Thursday, September 13, 2012

On the Map

Back in our first post I mentioned how much I wanted some watercolor art in our house. I've been looking around and I found a gorgeous watercolor map of Paris on Etsy... for a whopping $250.

It occurred to me that there may be an artist out there that does maps of Austin, and lo and behold, I found this beaut for $95, which seemed much more reasonable. Once I read more about it, though, it wasn't even the original! It's just one of many copies, and there's no way I'd pay $95 for a copy (and probably not even for the original, even though it is a-ma-zing).

This was begging to be a DIY project, so I went to Michael's to get supplies. I knew I'd need paper, brushes, and paint, all of the watercolor variety. There were about 3 different qualities of each material, so I spent a while deciding how much money I wanted to spend. I decided not to skimp on the paper quality because the cheaper brands were about half as thick... and wet, thin paper eventually turns into wonky, dry paper. I went for cheapish brushes that weren't plasticy but certainly weren't their nicest ones, and then realized I'd need graphite paper to transfer the map to the watercolor paper. 

Then came the paint. They had some super fancy $15 tubes that were teeny tiny which seemed pretty ridiculous. There were also white plastic packs that had dried paint in them which was like a flashback to my childhood, and clearly not very high quality. The only other option was teeny tiny tubes for $5 each. Even though they were less than the $15 tubes it still seemed pricey, but it was that or the kiddy paints, so I went for them. I was originally planning on doing warm, light browns to match the Paris map, but I got a little nervous it would look muddy, so I ended up with blue for the water, green for the land, and brown to add a little variation in the green. 

The great thing about Michael's is that they almost always give you a 40% off coupon when you buy something. The downside is that it's usually not valid for a few days, so you have to carry it around hoping you'll need to go back for something later that week. I've started chunking those receipts because now they have an app! The coupons are different every day and sometimes they're even better than the 40% off ones. You just pull it up on your phone, click the coupon you want, and they scan it from your phone. Couldn't be easier. I used the 50% off coupon and it got applied to the most expensive thing, which was the paper.

Once I got home I went to Google maps and took a screen shot of downtown Austin. I considered doing North Austin and including the neighborhoods we currently live and will live in after we're married, but I wanted to have some water and downtown is just way more fun. I had to play around with the sizing in Photoshop for a while because the first time I printed it out it the squares between the streets were tiny and I didn't want to torture myself. I ended up with this:

There were 1/8" white margins when the map printed out, so I trimmed those off. The watercolor paper is 9"X12" and I decided I'd trim it down rather than printing more maps to fill it to the edges. Plus, standard paper sizes look better in the frames I want to put these in. I taped the map to the watercolor paper in two places and put the graphite paper between them, graphite side down, and started tracing!

I used a dull pencil so the line wouldn't be too harsh.

Once it was all traced, I put a little dab of the green and brown paints on a plate and watered them down. As I painted each square I tried to use a different amount of brown or a different amount of water so they'd be variated.

About an hour and a half later I was done!

I'm thinking about writing "Austin" in the bottom left hand corner, but I don't have good handwriting and I'm a little nervous about messing it up after all that. In the end I think I probably will, but I have to work up the courage. In the mean time I may make a few more... I'm thinking about doing other cities that John and I have been to together, which right now includes Honolulu, Vancouver, and one of two cities in Virginia (either Staunton or McDowell). I can't wait for us to go other places so I can add them to our map collection!

In retrospect, $5 for the tubes of paint wasn't a bad deal after all. The paint gets watered down so much that the amount of paint in there will actually go really far. Plus I can always use my Michael's app to save even more if I get more colors. Maybe I'll go back to Michael's today and pick up a floating frame for this guy since the 50% off coupon is valid for a few more days.

I'm realizing that I'm not all that original, but I feel like I'm creative enough to replicate things fairly successfully. I wouldn't have thought to make a watercolor map on my own, but with a little inspiration I think I did ok. I guess you shouldn't expect any genius ideas coming from me, but as long as I have Pinterest I should be able to do fun stuff. 

This turned out just fine with the cheapo brushes... anyone an expert on the pros and cons of using nicer ones? Would my map have been any better with a $10 brush?


  1. Check out and find one you can trace!

  2. Replies
    1. About an hour. We have 5 of them hanging in our dining room now--this post is old haha. And yes, I love dafont! That's what I ended up doing

    2. This was before we moved into our condo... Click "Our House" at the top of this page to see where they are now :)