Please tell us about your art and design background: I have a background in knitwear design and illustration and have just completed a degree in design and realisation at London College of fashion. I have a keen interest in sustainability and ethical issues in design and production. My interest in sustainability took me to India with the British Fashion Council, the outcome of which was showcased at London Fashion week in 2009. I started working at Bombus a year and a half ago whilst studying part-time.
Why does Bombus draw their own maps? At Bombus we have a vast collection of maps. However, as many of our maps are vintage, some countries or towns of contemporary interest are not excellently represented. Customers are often keen to have a beach or a modern holiday resort named on their maps. Sometimes it is impossible to find the correct scale of vintage map to fit in Bombus’ signature heart. We never use copies of maps, and therefore it is not possible to ‘zoom’ in or out. Drawing our own maps means that we can create the perfect scale and include any focal points that our customers might require.
Do you think of yourself as an illustrator or a cartographer? I consider myself an illustrator rather than a cartographer. However the accuracy with which I interpret geographical information is of great importance to me. I have found it very interesting to see the level of creative design in each map that I have researched. Bombus maps are certainly inspired by the very rich and colourful history of cartography, but it is also important to us that our maps are representative of Bombus’ own design aesthetic.
Could you please describe a ‘typical’ workflow when working on an illustration of a map I begin each illustration by looking at several maps in different styles as inspiration. These come from our own collection or from online research. I begin all illustrations by meticulously hand drawing before transferring the images to computer to edit and complete. The process is a highly collaborative one, with each map being discussed at length with everyone at Bombus until we all agree that it is ready to use.
What tools do you use, hardware and software? I use pen, ink and water colour. I scan several hand-drawn images and use a combination of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to complete the images. We print the maps onto vintage paper that we recycle and select from atlases or old books.
How do you choose colours? Bombus’ colour palate is inspired by our favourite maps. We often find our favourite colour combinations in geographical charts and graphs. If we find a particularly striking one, it goes on our giant mood board in the studio. Several of the staff at Bombus have a background in textiles and have good training in colour theory. As a weaver Amelia is an especially good colour resource.
What do you draw on for inspiration? Apart from the maps in our collection we have a vast resource of design books at the studio. In addition to this we have books on most subjects including gardening, children’s stories, insects, birds and even anatomy. We all regularly take time to choose our favourite images for the mood board. Personally I find textile books very useful for research and inspiration. The textures of weave and knit structures are often used in Bombus maps, as are geometric patterns and shapes found in nature. Use of texture is definitely as important as colour to me. I think working in countryside has a great impact on our work. It is hard to run out of inspiration in a thatched barn on a farm. There is design information wherever you look!
What can students do to prepare themselves to become a good illustrator? I joined Bombus just one day a week for work experience. I think Amelia took me on because I was prepared to work hard and passionately, even though I was still a student at the time. Apart from working hard I think being very observant is the most important part of being an illustrator. It is important to be patient and be open to continual learning. Sometimes a map illustration can take days or weeks to get right. I am still going back to some of my earlier designs and re working them.
What is your favourite part of being Bombus’ in-house illustrator? I love the community spirit of working at Bombus. We are all friends and have great fun together, however busy we are with orders we always have a cooked, shared lunch which we take turns in making. We all muck in to every part of the design and production process and are all very respectful of each other’s talents. Amelia also sees it as very important that our own practice is nurtured at work and sees our very individual talents as assets.
Being given the opportunity to work as an illustrator at this early stage in my career is very rare and wonderful opportunity. I feel extremely fortunate to love my job and genuinely look forward to work every day.