The Magic of a Mixed-Media Map

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.

Telling stories by way of a mixed-media map opens up new and exciting creative channels.
Telling stories by way of a mixed-media map opens up new and exciting creative channels.

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.

If you’re covering a map with gesso it doesn’t matter what map you use—the images and words will be obscured.

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.

Use acrylic paint, gouache, or watercolor to paint in details.

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.

Since this is a mixed-media map you can incorporate a variety of techniques, such as stenciling and stamping, to create texture and interest.

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!

Don’t feel guilty about wasting paint—use it to create the first layer of a great background in your art journals.

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.

Details add so much to a mixed-media map. Even the simplest drawings add a unique style that is yours alone.

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.

I’ll probably continue to work on this mixed-media map, adding more details and elements.

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.

Including flaps on an art journal spread makes the artwork interactive.

The other side of the flap was glued to the underside of the art journal page.

Use flaps to add journaling, drawn images, and photos.

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.

This mini sketchbook adds a special element to my mixed-media map, and looking through it reminds me of my sketching adventures.

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!

See more of Suzanne’s sketchbooks and read about how and what she documents in this guest post!

Discover the ways a mixed-media map can be a creative vehicle for storytelling in Art Lessons Volume 18: Using Maps in Sketchbooks & Art Journals by Suzanne McNeill.
Turn your sketchbook or art journal into a keepsake and add accordion pages, windows, and tunnels with the techniques featured in Art Lessons Volume 17: Sketchbook Stories by Suzanne McNeill.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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