Magnificent maps and cartographic curiosities

By Maptia, Co-founder Team Share

From stone-age cave drawings and ancient wafer thin papyrus transcripts, to the painstakingly detailed and hand-drawn maps of the Age of Exploration and right up until the present day, mankind has used maps to make sense of the world, and to 'codify the miracle of existence' as Nicolas Crane once eloquently wrote.

In this smartphone-saturated world we live in, we often think of maps as being synonymous with the road-and-place-name geography that we use for directions. It's easy to forget that even these hyper realistic maps are still abstractions of reality, illusions perpetrating to be objective representations of the world in which we are the central flashing blue dot.

Yet there is a whole world of maps (excuse the pun) which fall outside this narrow definition of what a map should be. At their best, maps allow us to grasp more tangibly at places, sights, sounds and even smells that would otherwise exist only tenuously within our minds and imaginations, and that maps have the power to evoke a sense curiosity, challenge you to question the boundaries and horizons of your small slice of this world, and awake in you an insatiable desire to explore the Earth.

Our favourite maps, like stories, are shamelessly subjective and these maps can be a boundless source of inspiration, delight and creativity. As Antonis Antoniou argued:

Cartography can be an incredible form of escapism, as maps act as proxies for experiences, real or fabricated.

Today, fellow map-enthusiasts, we have prepared a visual feast for you. We hope you will enjoy taking a moment to sit down, brew a cup of tea, coffee or perhaps something a little stronger, and marvel at the cartographic masterpieces below.


1/8 KickStarter Campaign: 'Put the Awesome Back into Maps

Bearded Germans have long led the way in the cartographic arts and Simon Schuetz from is no exception. We featured Simon's beautiful 'surftripmap' in a previous post, and now he's back, with a delightful KickStarter campaign to create an illustrated bucket list map of the world - check out the video above!

Simon is on a mission to put the awesome back into maps and you can really feel the passion and curiosity that has fuelled the hundreds of hours of research and illustration which have been put into the creation of each map. Through this campaign, Simon is reaching out to the KickStarter community to actually help him create this 'bucket list map of the world' by determining the places they think should be included. We've signed up to be one first in line to receive one of his early-bird maps and suspect it will fit rather nicely with the growing collection of maps on the walls of Maptia HQ!

The KickStarter project is already at 210% of its funding goal and Simon is now aiming for his 'stretch goal' so that he can also create his awesome scratch map of the world - check out the project here!

2/8 Armelle Caron's Maps

These maps by Armelle Caron show the grids of famous cities, meticulously deconstructed into jigsaw like pieces. The series is called 'Everything Tidy' and she has transposed the familiar outlines of major cities including New York (top) and Paris (bottom) into playful rows of geographical pieces - the results are quite mesmerising.


3/8 Claire Brewster's Everyday Maps


Claire Brewster dedicates her time to capturing the beauty and freedom of nature in everyday materials. She uses old, out-of-date maps and atlases as the fabric with which to create her intricate, delicate and detailed cut outs. These hand-cut  cartographic birds and plants are beautiful examples of her sculptures.


4/8 Ed Fairburn's Portraits

There is an inherent kind of magic in Ed Fairburn's topographical portraits that mysteriously fuse maps with human faces. When streets can become smiles and highways are morphed into raised eyebrows, the maps com to life in a truly unique way.


5/8 James Gulliver Hancock's Venice


James Gulliver Hancock says that he, 'panics that he may not be able to draw everything in the world… at least once'. We first heard about his work through his audacious attempt to draw all the buildings in New York - literally every single one! We were quite taken by this unique portrayal of Venice or 'Venezia' and marvel at the painstaking amount of detail and thought which goes into each map.

6/8 Becky Cooper's Hand-drawn Manhattan


In our recent interview Rolf Potts argued that,

There’s something about paper maps that involve active effort and imagination, a process of filling in the blanks with your own imperfect perceptions.

These hand-drawn maps collected by Becky Cooper in her ongoing collaborative art project Map Your Memories are exactly that - imperfect perceptions of Manhattan as mapped by the minds of various New Yorkers. Becky begun this project by hand-printing several hundred schematic maps using the letterpress in her college basement and then handing these blank cavases out to strangers around the city and asking them to 'draw their Manhattan'.

Becky writes on her site that, 'Maps are more about their makers than the places they describe. Map who you are. Map where you are. Fill the map with a story or paint your favorite cup of coffee'. The maps we have included above (from left to right) were drawn by famous New Yorkers: Matt Green, Vahram Muratyan, Malcolm Gladwell and Katherine Harmon. It is fascinating to catch a glimpse of the way someone else experiences a city and we think the results of Becky's project are utterly delightful.


7/8 Kate Mclean's 'Smellscape' of Newport

This is perhaps nothing more instantly evocative of a place or person than a certain smell. Here in Tagazout we strongly associate the smell of tagine and freshly baked bread wafting down the street and of course the pungent scent of the fresh fish market a few minutes walk away from our HQ! We were enthralled by Kate McClean's imaginative and thoroughly researched SmellScapes. Kate said that,

Smells have stories and connect with us at an emotional level, bringing back memories of locations, events, and people.

Kate will be starting a PhD focused on 'Smell Maps as Sensory Portraits of Urban Environments' at the RCA later this year and we very much look forward to seeing the results.


8/8 Sohei Nishino's Berlin and Shanghai

These hand-made Diarama maps are the creation of Japanese photographer Sohei Nishino, each map has been painstakingly photographed and stitched together by hand. This process, which aims to capture his own personal memory of travelling around each city, can take months to complete.

Thousands of black and white film shots are chosen, developed and glued together on a white canvas in the specific locations they belong. The end results are at the polar opposites of Google map's quasi-accurate satellite representation, and instead they illustrate what the city means to him, based on his own personal experiences, and through his own subjective lens - a fascinating combination of art and cartography.


That's it for now folks! We'll wrap up this post with a quote from Robert Macfarlane, who does a pretty good job of capturing the emotive nature of maps and how they are often much more than the latitudes and longitudes of the places they represent:


The history of cartography is littered with such pseudo-continents, chimerical islands, dream-rivers and other Wilkean visions, flickering between the literal and the mythical. cartographers have often tended also to be dreamers, seduced into their science by the beauty of maps and the flights of imagination that they prompt.

Thanks for reading - show your appreciation with a tweet here! Feel free to @mention any map-obsessed friends who you think might enjoy perusing this collection too.


If you are in the mood for more inspiration, then we think think you'll enjoy these posts next:

Abandoned places - catch an eerie glimpse back into the past, and its collapsing architecture  in this photo essay.

Al Humphries in Iceland - the creator of the world's first 'mappazine', read about Al's expedition across Iceland.


Date added
Location Taghazout, Morocco