Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Isles: Monsters, Mariners and Old Maps of Exploration

Longship detail: British Isles sculpted wall plaque from Justbod

 There's just something about maps..... 
...From ancient maps showing our now familiar continents in strange shapes and forms, to maps from the glorious age of exploration, lavishly illustrated with strange sea monsters, mythical beasts and exotic fauna, through fantasy maps with evocative place names, pirate treasure maps promising untold riches and adventure, through to our modern Ordnance Survey maps that, if examined, contain a wealth of information on unusual features and historic sites to later explore on foot
...there's just something about maps....
.....that whispers of excitment, new discoveries, and high adventure.... 

Anglesey by John Speed 1610 Public Domain Wikimedia
Anglesey by John Speed 1610 Public Domain Wikimedia

I've always loved maps and have long wanted to create a piece inspired by all of these influences, but particularly by the the beautiful maps and cartography of the great age of exploration, mixed with a bit of an influence from fantasy and pirate maps.

"La geografia de narnia-por samuelmat" by Samuelmat - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
"La geografia de narnia-por samuelmat" by Samuelmat-Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


History through maps

I also really enjoy the many maps that very clearly illustrate our changing history, and map the different peoples and migrations into these lands (the British Isles.) My original idea was to produce a set of maps illustrating different periods of history. I quickly realised this was unworkable in the medium I currently work in, as the scale is just too small to create multiple words on a piece, without it becoming very busy. In researching it I bought the beautiful 'Historical Atlas of The British Isles' by Dr Ian Barnes, which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in both maps and history. It covers the history of the British Isles from earliest times to the present day through a series of maps. Purchasing it also finally 'put to bed' my idea of producing a range of historical maps. I would be at it for ever!

So my project became a map that would still be modelled on the British Isles but that would hopefully evoke that time of exploration when map makers were heading out into bold new, and often, frightening worlds. These maps are characterised by the addition of beautiful drawings of sometimes fantastical sea creatures, old gods, galleons and compasses.

I also wanted to somehow convey the feeling created in these maps, and in fantasy maps, of the topography of the lands, and the swirling of the seas. 

Here be dragons 

The sea has always been a place where strange creatures and monsters lurk. The sea monsters that occupied the cartographers of Europe in medieval and renaissance times often seem strange and whimsical to our modern eyes, firece-toothed animals with jets of water, many tentacled giant octopuses, beguiling sirens and mermaids, as well as various chimeric beings.

Velleius. Islandia.  By Ortelius Public domain via Wikimedia
Sea monsters on maps: Velleius. Islandia by Ortelius Public domain via Wikimedia

Although these beings were drawn to entertain and educate their audience, as most maps were used by wealthy people as decoration, they were also mostly illustrations of creatures that the cartographers genuinely believed inhabitated the vast oceans.
Although they were often placed in the map in the best aesthetic positions, it's probbale that they were also often placed to illustrate dangerous or unexplored territories. 

"Here be dragons [is] a very interesting sentence.
In early maps, you would see images of sea monsters,
It was a way to say there's bad stuff out there."
 Thomas Sander, editor of the Portolan, the journal of the Washington Map Society

'The Isles'

'The Isles' comes from my love of these islands, with their beautiful countryside and rich history. I wanted as many of the influences above in my map as possible, within my own limitations of scale and medium.

British Isles sculpted wall plaque

I have altered the time period, to reflect my own interests so galleons have become longships, and I have the Kraken, a mythological creature first described in the 13th century Icelandic Sagas, and two whales influenced by the Old English word 'hranrad', meaning whale-road - a word used in many old texts to describe the sea(s,) or ocean(s.)

Sperm whale detail: British Isles sculpted wall plaque
Sperm whale detail:

Longship detail: British Isles sculpted wall plaque from Justbod
Longship detail

My compass is a simpler affair than the 16th and 17th century mapmakers dynamic constructions, and my topography is gloriously out of scale and an 'artistic'impression rather than completely accurate (please do not plan your journeys and walks based upon it!)

I really enjoyed making this piece, although it's research and all the processes have occupied me for quite some time.

I hope to one day make a more Tolkien-esque fantasy style map, with a larger scale and greater detail....but that's for another day.....

British Isles sculpted wall plaque

'The Isles' has been created by individually shaping sheet metal, by hand, into the shape that you see, adding colour and then insetting it into a custom-made handcrafted and polished oak plaque, approximately 28.5cm x 22.5cm x 2cm. 

Every process has been completed by me, by hand. 

You can browse and buy all of my currently available work, by clicking on the link to our main site just below...

Thanks for reading

Justbod Team 

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  1. Nice piece of work. I love looking at old maps especially ones from where I live. As for Tolkien if only what he wrote was true, I could have lived there

    1. Many thanks Bill! Glad you like it & that you're a fellow map-lover. There's nothing like a map to get the imagination going.....