I have a friend who rode his bicycle across the United States once. He told me the hardest part of the trip was not the Rockies in Colorado or the deserts of Nevada, but a hill on Rt. 30 (the old Lincoln Highway) near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He told me it wasn’t the steepest grade, but it went forever. Friends he was riding with were breaking down in tears-and this was the end of the trip.
While I did not experience any physical pain, I now too know the frustration of the hills near Gettysburg.
A few years ago someone gave me a giant military atlas of the Civil War. I don’t have a great interest in the Civil War, so I haven’t really looked at it much. I actually mostly used it to keep a series of posters in good condition. So I thought this assignment would be a perfect opportunity to utilize this book. After playing around with some of the really intricate maps (these were all drawn by army engineers and seem to me to be EXTREMELY precise), I quickly realized my artistic limitations necessitated something a little simpler. I settled on a map of Gettysburg that was relatively small and that seemed to match my artistic capabilities. So I laid my grid and began with the roads, and the creeks, and the buildings.
And then I hit the hills. Little did I realize that drawing those tiny little lines in the proper scale and direction would prove so difficult. As you can see, I was far more successful in some cases than others. But I realized that even these fairly straightforward military campaign maps require a high technical skill as an artist. I nearly gave up when it came time to do the lettering (again, something that seems relatively simple).
It was a fun exercise though, and took a lot of time and attention to detail. For example none of my 64 colored pencils really matched some of the colors in the map. Particularly the red used in the Confederate positions proved difficult, and I ultimately had to use a brownish-orange which I then traced over with a red pencil. Similarly I used a normal pencil to lay a foundation for the Union positions which I then covered with a blue pencil. But, as you can see I made mistakes, and they aren’t that easy to erase!
It didn’t take long to realize the great advantages a program like Illustrator affords us in projects like this. For the second map I chose facsimile of Peter Charles L’Enfant’s plans for the District that was republished by the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1887. It was a relatively large map, with most of it filled with empty city blocks, so I narrowed the area to the section many are most familiar with.
The map seemed really interesting to me because we get to see L’Enfant’s vision for the city and its uses. However, this particular version is difficult to approach—hard to read, partially drawn, poorly organized. So it seemed a perfect candidate to bring into the modern era. I decided to mostly stick to the color scheme used by L’Enfant, although I decided to make the city blocks filled rather than outlined. This seems to me a better way to visualize the space which is rarely vacant. I also added circles for the fountains and the monuments (note the monument at the east end where Lincoln Park is now-very interesting). Finally, I decided on Myriad which seemed an appropriately readable and modern font to fit the feel of the map.
Ultimately, I don’t think the Illustrator map was any less time consuming. However, I think the results are starkly different. My D.C. map is amateurish, but not nearly as much as the Gettysburg one. Again, the bar is lowered. Hope is offered. Plans can be laid.