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Illustrated Maps Artist: Why I do what I do, and why I specialise in hand drawn maps

Updated: Jan 30

An introduction to my business and to me - because the one I did do is now very, very out of date.


Nicola leans over her messy desk, a paintbrush in hand, painting a birds egg
Photo of artist Nicola Howell Hawley at her desk


A name sounds like a cliched place to start, but bear with me! I am Nicola Howell Hawley –I used to be Nicola Catherine Budd, but I got married, and changed from Budd to Hawley. I've always hated the middle name Catherine for some reason, so in 2019 I swapped it to Howell, my grandad's surname (who died that year), and the name of a character in one of my favourite ever books: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. So here I am: Nicola Howell Hawley, the artist behind Howell Illustration, and a specialist illustrated maps artist.


I started Howell Illustration out of a shed. Or out of a bedroom. Or off a desk in my room in my mum's house . . . This story goes in fits and starts across a number of different years. My work has gone from papercuts, to drawing, to pen and ink, to gouache, to linoprinting, to fineliner, so sculpture, to drawing again, and finally progressed onto Procreate. I've worked on lifestyle illustration, branding, nature illustration, lettering, travel illustration, packaging, map illustration, food illustration. You name it, I've probably tried my hand at it.


I'm not very good when it comes to distilling my own brand down – though I can do it with almost everyone and everything else – and I tend to overthink everything. Which has resulted in so many different avenues over the years that I've probably confused most people as well as myself.


Recently I've managed to niche down into illustrated maps. I absolutely adore doing maps. Every one is different. Every one gives me a chance to get better and to do better.

The love of maps started when I worked as an editor on a list called Jo Fletcher Books, which produces fantasy, SF and horror novels. I saw a map there by a woman called Emily Faccini - and it was so cool. I instantly wanted to copy it.

But I didn't, for a long time, until I was asked to do some maps for a book called Unforgettable Walks by Julia Bradbury. Then I got the bug.

I found the artists Helen Cann, Daniel Reeve, Pauline Baynes . . .

oh, but my faviourite maps of all time, and the ones from which I draw the most inspiration, are historical, antique maps. You could look forever at them and never find everything.

The one I have hanging above my computer is a copy of the 1539 map the Carta Marina by Olaus Magnus. And it is beautiful. I particularly love the sea creatures. It was thought that the sea was filled with these kinds of creatures. At one point they were not myth, and I love that this is recorded on maps. Did you know also that they used to write 'Here be dragons' at the edge of the world, to show they didn't know what was beyond that?

The carta marina, an antique map of Scandinavia which features a lot of sea monsters
The Carta Marina

Anyway, I digress! As you can see - I love maps; I love working on them, and I love the process for it. So, really the choice for focusing on them was obvious (though apparently it took me many years to realise it!).

I also continue to work in nature illustration, and I love anything esoteric. I've also recently branched out into pattern illustration and, I continue to do the main staple of my artistic practice across all of the years I've been doing it: line work.


I love, love, love reading, and continue to proofread as part of my small business

I would love to train as a counsellor and it's still in the works

I knit

I do martial arts

I won't buy a piece of art unless my heart tells me to

I hate selling to people, and often don't (I don't like the idea of being a part of the problem: an increasingly consumerist world that convinces you that you're the problem and you need to be different, and to be different, you need to buy, buy, buy! But also I need money - help, what do I do?!)

I have a daughter: my little Evie River, who is everything

I would love to write a book one day

I would love to illustrate a board game and I love playing board games (Firefly, anyone?)

I have big dreams that I struggle to get off the ground

Spotify wrapped tells me that I am a music 'Vampire' and therefore much more liable to listen to dark indie music than anything else

I love making things beautiful

And I love being as sustainable as I can be; If I had one wish, I'd wish that global warming wasn't a thing and we all just learned to look after the earth and each other. Overly sentimental and simplistic I know. Also, if there's one thing I know about making a genie wish: they're liable to backfire. Perhaps it would be better if I just wished the genie free?

Want to know more about me? You can check out this blog on my artistic evolution, to see where I started with maps and chart my journey.

Anyway, that's a little more about me and my business. I hope you enjoyed getting to know me and I really hope to see you again! If you want to keep up with Howell Illustration, you can sign up for my newsletter, in which I desperately try not to sell you anything, or hop on over to my YouTube channel, where I post calm, asmr process videos.

Thanks for reading!


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