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Map Paintings: The Idea

by Brian Billow on July 15, 2020

How did I come up with the idea of painting on maps?

I get asked that question all the time at the shows we do, and I tell people I’m not the first person to paint on maps. Native Americans traditionally painted their narratives on the skins of animal hides. When Europeans came to America with paper, in particular ledger paper, it quickly became the surface of choice for the native artists to tell their stories. I’ve seen other artists use maps or parts of maps as backgrounds somewhat hidden behind their art and was always attracted to the idea.

We do art festivals in the summer in Colorado at many of the ski resort towns and so many tourists are wearing T-shirts that say Property of Breckenridge or Aspen or Vail. I thought if I could paint a T-shirt kind of souvenir that might sell well. My first attempts were just minimalist landscapes of sky and earth.

Map Beginnings

Michele suggested I paint a mountain on one and it quickly became a hit. It was also at that time that I developed our “Molten Metals” process that adds a raised metal embellishment to our originals and makes our reproductions look like the original. The first time I attempted it was on a map painting and I was blown away by the effect and the two techniques quickly became my look.

Map Beginnings

Colorado Spring Map

Since the Colorado map paintings were selling so well, I started to do map paintings of others states where we were doing shows and those too were a hit. I now have 10 states that I have done map paintings, and I have more than one for most of those states. They are offered as prints and hand embellished canvas reproductions. Ever since the success of those paintings, I’ve thought I really should do all 50 states or at least the ones that are the most populated or are vacation destinations. I could also do major cities or even other countries, but so many maps, so little time. I try to paint an iconic vision of the state I’m painting on, but sometimes you can’t just do one because of the various scenery in different parts of the state. Also when choosing a subject and a scene I try to paint around the most important place names. I also try to work with the shape of the state and that dictates whether it’s a portrait or landscape orientation. I have also painted the flags of several states starting with my own Colorado flag.

Colorado Map