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What is an Illustrated Map?

Hello! My name is Nicola Howell Hawley and I draw illustrated maps. But what are they? And why would you want one? This post aims to answer those questions.


A black and white map of Deception Island featuring penguins and chess pieces around the edge, and the cheshire cat
My map of Deception Island for Momenticon by Andrew Caldecott


An illustrated map is a visual representation of a geographical area that combines cartographic elements with artistic illustrations. Unlike traditional maps that focus solely on conveying accurate geographic details, an illustrated map incorporates creative elements, such as drawings, icons, or stylised graphics, to enhance both the aesthetic appeal and communicative value of the map. These illustrations are often used to highlight landmarks, cultural features, or points of interest, making the map more engaging and user-friendly.


There are hundreds of reasons to have an illustrated map created, but here are a few of the most common.

Because the place you want to map doesn't exist.

Particularly useful for fantasy novels and abstract concepts (on show in Helen Cann's 'Map of a Civil Society'), an illustrated map is capable of bringing imagined worlds to life. From Treasure Island to Lord of the Rings, illustrated maps have been used for years to set the scene and add depth to fiction. A book that perfectly illustrates this is The Writer's Map by Huw Lewis-Jones.

If you want to read more about fantasy maps, try these blog posts:

A black and white map of a fantasy location, featuring sea creatures, mountains, forests and fortresses
My map for David Hair's book World's Edge - a fantasy novel

Because you want to record special memories.

An illustrated map is a unique and one-of-a-kind piece that can hold precious memories for years to come. Take the piece below, it is a record of the journey this couple have taken together, charting special holidays and special places connected to their memories.

A black and white illustrated map that can be personalised. It is a map of the UK
My personalised illustrated map option - where you can choose the places featured.

Because you need something that aligns with your brand.

Sometimes you need a map, but a standard map won't cut it, and you can't find anything that aligns with your brand. When you hire an illustrator to create a map, you know their style, but also they can also modify this to create a map that specifically reflects your brand and the information you want to convey. An example where this is important could be at the National Trust, where something that reflects place, what the National Trust do, and also offers more information than a standard map (perhaps with some wildlife facts, or drawings of wildlife within it), fits more than a Google image whacked on a sign.

Because you want to tell a story.

Illustrated maps are uniquely suited to telling your story visually. The below is a map of Goldsboro Books, created for their 21st birthday. As well as a map of their location, it is also a timeline, telling their story visually.

A blue and cream map which has a timeline featuring significant events from Goldsboro's history around the outside, and a map of their location on the inside.
My map for First Edition 21, Goldsboro Books' special anniversary edition

Sometimes, Google maps just won't cut it, and having an illustrated map to enhance both the aesthetic and visual appeal is the way forward. Let an illustrated map tell your story, and you won't regret it.

As always, thanks for reading!


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