Maps

Drawing the Intricate Details of City Life By Hand

Illustrator Jenni Sparks discusses her lively, unique renderings of New York and London.

In a world of digital renderings and computer graphics, illustrator Jenni Sparks prefers to draw cities by hand. This past spring, just in time for the Olympics, Sparks completed a wonderfully intricate hand-drawn map of London. Earlier this month she duplicated that feat for New York, capturing most of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

Sparks takes a pop art approach to her cities — they have a lively, almost cartoonish tone — but she doesn't sacrifice precision in the process. The 24-year-old Londoner spent three months researching and drawing her New York map. Both works are available for purchase through Evermade, which commissioned them and helped to develop the concept.

"We wanted to use a simple color palate and keep the whole thing fresh and modern and, most importantly, fun," Sparks tells Atlantic Cities. Mission accomplished.

Your blog profile says you have an "un-dying love for hand-drawn type." What's the source of your passion?

I was really impressed with traditional painting when I was a child, but then as I developed my taste as a teenager, I became obsessed with drawing lettering. I'd actually never drawn a map before the Hand Drawn Map of London this year. I really enjoyed the challenge, and I think that being an illustrator as opposed to a cartographer meant that I could offer a different take on the art.

The New York map is so incredibly detailed — and incredibly accurate. What was the preparation process like?

The majority of the time spent creating the map was on the research. I ended up covering my walls with bits of paper and sketches of different areas and what went where. Then after all the research was completed I spent 10 to 12 hours a day continuously drawing for the last month.

It's one thing to draw the buildings, but you drew cultural spots too. There's a call out to Bob Dylan in the Village, for instance.

I think the most important thing about the map is the inclusion of these cultural facts. The city is so well known for all the famous people and events that happened there. I watched a 70-hour long documentary about the history of the city, read several books, emailed residents, and also researched online for as much information as I could find.

What are your thoughts on New York as a city?

My heart will always be in London, but I actually found the process of drawing New York quite emotional at times. As you look at the city as a whole and get to know it's history, it's just an incredibly interesting place. Looking at a city can teach you a lot about people in general.

What type of focus does it take to complete projects of this magnitude — especially knowing that people in these cities will be scrutinizing every detail?

It was a very intense time, and I was actually unsure whether I would be able to commit to the New York map, as the London one was so hard. The worst part was definitely the drawing at the end. I got very attached to it and my mood was completely affected by whether I had got enough work done. Over the duration of the New York map I had arguments with every close friend of mine. We're all okay now, though!

Any particular city you'd like to draw next?

I personally would like to draw Paris next, as it would throw up a completely new challenge of drawing a city that speaks another language. Plus I absolutely adore the city and went there quite a lot while I was studying to be an illustrator.

All images courtesy of Jenni Sparks.

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