Art Maps is a company created to address an unusual situation. When his wife’s uncle, John, died, Dale Woods found himself the proud possessor of hundreds and hundreds of maps, amassed by John throughout his life. The maps covered the whole of the UK and beyond, and proved a slightly double-edged inheritance – on one hand, endlessly fascinating on a visual, historical and geographical level. On the other, quite bulky! Sara Walker finds out how Dale dealt with his unusual legacy and built it into Art Maps, a business offering unique geological art map prints.
SW: I love the fact that there’s such a strong family link with the maps. Were the original maps of lots of different types, for example Ordnance Survey, aviation, geological? Why did you pick out the geological ones to work with?
DW: Yes, the maps are of all different types. We have Ordnance Survey from the 1940s, 50s and 60s in various editions- one of my favourites is one of Manchester published in 1959 but ‘revised in 1964 with major new roads added’. This ‘new road’ being the M62. We also have a large number of Bartholomew’s maps printed on cloth and priced at six shillings each, plus a complete set of Landranger. There are many others, including one of British airspace from the 1960s.
I chose the geological survey maps because of the wonderful lines and shapes that are completely natural. All the other maps are of the surface, and as such are representations of what humankind has done to the environment, mostly over the last couple of thousand years. The geological maps are unaffected by human beings, and the shapes we see are formed over millions of years.
SW: Do you have any idea how many maps you originally inherited? Was your initial reaction “Oh, fantastic!” or “Oh, dear!”?
DW: There are over a hundred geological maps and another couple of hundred other types. As to our reaction to the inheritance, to be honest, it was both ‘great’ and ‘good grief’. The maps were the smallest part of what we received. The bulk of the house was full of books, thousands of them, a good selection of geological and geographical included. But Uncle John also liked chess, chemistry, science fiction, the novels of Nevil Shute, and Russian Romanov history. He had an eclectic taste and getting them into any sort of order has been a challenge.
SW: Picking individual maps out of so many to work with seems like a bit of a Herculean task. What criteria did you apply?
DW: Good question, it was difficult to choose. In the end, I selected those that had sections that looked like they had the most ‘going on’. By that, I mean ones that had rocks from lots of different geological periods all muddled together or examples where the rocks have been affected by erosion or fault lines. In other words, a dynamic environment where forces of pressure or wind and water had muddled things up!
SW: Could you talk me through the process from original map to finished print? How much do you do to the original, and how do you do it?
DW: The original maps are on a large scale, so the first decision was to select what part of the map to focus on. Once I had decided this, then I had to photograph the section in a very high resolution. The man-made surface ‘chatter’ or annotations then needed to be removed. A good analogy would be like cleaning an old master painting.
Years of clutter and dirt have built-up and needed to be cleared away to uncover the beautiful picture underneath. I have never changed any of the shapes or lines of the geology. What you see in the final artwork is what is underneath the ground at the site of the original map.
But I do change colours so that the forms exposed are easier to see and so the contrast between strata is more obvious.
SW: I think this is a new venture for you – what were you doing before? Did you need to learn any new skills?
DW: This is a completely new venture. Before setting up Art Maps, I ran a company that sold and hired industrial lifting equipment and machinery. Running a ‘physical’ business is completely different from a business that is predominantly online. Social media is something my children did! That has been the steepest learning curve.
I thought that I would use the geological maps to make art and people would either like it or not and buy it or not. Apparently, you need to tell people about it so that they can find it online and understand what you’re trying to do, otherwise it’s a vanity project just seen by family and friends. In hindsight, this may be blindingly obvious, but it took me a little while to understand.
SW: How has the artwork been received so far?
DW: Very positively, I’ve had lots of interest everyone from individuals and interior designers to art collectors and geologists. Not just in the UK either, I’ve had contact from people all over the world.
SW: What’s next for the range? Do you have any plans to do anything other than wall prints, for example fabrics or phone cases?
DW: I’m in the process of working on some larger maps that I think will look fantastic on an even bigger scale. I’m quite excited by these but there’s a lot of work in them. I have thought about other ways of showing off the art. Table mats? Cards? Fabrics would be very exciting, I did consider t-shirts. However, I think I’ll continue to explore wall art for now.
SW: What do you think John would have made of it?
DW: He would find it all very amusing, but he would have liked the art. I know he’d be very pleased that his collection of maps weren’t being left in a map chest or worse, thrown away and we’re giving people pleasure in a new way.
To find out more about Art Maps or to buy online, visit www.art-maps.co.uk. Prices start at £20.
All images (c) 2019 Art Maps0