Behind the Scenes: Capturing the Essence of a Village
Diane Brochu King
As many of you know, there has been a buzz about a new tourist map coming out in the next couple of weeks. Commerce Chelsea has been working very hard with artist Paul Mason, pulling all the pieces together to create something representative of our charming town that will stand out from other tourist maps.
“It’s really neat to be able to draw a map of where you live, “says Mason. “It was a huge benefit, too, as I had insights others would not have had.”
This was a new project for all involved. It started with a dream and concept about a “fun” tourist map. The vision was for the essence of the town, highlighting businesses and activities that would appeal to tourists, rather than a “to scale” road map. Commerce Chelsea hopes that people will be inclined to keep the map as a souvenir rather than just a reference to be thrown out after they leave.
As neophytes to a project like this, everyone was navigating muddy waters defining and redefining things as they went along.
The project started with a goal of perhaps 20 businesses signing up to be on the map. Once word got out, that number doubled to nearly 40. What the artist thought would be a pretty straightforward process began to take on a life of its own!
Then little things that weren’t considered at the beginning started to creep in…parking lots, picnic areas, trails, churches, cemeteries, the municipal buildings, soccer fields, baseball diamond, water sports. All the things that give our town its charm and character are also things that added immensely to the artwork.
Mason’s initial process included taking shots of businesses before starting the artwork. Knowing where the businesses were was help, as did knowing the businesses themselves and their character. One thing that is unique about this map, unlike a road map, is that the buildings do not face the road. They are facing the reader. Knowing the businesses helped the artist to capture its “best side” and profile that in the artwork. “I was able to find its photogenic side!” says Mason. That’s the side that would be most recognizable from the street. As I drew each business, I was very aware that the owners would be examining their individual “business portrait” with a keen eye. But that made working in small details more rewarding.”
The process then included:
1) Sketch in blue pencil - to rough in the details and get perspective,
2) Draw in pencil – here each building was drawn about 11’’ wide to get all the details in,
3) Brush and Indian Ink – the line work,
4) Photoshop – to lay in the colour, shadow and highlights, and using
5) Illustrator – to place all the components on the map, add text and other graphics while composing the picture.
At this point, each building now had its own layer in the picture. To make any change, the artist had to find the right layer to make that change. At the end, there were between 50 -60 layers to go through. Not only did it become complex and cumbersome, “but as the file got bigger and bigger, the computer got slower and slower,” said Mason.
Mason also had to consider different viewpoints when working on a building. He would zoom in and pay attention to the micro details of the roofline, and all the fine details of the architecture that give a building depth and character. Then he would zoom out to the whole map to see how it fit into everything else.
Mason explained that this is more like a 3D map, in that unlike a road map where everything is to scale and follows the road, this map has depth. It has a sky, a river, the hills, so consideration also had to be given to colours. Was the sky going to be too dark? What colours to make the trees? How to capture all four seasons that are all so important in our town?
Asked what the biggest challenge usually is in a project like this, Mason answered that it’s usually working with a committee. “When I’m working with a committee, the costs can actually double. Usually committees tend to make many changes for personal preferences and I have to balance that with the artist’s view. It turned out much better than I had braced myself for,” he admitted. The committee was very well organized. In this case, there was one point person and each person’s role was well defined. Feedback was very quick and timely meaning that he didn’t have to lose time waiting for answers. Changes were about accuracy and omissions rather than about personal preferences of colour and style. The committee members agreed and there were no changes back and forth because of personal styles.
The biggest challenge was a change that came late in the game. The artwork was ready to go to the printers and the text descriptions had been reviewed for typos, grammar and fonts when someone came to the realization that, the map should have French descriptions appear first. “There were many steps involved in correcting that,” said Mason, “and there were lots of layers to work with. The risk of creating errors while fixing others at such a late stage was very time consuming.”
The map is coming out in a couple of weeks and Mason’s friends are happy. They will finally get their buddy back for those paddling trips that he missed this fall. “It’s been a much bigger project than we all expected.”
The fun map truly captures the essence of our town. It’s sure to keep tourists wanting to come back time and again to discover new things to do each time…and to soak in the charm that is Chelsea.
Ever the consummate artist, Mason shared that “there are even a couple artists’ secrets hidden in the map… hint; one business is drawn from one viewpoint on the front and a different view on the back of the map,” he said mischievously.