5 questions with Jenni Sparks

Renowned map illustrator Jenni Sparks shares her journey to creating that unique Melbourne map. 

1. You’re from the UK. How did get involved with drawing a map for Melbourne?
I have been illustrating various city maps for about 7 years now. I’ve previously drawn London, Paris, New York, San Francisco and Berlin for an art print company called Evermade.com who commission me to make the maps. We were selling a lot of prints of the London map to people in Australia as there were a lot of expats living in Sydney and Melbourne and decided that it would be good to make a map of each of those cities too. 

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2. How long did it take you to draw the map? Tell us a little more about the process. It took me about 4 months of solid hard work (around 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week) to illustrate the map of Melbourne from start to finish. I usually start the process off by reading lots of books on the city, watching documentaries and looking at city guides to get a rough idea of the character of the city and its history. I then compile a map with my own markers on it that show the various landmarks, cafes, bars, shops - this gives me a visual on what the hotspots are and helps me work out the layout of the map. After the research process, I visit the city and spend a lot of time walking around, going to museums, noting down smaller details such as design and even what the lampposts and bins look like, and meeting various locals to get their perspective. 

When it comes to drawing the map, I start with the layout and then mark things such as parks, train stations, area names, landmarks and then the other places such as cafes, galleries, museums, etc. I add details such as historical facts, famous people, quirky bits of information, the fashion sense and characteristics of the people that live in each area and other bits and pieces. I want the maps to not only be geographically accurate (though there is some artistic licence in this) but also really show off the character of the place - its personality. 

After about three months of drawing, editing, checking for spelling mistakes and re-drawing everything so the design is right, the map is finished. A big part of the process is also making sure that it is right by emailing the people that I met on the research trip to get them to proof-read it and check that I’ve got it right. There is only so much information that I can obtain considering I’m not from the city so this is really important. 

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3. What did you discover about Melbourne whilst undertaking this job?
Plenty - being from London, I knew that Melbourne was a cool creative city with a lot of sporting events but I didn’t really know much about its history. I really liked looking at the old buildings and the laneways - there’s so much I learned about the city.

4. How do you choose the places you want to highlight on your maps?
I tend to try to include as many places as possible on the map but give preference to the ones that are mentioned the most during the research process. I also take recommendations from local people, as I mentioned before I wouldn’t be able to create a map like this if it wasn’t for them as it would just be so scarce with information. I tend to get a little backlash when the map is published as everyone has a different take on the places in their city - some people might love a bar and get annoyed if I haven’t included it or hate a place that I have included so I always tend to brace myself for that! I don’t mind really - I’m happy that people are passionate about their city and enthusiastic about my maps.

5. What do you think makes Melbourne the city it is?
Melbourne is interesting because it has a lot of history. To me, it seems like a city in the future - I was surprised at the amount of skyscrapers and also the big international student population. It really creates a progressive and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Being an artist myself, I was really pleased to see the emphasis on art and creativity in the city - there aren’t that many places that push that angle as something that makes the city what it is. Obviously the street art was amazing and I also loved the juxtaposition of the smaller laneways full of character with the big, broad streets - it created a lot of contrast and intrigue. The food was fantastic and the coffee was really incredible too.

Jenni Sparks is an illustrator, designer, map maker, and typography designer.