We're very pleased to share Joe Lillington's large-scale illustrated map commissioned for the recently refurbished Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.

Joe worked with Storythings and a curator from Folger to create a fantastical map featuring many of the characters and the main themes and tropes that feature in Shakespeare's plays to encourage visitors to test their knowledge. He was asked to visualise an imaginary landscape with forest, sea, wilderness and city locations to represent the many and varied scenes from the plays.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is the world's largest Shakespeare collection founded by Henry and Emily Folger in 1889, gifted to the American people in 1932 and is home to more than 300,000 objects including rare books, manuscripts and works of art from the early modern period. The new space will see interactive exhibitions and captivating performances for the public, as well as a reading room and extensive research areas for academics.

Joe kindly took some time out to talk to us about this challenging brief.

"When I first began working on the map it took a little while to get my head around it all.  But once it was settled that the map was this, fantastical, imaginary place, blending all the worlds, characters and settings of each play together, I was able to get started.

One of the most enjoyable parts was deciding how to approach all the different characters. There were a lot of Shakespeare’s plays that I’m not very familiar with, and so it was really interesting looking up each of the characters and what part they play in the plot of each play. I loved seeing which actors had played certain roles over time and the ways each production had chosen to depict and costume the characters in different ways. This helped me as I tried to create sort of amalgamation of different versions of each character for the map to try and make each one recognisable to the viewer.

The biggest challenge was just fitting everything in the map. I started by working out how big I could make each character while still being able to fit them all in, alongside all the important scenery, and all the map labels! This required a lot of trial and error as there were over 140 characters to fit in! 

It was also pretty tricky to work out how to approach the different buildings, ships and landscapes. Certain characters needed to interact with these elements so again it was like a jigsaw, squeezing in different shapes and structures around the placement of characters. For example we wanted to have Juliet standing on a balcony to make her really recognisable, so I had to make sure the Cupid’s Estate building was actually big enough for her to fit her on and not just a background building like those in the city."

"Similarly it was tricky to make sure Cleopatra's barge wasn’t so big that it took up too much focus, while at the same time making it big enough to fit in Cleopatra reclining on the cushions."

"Once the general scale and rough placement of all the different elements was worked out I did tests to decide the level of detail and line weight for each character.  I couldn’t add too much detail as it would get lost when viewing the map from a distance, but needed enough so that the viewer would be able to see the expressions of each character and what they were doing when looking at the map close up. There were also tiny details that needed to be able to be seen, like drawing a tiny spider in a glass of water!"

"Throughout the map I was always trying to depict each different character in a different way, with a different pose or action to make them unique. We wanted the map to be fun and engaging and one of my favourite parts of trying to achieve this was adding fun little ‘easter egg’ details for people to find if they knew aspects of certain plays. It was great collaborating with Folger on this because the brief already included some of these, and as the project went on we were able to squeeze in some extra ones. It was quite a daunting project to start off with but Folger & Storythings were great to work with and together I think we were able to create a map that works really well."

You can see Joe's amazing Fantastical World of William Shakespeare Map in more detail over on his portfolio. We've also recently updated his portfolio with a few more projects so take a look around. You can find Joe on Instagram and if you are interested in working with Joe please email us at info@arenaillustration.com.

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