teen, I started drawing maps as 'world-building' preparation for my own (still largely unwritten) fantasy book. The novel may be years away, if it ever happens, but drawing maps for it is where I began honing my skills in pen-and-ink drawing.
In 2003, I came to Durham to study for a bachelors in archaeology. Durham is a beautiful little city; the medieval centre, known as the Bailey - with its majestic Cathedral and Castle - is enclosed by a natural loop in the River Wear, and the streets thread organically between the numerous hills. It's far more interesting from a cartographic perspective than the flat grid-patterned streets I was used to in the United States. I completely echo the sentiments of travel author Bill Bryson, who wrote in 1995:
"I got off at Durham, intending to poke around the cathedral for an hour or so and fell in love with it instantly in a serious way. Why, it’s wonderful – a perfect little city ... if you have never been to Durham, go at once. Take my car. It’s wonderful." - Notes from a Small Island.
I loved Durham, and was thoroughly enjoying my university experience. In 2004, I drew a map of Durham to give to my parents as a Christmas gift. It's still hanging in just inside their front door. In 2006, I drew another map, this time of Durham's fabulous pubs (which I must admit I probably frequented a bit too often).
In 2006, I began a masters degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and one module I took was on the history of medieval maps with Paul Harvey, who is a world-expert in medieval maps, and in particular of the Hereford Mappamundi. I loved studying maps so much that I proceeded to do a PhD in history of cartography.
In 2011, about midway through my PhD, at a dinner, I was speaking to the then director of the Durham Cathedral & Castle World Heritage Site. We were discussing maps, and I told him that I had hand-drawn a couple of maps of Durham in an antique 'olde-world' style. I was asked if I wanted to draw some new maps, of which the University would sell prints in their new visitor centre on Owengate, and in the forthcoming gift-shop in the Palace Green Museum. It was a great opportunity so I agreed; things were arranged, and Durham University hired me to draw the Durham University and Pub Maps.
In May 2014, I completed my PhD in the history of medieval and early modern cartography. Specifically I researched the function(s) of manuscript nautical maps known as portolan charts, but I will write more about that another time. In June 2014, I officially began Manuscript Maps to begin selling prints of my creations to the public. Following the University and Pub Maps, I drew the Shipping Forecast Map, and later in 2014, the Whisky Map of Scotland.