John Cowen

Artist & designer

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Drawing maps

26 March 2018

A few weeks ago I started a drawing. It began as an attempt to draw freehand a section of Ordnance Survey map. Partly I liked the idea of a drawing all about process and rules. And partly I liked the idea of just drawing a map because they’re always fascinating things to look at.

I had the intention of following the Ordnance Survey symbols guide fairly rigidly. As I worked though, I realised that while this symbols guide makes for a very usable map — it wasn’t telling the story I found I was wanting to tell.

A colour map some some better idea of context — but in black and white it becomes difficult to tell what is happening in the spaces between roads. Woods and forests are marked, but open fields, brownfield sites, homes or industrial units are not so easy to distinguish. I found myself most interested in the relationship between the natural and built environment. So I abandoned strictly following the symbols guide and started drawing in buildings.

Things stop being correct from a map perspective. The roads surround large areas of buildings, most of which are obviously now inaccessible. But it represents the sense of density in our cities and seems to tell a more true story of the topography we live amongst.

While the focus is very much on built environment — it also has an organic feel. The roads become arteries and the labyrinth of buildings nodes and cells of living organisms.

I’ve not done any serious drawing for a long time and this has been very different from anything I’ve done before. But I’m happy with how it evolved and the end product. Its sparked plenty of ideas for more maps to follow.

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