24 Hours in Paris (tale of a map by Libby VanderPloeg)

Paris_map_libbyvanderploeg-500x500Recently I wrote a 24 Hours in Paris guide for Design*Sponge that highlights many of my favorite design shops in the 3rd and 10th arrondissements (it’s a more focused guide than the overall D*S Paris Design Guide I wrote a few years ago). And while I teach Map Making on Skillshare, I can’t claim credit for the fabulous map the accompanied my guide. All that credit goes to Brooklyn based illustrator Libby VanderPloeg. I love learning how designers and illustrators work, as well as their process. Libby was kind enough to answer a few questions to see how the map commissioned by D*S came to be.

27ef868543abf9c4e16439c1aeb8f0bdBut first, how cute is this gif from the about page of her website!?!

mapcollection_libbyvanderploegMaps Libby has collected on her travels over the years

How is travel connected to your work?
My interest in maps is directly tied into to my passion for travel. Some of my most memorable journeys have taken me to Nicaragua, Scandinavia, Paris, Greece, England, The northwest United States (Washington, Oregon), and West Texas. What I love about traveling is getting the opportunity to observe things you’ve never seen before, eat new foods, snap a million pictures unselfconsciously, and sketch little observations at quiet cafés with abandon. There’s nothing more bittersweet than that plane ride home, flipping through pages of sketches and snapshots as you lift up and away.

libbyvanderploeg_copenhagenLibby eating a pastry in Copenhagen

What is the first thing you do when you get an illustration commission to create a map?
The first thing I do is a little dance, because I love making maps, and then let out a teeny defeated sigh that I probably won’t actually be getting on a plane tomorrow to go study my destination. Immediately after that, I start researching my map’s landmarks online, so that I can get a sense of the particularities of a place (sprawl vs. density, bodies of water, taco shops, dog runs, beloved emu sanctuaries). If I see any gaping wholes in the composition, I might do a little more research to find out what’s happening in the quieter parts of town. Once I know where the white space is on the map, I can start sketching up some lettering for the header.

london_fleamarket_libbyvanderploegSnapshot of a collection of pretty things from a flea market in London

Do you uses actual maps (ie. Google Map) to create your illustrations?
I almost always use Google Maps to plot my map’s points, and then once I’ve built and saved that custom map, I can always refer back to it as I’m drawing.  I love using that tool because all the research is there at your fingertips (linked urls, images of the buildings), and you can zoom in and get a street view as well if your needing to know what the architecture of a place is like. And now, the next time I visit any of the places I’ve drawn, I have this indispensable interactive list of places to check out. I’ll never miss another amazing housewares boutique.

How much do you do on the computer vs. by hand? Do you sketch first?
With the maps, I’d say that it depends.  If the turn-around time for a project is super quick, then I might only work digitally.  But in the best-case scenario, I always start with a pencil sketch, plan things out as much as possible, and then move to the computer, where I’ll work up the final art, which is often a mix of hand painted/drawn elements collaged with pure pixel paint. I almost always do the location headers (i.e. Asheville, Pais) by hand with brush and ink. I just love the crispy edges you can get with an actual brush, and I think it adds a lot to the finished work.

mapsketches_libbyvanderploegSome map and lettering sketches

Can you explain your approach/process? How do you decide what text or illustrations to include?
When an assignment comes in, I read the document, highlight the places to feature on the map, and then think of the best way to communicate what that place serves/offers with the least amount of line work.  It’s not that I’m lazy :) I just want the finished piece to look uncluttered.  So if I’m, say, putting a coffee shop on the map, I’ll probably just use an espresso cup to keep things simple, rather than draw a detailed rendition of that particular shop’s facade.  And I almost always label major highways and rivers because they’re so helpful as navigation tools for the viewer. And then to keep it from falling into the realm of non-specifity, I like to throw some funny stuff in there too.  When I did Ginny Branch’s 24 Hours in Atlanta, I showed her zooming through the map in her old white Chevy minivan.

How do you know when a map is done?
A map is never done.  A map is only due :)

I could happily spend 3 times as long making my maps as the time I’m given to make a map. The Paris map for instance…It was basically finished, but then I saw this lovely little French woman in my head, running around the city, so I couldn’t help but add that in.

grenada_chickenbus_libbyvanderploegSnapshot of a public (chicken) bus in Granada Nicaragua

How long do you think this map took you to make?
The Paris map took me about 10 hours to make, err…dix heures.

libbyvanderploeg_swedenwindwillLibby waving from a windmill in Sweden

Don’t miss the full 24 Hours in Paris guide on Design*Sponge! You can find all the 24 hours in, and full city guides too! All my favorite Paris resources can be found here. And of course, check out more of Libby’s amazing work!

Speaking of maps, I’m running a special promotion in my Map Making class where I’ll be giving daily feedback from Aug 15 – Sept 15th. If you sign up for this class, you’ll have lifetime access to the videos and resources for $20 (but wait, code BCK2SCH will get you $5 when you use the link in this post!), or the class is included in the $9.95/month membership model for as many classes as you’d like to take.

Follow me @pretavoyager on Instagram + Twitter + Vine!
I teach MAPS, InDesign, and Designing Professional Documents on Skillshare, and give Paris tours through Vayable!


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