Studio Scenes: How to Create an Illustrated Map


If you follow our Instagram, you might have read about our partnership with Rocky Mountain Bride — their latest four issues (Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Montana) each feature an illustrated map by yours truly! You can also find a few extra illustrations in the Idaho and New Mexico issues, but today I wanted to share a bit more about the design process for creating an illustrated city map. I’ll be sharing specifics based on the map I created featuring Jackson Hole, Wyoming, but the process is typically the same for any location. Read on to see how everything comes together!

amy zhang creative | jackson wyoming map illustration | how to create an illustrated map

I always start by brainstorming a list of places from around the city to feature — museums, parks, restaurants, etc. At this stage, I’m focused on building a list, so I don’t worry too much about curating. Then, I create a map in Google so I can see how each place is distributed throughout the city and get a better sense of the overall layout. This is when I start cutting places, or searching for places to add in specific neighborhoods so that the final composition will feel balanced. Since we’re not going for an exact map (I’ll leave that to Google), I do give myself a little leeway in terms of spacing and placement.

Once I finalize the locations and layout figured out, it’s on to the fun part! I’ll pull reference images of buildings, landmarks, and any other specific icons I’ll be using, and then it’s time to start painting! I like to illustrate each element separately — meaning I create the map outline with the streets, the buildings, the trees, the location text, etc. as standalone pieces. That way, I have more control over placement, scale, and details on the final print. Plus, it’s much easier to update the map if if I ever want to change any of the featured locations.

The final step — and also the most fun, in my opinion — is to put everything together! I love this part, because I finally get to see the individual pieces come together and see my vision come to life. It’s also exciting, of course, because it means the illustration is ready to share with the rest of the world.

And there you have it! Honestly, illustrated maps are a long and complicated process, but they really are one of my very favorite things to create. So far, I’ve created several maps from the Rocky Mountain region, but I’ve got plans for many more! What cities are you most interested in seeing??