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. 

The Unbuilt Environment

I've been working on a little project: places that never existed. I came across this map of how Detroit might have looked after the fire of 1805. Reputedly this fire was started by the lighting of cigar ("segar") in a bakery near the center of the then village of Detroit. The entire wooden village was burned down, as was the nearby fort. 

The man advocating for the below rebuilding plan was August B. Woodward who clearly knew something of the L'Enfant plan featuring multiple radial avenues stemming from central plazas. These days it would be a nightmare to drive, but I think was likely very appropriate to its time. It was only partially built. The folks who owned the land it was planned for weren't so very keen. 

The Detroit "Governor and Judges' Plan". Created by Whitewallbuick

The radial street arrangement is a particular favorite of mine when making a map. I made this triptych (DC, Barcelona, Paris) specifically because of the elements present in each city. In this case, radial streets matched with roundabouts. Obviously it was crying out to be made into a paper cut:  

Detroit papercut plan

I admit to mixed luck with patterns when I cut them. One of my first attempts was a small sheet of paper that now lives inside a black glass vase because you can't tell how bad it was behind several centimeters of smoky glass. I love them, but they are not easy. In Istanbul I started a small love affair with them, because if anyone knows patterns, it's the Ottomans: 

That aside, there's something wonderful about making maps of places that never were. It's a whole little world of possibility.