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March 2018

Drawing Maps by Hand, Winter Version: Never Mind the Avalanche


Diablo Lake appeared cold and colorless compared to the vivid aqua water and verdant trees we are accustomed to seeing during my usual June workshops.

Late winter snow and cold did not deter 11 participants from heading up the North Cascades Highway at the end of February to take my workshop The Art of Drawing Maps by Hand held at North Cascade Institute's Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake. Dramatic, cliff-hanging icicles greeted us all as we approached the dam and drove across.

The weather report, including the warning we received from our excellent class assistant Hanna Davis that the avalanche danger was high, served to limit our activities outside the classroom. The result was that even more time was spent on maps than usual during this 3-day course, and that says a lot. Maps are very time-consuming to draw by hand. Having extra working time in combination with having inspired students meant that outstanding work was done. Here are some of the working sketches and finished maps done by this group of earnest and good-humored participants (click on the photos to see full-sized versions):

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 Above, Kathi Hamilton commemorated family history visits to Ireland in her map. After drafting the country boundaries, she carefully colored it all with colored pencil.


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Cara Anderson created a stylized map of her neighborhood featuring the dog walking route she takes and all of her favorite destinations. On the left you can see a critical step of the map drawing process: transferring a draft to the final watercolor paper with the aid of a light table. The answer to why no one has ever asked for a second piece of paper to re-do a map is that the process is all about eliminating risk by working out most elements of the design before the "good" paper ever receives a drop of ink!


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The two photos above show map designers at work. On the left, the time-saving, erasing-saving tracing process is engaged in by Gayle Waddle Wilkes. On the right, North Cascades Institute (NCI) employee Darcie Lloyd uses a template to create small frames for detailed illustrations or information.


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The maps made by this class varied widely. Mary Johnson's map, above on the left, was inspired by her home property. She wrote, "I decided to overlay the basic outline of my yard with some of the plants and animals that make my yard special in an urban environment. The title 'Interconnections' suggests the biodiversity on the property and the reliance these plants and animals have on each other in an ordinary, residential space." Like most of the people in class, Mary incorporated classic map elements in creative, colorful ways. Sue McNab's map of Antarctica (or Terra Australis) on the right commemorates a three week excursion she took there in 2017.


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Here is Anders Rodin, a longtime lover of maps, delving into copying the florid calligraphic letterforms of 16th c. European maps. In the foreground you can see his compass rose designs being worked out on the omnipresent tracing paper. After the class ended, Anders wrote a fine review of his experiences at the ELC and in the workshop. Click HERE to read his review and see the accompanying photos. Quotes about mapmaking help keep us going.


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Kirty Morse created a tribute map to the Puget Sound region she calls home. Gratefulness for the abundance of regional foods she and her family have enjoyed for many years inspired her to create a mandala-like map of places and species. She, like several others in the class, completed her map at home and sent me this photo. For those of you who did this, thank you!


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A puzzle-like pictorial map by Sandy Polzin shows both the route to her cabin and a collection of favorite features of the cabin's deeply natural environment. Sandy is a self-professed "doodler" so she enjoyed filling in her map with thoughtful design and spontaneously done drawings.

Sunday, February 25 was the last day of the workshop so every map maker was working intensively in the classroom that day once we had had breakfast and moved out of our dorm rooms. The workshop was to conclude, as always, at 3 PM. At around 11 AM we learned that indeed there had been an avalanche that closed SR20, aka the North Cascades Highway, that offered our only route back west toward our various home cities. Having been forewarned, but thinking it unlikely to happen, some of us admittedly hoped that this would happen. Why? Because the ELC and its surrounding natural beauty, is a beautiful place. And, what better excuse to extend this retreat than to have zero possibility of escape other than helicopter evacuation?

Suffice it to say that the NCI staff, especially Hanna, the kitchen staff, and the resident grad students made our extended stay a pleasure. Gina, one of the grad students, led two yoga classes for any of us who were interested. We were made to feel safe and sound and very well fed! Further, all the class participants worked on happily (as far as I could tell), enjoying the gift of more time with their maps in our comfortable, well-equipped classroom. Then, on Monday at 2 PM we were notified that a channel had been cut through the avalanche and we could pass - ASAP - to make our escapes, our stories about being trapped by an avalanche ready to share with any who would listen. And who wouldn't? 








A January Workshop...for Myself!

Many years had gone by since I had taken a weekend workshop offered by a regional calligraphy guild. But when I saw the work a friend had done in a class taught by Rebecca Wild of Port Townsend, I eagerly signed up for the next one Rebecca was teaching in our area. It was held in Olympia, WA, in late January and sponsored by Nib 'N Inks calligraphy guild.

Rebecca ingeniously devised a series of projects for us based on the artistic imagery and painterly textures of 19th/20th c. painter Paul Klee. As you can see below, we worked in a 5" square format while employing calligraphic marks, layers of powdered pastel and/or liquid acrylic color, debossed texture, and small hand-lettered writing. Layers were sealed with acrylic matte medium before more texture elements were applied. 

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Bold and finer sumi-e ink strokes taken from our own signature form the anchor elements here. Powdered pastel and stenciled shapes were added next.
After masking off one band of space on the paper, broad strokes of transparent acrylic color went on next. We then debossed fine designs which were then enhanced by smudging pastel into the paper and through hand cut stencils.
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Working boldly with a new material, we applied heavy black oil stick after painting diluted acrylic strokes onto the paper. After tinting cold wax with powdered pastel, we thinly applied it to the paper. The last step was to use a tool to inscribe through the tinted wax for a subtle text.

For further biographical information about Paul Klée through a comprehensive, interactive web page, please visit

It was pure pleasure to spend two days experimenting with new art mediums and design approaches. Rebecca hands out step-by-step instructions for all the techniques she uses; there are so many, with carefully thought-out sequencing, that we were advised to keep the directions on hand when using her techniques at home! She gets my highest recommendation as an instructor.