When Experiments Go Right (Map Portraits)

My 5-year old, being the nerdy kid that she is, spends a lot of time reading atlases. Seriously. My 3-year old, being the 3-year old that he is, likes to come poke his face into whatever his sister is doing. One day my daughter and I are discussing the rivers in Montana and the Continental Divide, or something thrilling like that, and my son comes over to literally rest his face right on the map. Adorable, yes, but I start thinking . . . faces on maps . . . could this be a project?


Enter Ed Fairburn. Searching online, I found this map-portrait artist extraordinaire. I’m a little upset because my idea is not as original as I had hoped, but pragmatically, this is fantastic. I don’t even have to make an example, because a dozen finished works are ready to present to my kids.

After looking at Fairburn’s works and discussing examples, we started some plans. The way I see it, you have two choices–work with the map, or fight the map. Here’s what I mean:

If you work with the map, you are trying to incorporate some of its features (roads, rivers, bodies of water, etc.) as part of the design of your project. This accentuate the features of the map, which I think lends itself to a more visually interesting piece. This is a good example:

2013-09-26 13.41.55

If you fight the map, you’re just working right over the top of the map–a straight portrait on a fairly interesting background. Not as intricate or detailed, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t work.

2013-09-26 13.42.09

I don’t think either way is right or wrong; I kind of prefer editing the drawing to fit within the borders, as it it accentuates the map and makes the drawing a little more interesting.

As far as materials go, I let them run wild; not having done this before, I wanted to see what might work the best. There were projects in ink, watercolor, acrylic, graphite, ballpoint pen, and marker. And one profile view that made good use of an exacto knife. The variety was beneficial, and I think when I do this in the future, I will leave it open. Forced to choose, I’d probably go with watercolor or ink; they are each versatile and the ability to be transparent or opaque is pretty valuable with this project. In any case, these were even more successful than I had originally hoped.


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