Working with Solent Showcase Gallery, we’ve supported Southampton-based illustrator and mural artist Nathan Evans in illustrating a map of Southampton on the floor. We caught up with Nathan to hear a bit more about his process and how he found painting a map…
As an artist specialising in typography, my work usually focuses on lettering. The opportunity to explore something new is what originally sparked my interest about the ‘Make Your Mark’ project. I work in lettering because you can create an immediate and clear connection with the viewer, and I feel this way about maps too. They seem to be able to seamlessly connect to an audience and evoke a pure emotional response to the sense of place that we all feel.
It was really exciting for me to have OS on board as a partner and, as Southampton is the home of their HQ, it worked perfectly to have their support on mapping the city.
The sense of community involvement that is integral to Solent Showcase Gallery’s ethos was the predominant reason I was looking forward to collaborating with them. I regularly create work in the public realm and I’m a big advocate of producing art that is fully accessible and can be seen and enjoyed by everyone.
Following discussions between all contributors, we agreed the best method would be to project the OS map onto the floor and to then trace the outlines to create a draft map which could thereafter be painted.
After deciding which area of Southampton to cover, OS provided their impressive technical support. Cartographic Design Consultant Paul Naylor sourced the corresponding OS map for that area and provided it in 12 sections so the map could be easily projected from the gallery ceiling.
Once a section of the map was perfectly aligned and projected, I began to trace each individual road, waterway and grass area. It was during this part of the process that I developed my own tool; a little block of wood with a paint marker on each side wrapped with tape. This tool allowed me to mark out all the roads in one stroke instead of having to draw both sides of each road separately.
While it was a time-consuming task, after a couple of long days maneuvering the projector and tracing lines, the rough draft of the map had been completed. I then began painting all the green grass areas of the map, giving them a slight illustrative edge to add an element of fun and style. Maps often have to appear clean and clinical to emphasise their accuracy, however as this was a creative project, I had the luxury of creating a more fun and inviting take on what a map can be.
Once the green areas were complete, I moved onto painting the deep blue water areas which really added a sense of scale to the map. The blue was predominantly used for the River Itchen, which gracefully flowed right through the space and out of the galleries entrance. It was at this stage we had some visitors in the gallery and, as I continued to paint, I heard them discussing their personal experiences of Southampton. This made me really start to see the full potential of the storytelling aspect of the ‘Make Your Mark’ project and how powerful it would be once finished.
The more technical aspect of painting each individual road needed to be extremely precise. For this reason, I decided that each road would be painted using a 2.5” sponge roller. The roller allowed me to keep the width of all the roads accurate according to the original map while still reflecting my style.
Painting the roads was an amazing experience and with each one I painted, I could slowly see the city of Southampton forming below my feet. With the addition of the roads running through the piece, this bold and colourful abstract painting had now become a map!
The final step was to add all the finer details to the map. Predominantly this meant adding the hand-painted lettering which identified the various areas of the city of Southampton. I also included some of the key road names and parks to help visitors find their bearings.
On the opening night it was amazing to see so many different people from so many different walks of life enjoying the map. The feeling of involvement and community resonated throughout the gallery and it was wonderful. Some people would dart around the space adding story after story, while others were slightly more reserved contributors who would stand and gaze for a while before committing to sharing their story. The positivity for the project was overwhelming on opening night and this has only continued.
As the map slowly develops into a huge collaborative typography piece, there will literally be hundreds of different authors. I can’t wait to see the map on the final day of the exhibition and discover the stories that the local community has shared.
The ‘Make Your Mark’ exhibition is open until 30th March 2019 at the Solent Showcase Gallery in Southampton. We’d encourage you to head over to add your own personal story to the map and become a part of this huge collaborative work of art.
Additionally, you can see more photos of the map and of Nathan’s other work at http://www.n-evans.com