Creating my Travel Topanga map

It was an interesting journey to get to the finished product for the map. Things did not always go as expected, but I adapted and I think that the end project was better because of it.

Step 1: Idea

When I read about the map contest through the regular email updates from Nate and Salli of They Draw and Cook/They Draw and Travel, I thought that this sounded like fun. Plus, while I've submitted recipes to their sites, I still had not done a map. I started with a couple of lists that I thought I would like to work on: cool locations for artists to visit, driving the back roads of LA and Ventura counties, some of my favorite places on Topanga Blvd.

The hubby and I thought that I would have the easiest time and the most fun with the Topanga one, since that is a road we know well and travel frequently. Plus, so many of the locations I liked had a ton of personality all their own.

Step 2: Initial concept and research

What I had in mind was a COMPLETELY different look then the end product. I initially wanted to do watercolor renderings of each of the locations and then combine them in some way with an inked aerial map that I had hand drawn using existing knowledge of the boulevard and looking at (not tracing) Google Maps to confirm cross streets and provide a smidgen of accuracy to the look of the main street and freeway locations.

Later that same day, I went out and painted my first location:

A couple of days later, I painted a second location:

I soon realized that I didn't have enough daylight after work and commuting to get all the paintings done on site. I tried photographing the locations on the weekend so I could paint at home, but that didn't pan out either. I needed an alternate plan.

Step 3: Plan B

My fallback plan was based on a birthday invite I worked on a few weeks earlier, where I hand created all the typography, then colored it digitally.

I pulled out a clean piece of Bristol board and cut it size for the map dimensions needed for a project. Then I used a red pencil to rough out a title and lay in a map at the bottom of the page. Over the course of the next week the map grew as I doodled out typographic signs for the locations I had marked on the map.

Some of the signs pull from elements of the existing logos and signage, others pull in elements of the buildings, and a few just pull in the overall feel I got from the place and are more loosely interpreted.

Step 4: Inking

I started inking in order of heirarchy, starting with the title and map. All the inking was done in a single color, with a Faber Castell Pitt artist pen in Dark Sepia. I used the S (superfine) thickness, except in areas where there are very thickly laid colors, such as the title.

Step 5: Digital

I scanned the inked drawing in two parts, merged them in Photoshop, then brought the entire map into Illustrator. I used three different live traces of the drawing, so I could pick and choose the best option for each element, particularly the very small lettering for the street names. After tweaking a few spacing, sizing, and kerning issues, I colored each element (title, map, shop name) in illustrator using a pre-existing color palette I had, but brought them all into the master Photoshop file separately in order to ensure that I could edit things on the fly if I changed things later (which I did.)

Behind all the illustrated elements, I added individual layers for the solid background color, the strokes of white, and all the secondary colors that appear in the piece, such as the purple frosting on the donut for Blinkie's. Shamefully, all of these were laid in with a very archaic device: the mouse! Yes, a mouse. And yes, the master file has LOTS of layers.

But I'm not done yet...

Step 6: Secret Photoshop MAGIC (...or how I got the cool colors in the title)

I decided to pull the whole piece together with an element of texture, which I always like. I originally was going to use a royalty free stock image to create the texture, but then I didn't want to have to worry about licensing issues since I was submitting this to a contest. So an hour before the entry is due I'm frantically scrambling to find a particular photograph, taken from the hills of Topanga, on a particular day, sometime in the last 5 or so years. Needless to say, no luck.

Then a friend saved the day when she saw one of my paper scraps where i test my watercolors when painting a project. After scanning, I duplicated, rotated, flipped, and cloned until that scrap filled the entire piece.

I applied this texture and a photo of the woods from one of our local hikes to the Photoshop file, tweaking layer styles (overlay, screen, lighten) and opacity for both of the texture elements until I was happy with the result. The darker and lighter brush strokes on the page gave the solid colors in the title added life and character that wasn't present in the original texture I had planned to use.