Making the Illustrated Map of Nashville

I knew my way around Nashville pretty well before, but after spending hours studying, sketching, and then intricately drawing the entire city from the river to West End, I can pretty much get from anywhere to anywhere without thinking twice. No thanks, Siri, I got the nav on this, girl! I should probably host one of those silly segway tours you see zipping around town. 

I was asked to create the map during my internship at Anderson Design Group. The shop is on the Nashville Trolley Tour and gets a lot of tourists coming through, so Joel wanted an illustration including all of the most popular tourist spots and local businesses, from his shop to the river. Holy crap that's a lot of spots. Step one was to figure out how to frame it all in a single image.

Once I figured out the orientation and where the major streets would lie, I got to work plotting as many locations as I could into what I call the SUPER ROUGH! (This is the rough draft of the rough draft.) 

While I was able to edit out lots of the smaller streets and buildings, the map did need to be reasonably accurate while including every place on the list, so plotting everything out took a long time. Dawn, who runs the front desk at Anderson Design Group, reviewed it and gave me notes. 

After establishing which locations had to be included and where they should go, I blew up my super rough to 150% actual size and printed it off. Using tracing paper over the print, I redrew the map adding distinct characteristics of each location and other details. 

Drawing an entire city from an aerial perspective without a helicopter is rather challenging. I had to use several resources so that I could turn the buildings around in my head to get the perfect angle, including multiple reference pictures per location, Google Earth, and Google Maps Street View. Google Earth is actually getting pretty damn sophisticated; while many places were still only available in 2D, much of the city could be viewed in pretty helpful 3D imagery. I have no doubt that very soon I'll probably be able to take an aerial screenshot of Nashville and be done with it.

Once I got to this point, I had to scan it in and move some stuff around, and print it off again before I could continue:

I filled in all the gaps and by the time I was done I had so thoroughly scoured the streets of Nashville via Google Maps that I could probably draw it from memory. But wait! We're only just getting started!

Next, I went over the whole sketch with a fine-toothed comb and marked any edits or adjustments that needed to be made before I could start inking.

Now that I had a fairly tight sketch, I was ready to begin inking! I printed the sketch at around 50% opacity and at 150% scale, taped it to my desk, and placed a sheet of 19"x 24" Canson Vellum over one side. (It is so large that it has to be scanned in pieces and digitally re-assembled anyway, so I inked it on two sheets of vellum.)

This is right around the point in the process where this starts to happen...

Oh god. I've made a huge mistake. What was I thinking?! Holy shit, what am I doing?! Like, I actually took their money and said "Yes, of course, I can totally draw that." This is not only going to take literally FOREVER, it doesn't even look good! Jesus. What am I gonna do? How can I POSSIBLY finish this? They asked how long it's gonna take HOW LONG IS THIS GONNA TAKE IT'S NOT EVEN GOOD WHAT AM I DOING?!

Look, it's OK, I always do this, don't panic. It's always super daunting in the beginning. Just keep drawing, there's not really much else I can do... I've just gotta remember that ALL my drawings look shit 'til they're about 80% finished. Just trust yourself and put on a podcast or something.

OMG I LOVE DRAWING drawing is freaking awesome this is so fun crap - I'm gonna stick a mouse there by The Gulch (hehe rich condo mouse) - wow this is kinda starting to look cool my next one is gonna be way better though DRAWING RULES

Whew - one half done. And you know, if it actually IS shit and no one likes it then at least I'm enjoying it, right? Is that self indulgent? Man... is this a selfish way to spend time? Should I be doing something more helpful or... does it even matter anyway? Does anything? Jesus.

Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh BATMAN!!!

I guess I'd describe this inner turmoil as a bit of a tendency because so far that's pretty much how it goes with most pictures I make. Yes, I love drawing, but it's not like I'm lounging about in a pastoral setting kicking my feet back and forth as I whimsically doodle away. OK that might have happened a time or two this summer... For me, drawing can be a taxing process, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. 

Emotional States of Intense Drawing

This chart illustrates the various emotional states I can expect to experience throughout the picture-making process.

Yes, that's a bit dramatic, but these big pictures are monsters! As I draw my 600th tiny window, things can go a bit weird upstairs. Some might think I only do it for the Creative Glee phase, but I think the other parts are important too (and I'm not entirely convinced that General Panic isn't just my nature.) I learn to trust myself a little bit more with every picture, but I think that's mostly because every picture is a little bit better and I deserve it.

I swear I usually name my layers...

Once the ink drawing is complete, it is scanned. The largest scanner I have access to is A3, so I scan it in pieces and Photoshop's amazing photo-merge feature can usually reassemble it for me. Next, I'll spend some time cleaning up the lines a bit, correcting any mistakes or adding bits that had to be redrawn.

It's easy for me to get carried away at this stage; to get caught up in trying to endlessly perfect everything. This is one of the reasons I prefer to work traditionally. When I'm limited by my eyesight and dexterity, I can only go so far. Working digitally, one can lose sight of the image as a whole or chip away at the drawings charm.

Overall I'm happy with the picture. I see mistakes every time I look at it, and I learned so much while drawing it that it makes me immediately want to draw another one and do it better. But I also get lost in it and enjoy looking at it and I find stuff I forgot that I hid in it, which is what I loved most about the drawings that inspired me to become an illustrator in the first place.

I'm currently working on a similarly insane illustration of the same size and level of detail. I'm about half way through the Crippling Self-Doubt phase, but writing this reminded me that just around the corner is almost half an illustrated zoo's worth of Creative Glee. Follow along on Instagram as I draw it! 


Here is the Illustrated Map of Nashville after being colored and lettered by Anderson Design Group. Buy a print at their website!

This image was created in collaboration with Anderson Design Group, Inc. Copyright ADG, Inc. All rights reserved.