I have a thing for maps. I collect them, draw them, study them, and, on occasion, actually use them. So when Suzanne McNeill’s new Art Lesson landed, I couldn’t read it fast enough—it’s all about using a mixed-media map to tell a story. She includes so many techniques and ideas for creating, using, and featuring maps in sketchbooks and art journals that you’ll be in map heaven.
I wanted to tell the story of my favorite drawing spots in and around Boston, knowing that this would be something I’d love looking at down the road—a great story for my future self. The journal I chose was large, to accommodate the features I wanted to include (I used a large Ranger Dylusions Creative Journal). I covered a vintage map with a layer of gesso, and when it was dry, I glued it into a spread and trimmed the map flush to the edges of the pages. You’ll love Suzanne’s ideas in the lesson for altering maps and using them as backgrounds.
Using a map of Boston as a guide, I drew the featured areas with pencil, then painted them in. The top was left blank so I could hand-letter a title. Using acrylic paint I painted the Charles River blue, then did the land areas in green.
But as I continued painting, I realized that the opaque paint was obscuring the map, which I wanted to show. Using a baby wipe I took some of the still-wet paint off (thank you, gesso layer) and then mixed the remaining paint with matte Golden Artist Colors Open Acrylic Medium, so it was more like a glaze. It was too late to save the blue paint, so I shaded the river on the edges and dry-brushed white paint in the center to add a little interest. I also added some blue paint along the top edge of the page to frame it.
By the way, if you have paint left over on your palette (I always seem to), grab a couple of journals or sheets of art paper or found papers, and brayer away. Instant backgrounds for future artwork!
I first saw Suzanne’s incredible travel journals when she visited our offices, and I pored over them for hours, fascinated not only with her incredible artwork, but also her use of photos, ephemera, cut-outs, and accordion pull-outs. I especially loved how she highlighted details of a trip with drawings and hand lettering, and I wanted to incorporate those techniques. For each of my drawing spots I included a small sketch of something related to it: a coffee cup, a scenic view, a favorite food. I also included small photos. All of these work together to help tell the story, with the map as the perfect vehicle.
A mixed-media map is one of the most versatile tools for storytelling. A map doesn’t have to be a literal and exact rendering of a place; in Suzanne’s lesson you’ll see how she uses maps and timelines to tell a variety of stories. And you don’t need to travel to incorporate maps in your art journals—you can map your neighborhood, your morning routine, the process of creating a collage, or your favorite haunts, like I did.
To finish the mixed-media map, I lettered a title, attached the drawings and photos, adhered “you are here” markers to denote my landmarks (I used stamps from Studio Calico), and wrote in the locations.
One standout technique in the lesson is creating flaps to extend a page—a great idea, especially if you have extra journaling or images you want to incorporate, or you’re working with an odd-shaped map. I used this idea to create a small sketchbook (3″ x 5″), with a cover made from decorative cardstock. I copied favorite sketches and glued them onto the inside pages, then bound the little notebook with a pamphlet stitch. Next, I created a 1½” flap the same height as the book, folded it in half the long way, and glued one side to the back of the sketchbook.
The other side of the flap was glued to the underside of the art journal page.
This piece adds so much to my art journal spread, and I never would have thought to do it had I not read Suzanne’s lesson.
I know you’ll be inspired to create your own mixed-media map and tell your own unique stories when you download this amazing Art Lesson. Happy mapping!