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How We Make National Park Art

When I shared the story Why I Create Artsy Maps, I talked about the events leading to the creation of our National Park art, but we want to share a deeper dive into how we actually make the work. Keep in mind this process is going to change a bit when we hit the road, which we explain below.

1. The inspiration: historical maps.

Have you ever been drawn to an old map and lost yourself in studying the names of places and ornamental illustrations bringing the map to life? This feeling is what motivates us. There is not one specific era that influences the work; we’ve drawn inspiration from 16th century nautical maps up to 19th century designs of Alexander von Humboldt’s era. Although trained in a time when more modern aesthetics are prevalent in the art and design world, we could never let go of our admiration for the complexity and rich storytelling of old maps.

Our wanderlusting spirits enjoy the intricate details of the places we map and design, striving to capture a nostalgic sense with each stroke and illustration. In a day and age when everything is fast-paced, our intricate work allows us to slow down and focus on the beauty of a handmade aesthetic, on craftsmanship, and on refining layers of information about the places so many of us are drawn to. We believe the places we showcase should be elevated and admired for long periods of time, so we apply the visual feeling of historical maps to captivate and inspire our audience.

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2. We use a variety of tools from sketchbooks to cameras and computers. 

Work begins with sketchbooks and drawing pencils. The best books to take into the wild are soft-cover moleskins or leather bound journals, due to their flexibility and no spirals to get hooked on things.

All we need are the drawing tools, some water, food and comfortable bag. We use day packs for longer hikes and two brands we like are Jack Wolfskin and Patagonia. Let’s not forget the camera! We shoot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

3. The work begins with sketching outdoors.

Each parks requires quite a bit of research and outdoor exploration to get to know its story. There’s nothing better than immersing into the landscape, which is one of the big reasons why we are doing this quest. The ideas often form in a park and we bring our books along to sketch and jot down thoughts. Taking lots of pictures to capture patterns and color later influence textures and palettes of our designs. Given the historical aesthetic of our work, the history of place largely inspires the end result. Most of the sketching covers the illustrations included in the work, as well as the general layout and composition of the map. Public maps provide reference for accurate layouts.

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4. The next step is refining the composition and digitizing the work.

  • Once back in our work space, we refine the sketch and create a finalized composition.
  • The most challenging phase of creation is sketching, often requiring several re-sketches to get it all just right.
  • Then we scan the drawings and translate the designs in a digital format, using photographs of textures we made and our original notes to create the piece. This part is just as exciting as the outdoor stage, as we carry on the inspiration from our hikes.
  • We use geographic data and software to make sure the maps are accurate.
  • Once the artwork is finished, we receive a print and make further edits.

5. We’ll make art from the road, here’s how:

One consistent goal of our work has been mobility. During this quest, we’ll work from a variety of places:

  • A 6-person “work” tent – large enough to stand in and set up a small mobile table and chairs.
  • Local libraries between parks
  • Coffee shops

In a day and age when everything is fast-paced, our intricate work allows us to slow down and focus on the beauty of a handmade aesthetic

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6. After the piece is finished, we work with a partner to print.

Once the piece is finished, it goes through a review process to make sure the result is just right. Through our partnership with a USA-based printer, each piece is individually hand-printed, carefully packaged and shipped upon order.

Given our frequent mobility, this process has allowed us to focus on the creation and communication with our patrons. It’s fulfilling to support another American start-up company at the same time.

7. Each design is printed on archival paper and shipped in tubes of recycled material.

Each piece is printed on heavyweight archival matte paper that has a tangible artistic appearance and feels durable, yet soft. The high color inks are rich in tone, creating a screen print appearance. The result is painterly and vibrant. Each print is packaged nice and snug in sturdy kraft tubes made of recycled materials (these are great to use for storage as well, or maybe to reuse for an art project, like homemade telescopes?).

8. Hearing feedback is the best part of the process. 

Receiving feedback from our patrons is a highlight of the work. There are a lot of people like us who lead an outdoorsy lifestyle, so if our work can support and inspire that lifestyle, we feel it’s a great achievement.

For more on our work, check out the studio at Hike & Draw. We can’t wait to share more about our art creation from the road!

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