A year before the odyssey of North America: Portrait of a Continent began, I drew another large map. Spanning from Pakistan to New Zealand, South Asia & Australasia took six months to complete and was foundational for my style.
Before the maps - life on the road
Young people feel great pressure to go straight to university after high school. For many it’s a good move, or even essential. But in some cases, giving your existing passions space to grow might be better.
I wasn't passionate about the restaurant industry, but I loved to travel. Back then, my primary passion was music. I had dreams of playing guitar across America - instead I'd found myself cooking brunch in Canada.
Isolation in Perth
I didn't know the answers. In the world's most isolated city, I felt isolated from my home, New Zealand. From my family in Melbourne. I felt isolated from my North American adventures, and from an exciting future. I fell into depression. I was battling serious health problems, working a high-stress job, and drinking too much.
A huge map, underway
And it was just so damn fun! For six months, I worked on it in my free time. I’d get home after a heated day in the kitchen, have a shower, crack a beer, and dive in. I drew it in my bedroom, and saw it the moment I woke. Before leaving to work each morning, I'd glance back at the map, longing to be drawing instead.
Finally, I reached New Zealand. A country whose coastlines and relief I could draw with my eyes closed. It’s very small on this map, so I couldn't fit much detail. But it was sublime to be illustrating my home country.
Map completed, time for a change
Re-imagining a map with Photoshop
Over the years labouring through North America, South Asia was all I sold. I retired prints last year to focus on the N.A. release, plus it didn't meet my standards anymore. Its myriad flaws - from the scribbly ocean to a rushed Asia – bug me whenever I see it. I still print it upon request, and people do like the original. Being the artist, I guess I'm the most critical. Still, before I run lithographs I want to upgrade it.
Finishing South Asia & Australasia... again!
The map took on a new character, but it isn't unfaithful to the original. All the organic noisiness of traditional art is a great asset when drawing digitally, and I try to use what's already there. While much I'm drawing is brand new, I take pleasure in moulding mountains and shifting labels. With the orangutan above, for example, it retains the same pose while also being transformed.
So we get to the present day. I’ve already redrawn the Indian subcontinent, SE Asia, the Philippines, and most of Indonesia. Still ahead are China, Taiwan, New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, the cartouche... and the ocean. The dust filter helped, but the ocean needs a lot more work. I may apply a bathymetry model to the map and get crazy. And without a doubt, there’ll be sea creatures!
After five years on North America, I hoped I wouldn’t start anything extensive. Instead, I have two on the go. I'm drawing a massive project in Wild World, and have a half-completed South Asia to consider as well. A break might have been nice, but when it comes to creating, the art often takes control and leads the way. You can try to bend it to your will, but it may not let you.
One day I may learn to draw smaller maps, but all I can do is follow my curiosity. And so it is with adventure.
Thanks so much everybody, I hope you enjoyed this blog. You can see many more close-ups of South Asia & Australasia, and subscribe to be notified if prints are ever re-released, right here.
First, just a quick chart. These were designed to be intuitive and generally self-explanatory, but it's still good to have them outlined!
Cities were selected based on population. The idea was to include all metropolitan regions with more than 100,000 people, with a much lower threshold in remote areas (particularly Canada/the Arctic). The population bracket of any city would then be displayed through its label size. Once over a million, labels are capitalised.
As short as space was, I wish I could've done a few differently. Examples include Oakland (San Francisco), St Petersburg (Tampa), and San Bernardino (Los Angeles). Cartography is full of constant omission and simplification. Our world is vast. Still, city selection is something I’ll refine in the future, as the single skyline sometimes isn’t enough.
What is North America?
There are many definitions of North America, and a continent is a rather abstract notion. Earth’s landmasses are perfectly irregular, and they're all islands at the end of the day.
Definitions can vary throughout the world, but the 7-continent model is generally accepted. Asia, Africa, N America, S America, Antarctica, Europe, Australia. I hope throughout my life to draw all seven at this scale, each one being a new portrait of a continent. (Antarctica would be my preference right now...)
With literally tens of thousands of tiny illustrated features, there's a lot more. This blog was just to outline the very basics, but in the next guide I will share some motifs and symbols that are commonly used. These include music, sports, seasons, state and national symbols, history, agriculture, mining and much more.