Illustrated maps are different from the traditional paper maps that are available in airport kiosks and bookstores. Map illustrations or map drawing were very popular centuries ago because there was no other alternative to show the world to people. There was no technology yet for cartography so that artists had to draw by hand prominent parts of a landscape.
The maps of Jenni Sparks are unusual because they are bright, energized explosions that do not consider exact coordinates. Cities are drawn in their full character even if it takes more than 1,000 hours to complete.
Sparks has a map illustration of Melbourne that stretches from Williamstown and Port Philip Bay, up north to Brunswick with Footscray and Fairfield on the edges. The map illustration does not contain standard geographical information but it includes skyscrapers sitting side-by-side with local food stores, cartoon characters, skating parks, sports stadiums and surprisingly, a big jar of Vegemite.
Sparks is more interested on the vibe of the place and not geographical info. Sparks has also created maps of Sydney, Paris, New York, Berlin and San Francisco. To create a map of Melbourne, Sparks has to spend five months in the city to research the area. Areas like Fitzroy and Collingwood fit her expectations but she also found some surprises.
The Central Business District was very modern with many new skyscrapers. Compared to London where Sparks came from, Melbourne has more modern and futuristic buildings. People from Melbourne were very supportive and helped Sparks in selecting important locations. They know the place and they love Melbourne.
Sparks was taken aback by the variety of architectural styles which looks like a mixture of different cultures. However, she has to ensure that everything will fit in the right place because aside from the tall skyscrapers there were lots of cool restaurants and bars.
One of the more complex parts of a map illustration is map drawing of objects in style. The idea is to provide the viewer with an immediate feeling of recognition which means that the drawing must be as accurate as possible, attractive and informative. The drawing can be an artistic childlike caricature but it must look like the real object.