London-based illustrator Jenni Sparks creates fascinatingly intricate and playful maps of cities across the world, from London and Paris to New York and San Francisco. Not only are they beautiful pieces of art, painstakingly built up following months of research, they also provide a handy reference point as they’re based around the tube or metro maps. Each stop has its own identity, and in turn, its own unique style and font. I took a moment to chat to her during her current travels to India and Sri Lanka about doodling, brutalist architecture, reality TV and studio life in London Fields.
What is your background, how did you end up doing what you are doing now?
I spent most of my childhood doodling on things, even at school most of my schoolbooks were covered in silly drawings! I went to a pretty academic school but when it came down to choosing a degree and ultimately a career I knew that a 9-5 job wasn’t what I wanted. Because I found art so much fun I thought it was a good avenue to go down.
I went to uni, studying illustration and slacked off like pretty much everyone did until the final year. I realised I’d have to work super hard to make drawing a career because there’s so much competition. I kept a little notebook of my goals and each day I’d do something to help my aspiration to be a working freelance illustrator. Having a big online presence and being addicted to Twitter helped, and eventually I got offered an opportunity with Evermade, which I gleefully took and worked my ass off! From then on it was lots of hard work and I made illustration my main priority.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I don’t spend as much time looking for inspiration as I used to, but things I find inspiring are: trashy magazines, bad branding/advertising, bold colour, sign painting, 90’s graphics/Windows ’95, chicken shops, brutalist architecture and reality TV.
How does your design process work, how do you create the maps?
My map-making process starts with me throwing a tantrum about the amount of work that lies ahead of me! After I’ve finished that I start researching the city through books and guides, watching documentaries, and using the internet to make lists of places that should be featured on the map. Then I usually visit the city and meet it’s residents and get local info from them – I can kind of tell what each area is like after visiting.
After that I create a rough layout and mark all the places down and add area names in different fonts corresponding to the feel of the place e.g. I’d draw Kensington in a fancy style and Dalston in a cooler font. Finally I find a photo of each attraction, bar etc and either draw the establishment or a symbol that I think represents it. Then there is just a huge amount of drawing and at the end, a big editing process!
What does the average day look like for you?
My average day involves me waking up pretty late (I’m not a morning person at all) and then going to my studio near London Fields, which I share with eight other illustrators, which is awesome. I then tend to put on some music, make coffee and check my emails. Once I’m all settled in, either I’ll be making sketches or using Photoshop to create final images.
Sometimes I’ll have meetings to go to, which I really enjoy because I like getting out and talking about creative projects. I tend to work until 10/11pm if I’m doing a map, but often someone in the studio will suggest going to the pub around 6! I quite like working in the evenings as it’s so quiet and there are no distractions.
What does the future hold? Are you planning any more maps?
At the moment I am travelling around Sri Lanka, India and Nepal so commissioned work is on hold for a while. In the future I’m sure more maps will be in store, and I would love to start working more with fabric and fashion items.