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July 2015

The Artful Map: A Design Journey in the North Cascades

Colonial Peak and Pyramid Peak at sunset. To see larger views of all photos in this review, please double click on the image.

How does one go about designing an "artful map?" The process is complex and time-consuming but there's no better place to do it than at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center (ELC) For this shorter version of the workshop (the original was a 3-day format), participants need to get a fairly quick start, which this year's group definitely did. Some came with reference materials for a map they had already conceived of, and others drew from the inspiration of the ELC's dramatic location for their maps. Below I have posted some of the in-process and later photos of the beautiful work the 11 students did from June 26-28. To view more of the participants' work, and some of the participants themselves, please click on the link below which takes you to a Flicker page hosted by the Institute: 

Note: most of the maps will be completed at home, with updated photos to be added here:

The Pacific Crest Trail was the subject of Billie Butterfield's map. She and a friend have hiked multiple sections of the trail. She designed many simple icons to mark events and landmarks along the way. Sections of the trail will be color-coded and shown on the legend.


Not all maps are conventional way-finding documents. Patricia Ressiguie, who is a three-time student of this class and has each time designed conceptual maps featuring images with map elements, combines topographical lines, a short text, and a sleeping baby in this mysterious map. About this one she stated, "Right now I don't know what this one means."






























Above on the left you can see Bob Theriault referring to an existing map to help him place the significant geographic points on his hand drawn map of the same general area. He used the tea-dyed paper I provided as an alternative to the white option. His map depicts all the locations of different warblers he has spotted over the years. At home he'll add the title and a key, both elements that define and enhance an art map. 

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A typical classroom desk looks like Patti Green's, above, during the initial design process. Many reference materials help with creating icons or illustrations of plant or animal species found in the ELC locale. Her pen and ink map with some color added is on the right. The green/blue color of the water is not artificial; the color of Diablo Lake resembles this hue. Patti was inspired by the picturesque Peninsula Trail which is lined with wildflowers, native plants and trees. From the trail is a breathtaking view of Colonial Peak, the lake, and dense forest.











Carlie Holland, after many hours of pencil drawing and plotting out of all her map features, arrives at the point where she can ink in her pencil rendering. Her map is a pictorial representation of the daily walk she takes in her home town in British Columbia. Colored pencil application followed inking with a Micron Pigma .005 pen. 

Students are encouraged to transfer their map elements by using light tables to see underlying drawings on tracing paper, and tracing their images onto their final paper. Why? In the end, this practice reduces risk, saves the pristine surface of the hot press watercolor paper from multiple erasures, and allows the designer to adjust the layout of their composed maps with a minimum of experimentation on the final map. In five years of teaching this class, I haven't seen one piece of final map paper being scrapped! Students only receive one piece of white paper, and one alternative. That probably has something to do with the success rate. There are no art supply stores in the North Cascades.















Above on the left is Mary Ann Weeks using the light table to transfer her map of Camano Island, her home. Creating maps of home can be fulfilling because all that is meaningful about a place can be represented with motifs, paths, dwellings, and even journal notes. Everything on these hand drawn maps has significance to the designer. 














Laura Ridder's map on the left and Leeta Anderson's on the right both depict popular trails on and around the Learning Center campus. Laura used colored pencils and Leeta used watercolors. Both employed the age-old color principle in cartography where land masses are usually represented by warm earthen colors and bodies of water by blues and greens. Both chose prominent, contrasting colors for the trails themselves, thus giving them importance. Both maps will be completed with more color added.

Leeta's completed map. The ridge of mountains at the bottom of her piece represents the view one sees when on the Peninsula Trail loop depicted directly above.
In both the maps above, the designers chose to organize information in boxes (illustrations will be drawn in them). Ellen Tennis' "Camp Hamilton" will be completed as a camp memento gift.
Illustrations of the blossoms of featured trees will be placed in the boxes that create left and right borders of this site map. Tracing paper is a handy material for visualizing layout changes. Sally Theriault also used tracing paper to experiment with color rather than put color directly on her final paper.













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Erin Hickey designed her map so that significant animals are featured in various western states. Her color scheme, including the tea-dyed paper, was inspired by vintage maps and other ephemera of the west. The use of colored pencil gave her more careful control in applying color. 

Thank you, Lauren (our graduate assistant who took the photos for the Flicker site) and Katie Roloson (our program coordinator) for the many ways you made our workshop experience and the residential experience so outstanding. From the ice water in the classroom to the comfy excursion to the Happy Creek Trail for Saturday lunch, Lauren catered to our needs. To learn more about the North Cascades Institute and their impressive mission and curricula, please visit their website: