Ed Fairburn, our featured artist from Southampton, UK, spends hours studying the map’s terrain before beginning his artistic process. He then uses traditional materials – such as ink, paint, or pencil to slowly extract facial features from roads, rivers, and mountainous contours by making gradual changes to the map. The talented artist calls his process “topopointillism” and describes it as a “direct mix of topography and pointillism.” Just like a pointillism painting, Fairburn’s portraits appear abstract up-close; but from afar, the viewer can see the human subject emerge from the topographic patterns. Just as mountains and hills are drawn with contour lines on a map, Fairburn renders elevated facial features the same way. Hundreds of hand-drawn, curved lines in various tones of black and gray allow each portrait to appear as though it’s three-dimensional as if the human form exists within the landscape. You can see some of his work in our gallery below, and don’t forget to follow Ed Fairburn on Instagram and visit his official website.
“I love the ephemeral nature of maps, the range of paper types, weights, textures – even the smell. No two surfaces are ever the same,” – Fairburn told in an interview for My Modern Met.
“I love the way in which maps age and show their use over time. In that respect, old maps are a very forgiving medium, unlike a crisp white canvas.”
“You can’t really go wrong with the marks you make – at least not at the very start of a drawing, which is often the most daunting part for any artist.”
“I’ve collected maps over the years from a number of places – charity shops, old book stores, and lots of places online too. Aesthetically, I know what I like, and I know what works.”
“I’ve developed a remarkable reaction time to picking out maps of interest, a sort of double-take, whether I’m browsing maps in a shop, or watching something on TV. If I see a map, I automatically run through any possibilities in my head.”
“Finding maps for specific locations (usually commissioned work) is very much the same process, just a little more focused. I think experience plays a big part, too.”
“Like any traditional painter, I strive for a strong composition. I see where the weight of the portrait should sit based on the framework of the geography – it’s about balancing both landscape and figure, without ruining either.”
“I’ll always start by studying the map against the figure, mentally sketching any possible outcomes. Ultimately, my process is about harmonizing two structures in one physical space.”
“Firstly, in a very broad sense, looking for anchors, similarities or shapes to synchronize; and secondly, fine-tuning the process, hijacking the information on the map, and making gradual changes to affirm the figure.”
“Whenever I’m in doubt about any parts of the drawing, my instinct tends to follow what the landscape wants to do.”
“I have some maps in my studio I’ve been working on and off for a few years now, but for more focused work, if I put my head down I can usually see completion within a few sittings.”