Map creator interview: Sio Yean
You cannot live without seeing maps but map creation is not still not general.
In this series of article, we interview a map creators working with Stroly and reveal a story behind the map creation.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a series of illustrated maps published by Malaysia Airline’s inflight magazine, Going Places.
All the maps had a title such as “12 hours in Kuala Lumpur” or “12 hours in Osaka” as well as location markers labelled A, B, C…
I liked the nice, cosy feeling I got from the colors and the small illustrations so I contacted their illustrator, Sio Yean, to ask for his autorisation to add them on stroly.com .
I have to admit, I was also curious about what places the location markers were referring to.
I thought it would be interesting to share an artist’s perspective on map-making.
Although I literally see dozens of maps every day, I know very little about artistic map-making.
Below are the questions I asked Sio Yean and his answers:
Emery Delmotte, Interviewer:
Hello Sio Yean! Tell us about your background.
What made you interested in art? Who were your early influencers?
Sio Yean, illustrator:
I am a freelance illustrator, comic and visual development artist and also a full-time lecturer in local art college where I teach about story development, illustrations and many others things!
Occasionally, I write about Visual Culture for web media (in Chinese).
I was born in 1980 in Johor Bahru, at the Southern part of Peninsular Malaysia.
Like many of my contemporaries, I grew up with comics and cartoons like Old Master Q, Doraemon, The Mask, etc.
However, I couldn’t afford to buy toys when I was young, so drawing was the most economical hobby.
I started drawing comics when I was in primary 4, after reading Dragon Ball.
One of the people who influenced me the most was my senior in primary school.
We were in the same school bus, and he always shared with me the comics he read, rock music he listened to like the Cantonese rock band Beyond and the comic zine he did.
– Sio Yean as an artist
ED: What is your dream as an artist?
SYL: I did a comic strips based on my life as a father for a few years, I guess my dream now is to get the book published.
ED: Who are your current art inspirations? Do you look to other contemporary artists’ work during your artistic process?
SYL: Recently, I am into Chinese calligraphy and typography. Yes, when I am on a project I will look first at what other artists are doing or have done, then only decide my approach.
ED: Which current art trends are you following? Can you tell us about your favorite art project?
SYL: I love old stuff. Art in the past always amazes me.
I also like to look at maps because it gives me a sense of location.
Sometimes I would look at old maps, like ancient Roman Empire map, to understand how was the world in the past. When you look at old maps from the Middle Ages for example the sea is always full of creatures, there is a lot of expression in them.
ED: How and why did you start drawing maps?
SYL: Going places, an in-flight magazine, was looking for new illustrator. I was introduced by my friend, I sent in my portfolio and got the job.
ED: Tell us about the elements you used in your maps, about your inspirations.
SYL: It is a life-style travelling magazine, so I made it more light-hearted by using simple iconic graphic and characters, accompanied by pastel color with patchy, pastel like stroking method.
– Sio Yean’s maps
ED: Are there any emotional aspects of making a map? What are they?
SYL: Yes. I will ask myself, how the audience would feel when they look at my map. Do they feel more relaxed or happy to travel with my map?
ED: What stories do your maps tell?
SYL: The idea was that if you have only 1 day to visit a city, what are some of the hot spots you must visit.
ED: Do you use maps when you travel? Do you draw maps about your trips?
SYL: I will use map to get a sense of direction when I touch down the city, or when I have a particular place to go to. Or else, I enjoy getting lost in a place.
ED: What is your process to make a map? How to make sense of all the information you need to provide to create an understandable map?
SYL: Once I get the brief, which contains information about what should be included on the map, I will travel the place with Google map to get a sense of the atmosphere.
Then I will mark down the spots according to the brief.
Most of the time, I have to distort the scale in order to fit the map into the format.
However, I will try as much as possible to make the directions correct.
The instructions for this series of maps were to give a relaxing feeling to the reader, so the maps shouldn’t be too precise.
ED: How long does it take you to create one map?
SYL: Depend on how rush is the project, normally 1-2 weeks.
But most of the time, it takes two weeks. The research phase takes the most time. First I think about what are the icons or landmarks that the readers want to see, then I simplify the map by limiting the mapping to the main streets.
ED: Is there a difference between drawing maps of places you have been to and of places you haven’t been to?
SYL: It is actually a strange feeling to draw a map: places I am familiar with sometimes look different when I (re)draw them and places I have never been to become so familiar after I drew them. It is a very weird experience to look at places you know from a 2D perspective. It’s like flattening your own world.
– Map Making
ED: Are your maps hand-drawn? Do you use a computer?
SYL: I did everything digitally, but I hope to achieve a freehand feeling.
ED: What kind of map would be a challenge for you to create?
SYL: A super detailed map or an ancient map. A map of a place that I can’t access with Google map.
ED: What maps would you like to work on next?
SYL: A map of the imaginative or lost world. Or a map that shows the evolution of a city.
ED: Did you visit all the cities you illustrated?
SYL: No, I wish I will one day. I guess without internet, illustrating map will be even tougher.
ED: Generally speaking, what did you try to convey through your maps?
SYL: I try to make the cities look beautiful.
ED: Are you having fun when illustrating a map?
SYL: Yes, especially during the research stage.
– Advices to others and extreme maps
ED: Some people who are not artists are shy or afraid of showing their work, what would you tell them?
SYL: The more you share, the more comments you receive. The more you try, the more you improve.
ED: How good do you got to be at drawing to make an illustrated map?
SYL: It depends on the requirements of the map, some maps are meant to be functional with less personal expression. I guess for illustrating maps, it requires more patience than skills.
ED: Anything you would like to recommend to people who want to make maps but don’t have the self-confidence to do so?
SYL: Draw with bold markers, work with black and white first.
ED: At Stroly, we have a category of map that we call « extreme maps ».
How would you make an « extreme map » and what would it look like? Tell me more about it.
SYL:Maybe a map about international relationship between countries, I will use our body digesting system to reconstruct the map, something like what Fritz Kahn did.
ED: How could an online map platform be interesting for artists and map makers?
SYL: It’s always interesting to see how others view places I am familiar with.
ED: Thank you Sio Yean! It was a pleasure to talk to you!
SYL: Thank you!
– After Interview
I really identified to what Sio Yean said when he talked about how it felt for him to draw a map of a place he has never been to. When I upload a map on stroly.com and then add geolocation points to it, I always spend some time online looking at how the place is. Once I’m done, I somehow feel related to the place depicted by the map.
Following Sio Yean’s advice, I tried to make a quick map of downtown Kyoto starting with black and white.
It’s my first map! What do you think, Sio Yean?
Name: Sio Yean
Birth place: Johor Bahru
Early influences: Dragon Ball, Old Master Q, Doraemon
Number of maps illustrated: 11
Sio Yean’s work: visit his Behance