It is often difficult to commit to paper what is in someone else's mind. After a number of years of cutting paper and drawing my designs on the computer first, I can look at a map or an object and have a sense about the restrictions I face in turning that into a paper-cut. How big should it be? How tiny are the cuts? How much time will it take under these circumstances? How much land should be left at the shore line? These are questions I know how to answer. Sometimes people have one area they want and ask me how I would map it. I make suggestions, but the conception does not match what they are thinking in their head. In those cases nothing ever gets commissioned.

On occasion though, I am approached because someone wants something particular, as in this case, a map of a certain length. The idea here was to create an unusual frame and so the point was the paper-cut in the frame, not necessarily the actual paper-cut itself.  The brief was NYC and done a bit like this map of the Thames I made previously. This is, of course, an ideal situation for me, because I'm able to define the scope of the project. This time I chose to do Manhattan from 125th street to the ferry terminal. 

Almost done. 12 inches x 24 inches.

All Done!

I've always wanted to do a map of Manhattan, but I admit I was a bit concerned about how tiny it would have to be. Only at this scale can you begin to understand how it sprawls and how densely packed this island is. The rivers on both sides lend themselves to paper cutting because the negative space complements the tight dense streets but also sets them apart. 


Every now and then someone contacts me on Etsy about creating a special piece for them. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. In one case I was never able to figure out what the individual who had contacted me wanted. We can't always translate what's in our heads to what the person making the thing is capable of doing. In any event, I had an idea about creating a map that was more white space and very specific shapes. It coalesced during one of these conversations around making a map of Harlem.

This is one of my favorite maps. The straight lines reveal a sort of skeleton of NYC. The bottom of Harlem touches the top of Central Park. I enjoy running my fingers across the remaining lines of paper.

What makes this piece work is the bodies of water. I've drawn it out for my old neighborhood in Chicago, but it doesn't look as visually compelling. 

The View from Above

This is one of my favorite pieces: Roosevelt Island in New York City. I came upon this place quite by accident. I've been to NYC twice in my life, once in 2010 on my way from London to Chicago and once in July to meet my family and friends half-way between the two in 2013. I bought an MTA pass and wanted to go wandering. I wanted to see the HighLine and all manner of transport related things. I ended up accidentally seeing that there was a stop on an Island in the middle of the East River. 

What I love about this island is that it has a cable car (of the flying variety). You can see it next to the bridge. Check out that sky. 

The view from the cable car. It was me and a whole car full of Chassidic women and their charges. An authentic experience I think you call it.  

There's an old asylum on the Island, which adds a delightful gothic flair. 

I spent several hours walking the island and deeply enjoying the height of a glorious NY summer. In previous map cutting exercises with islands in rivers I usually just left the entire island white to signify a lack of roads at the scale of the rest of the map. However, that seemed disingenuous to the experience of the island. So I attempted to finely trace the edges of the island and then a few of the paths to give a sense of it as an accessible space.

One of the primary difficulties I have when I am drawing my lines for cutting is the shoreline. There are several different ways to approach this. It gets complicated when roads run right up to the edge as they often do in large cities. In this photo you can see that the large sections of white represent area that has no road but is not the river. This is sometimes convenient when there are parks or beaches, but in a place like Manhattan or London the roads run alongside and I have to determine how much space to give to maintain the character of what I'm cutting. In this case it turned out quite well. However, I'm likely to cut it differently again the next time because I dislike the thin line at the shore. In other pieces I've made the river boundary thin or made the river solid. This is what I mean when I talk about experimenting with representation and why I like to return to my designs and try something new.