Ed Fairburn’s Art is a Combination of Cartography and Portraiture

Ed Fairburn’s portraits stand out not only for their craftsmanship and attention to detail, but more importantly, for their unique canvas. Describing his art as a combination of cartography and portraiture, Fairburn relies on original maps as the basis of his work. Employing ink and pencil, he intervenes with these maps, making gradual changes from which a human face arises.

Using the found paper maps as his canvas, Fairburn is interested in the way in which each completed map behaves more like a portrait when viewed from further away—much like the way in which the shapes of countries and continents can only fully be understood from afar.

“I’ll either source my maps from charity shops or old book shops – we have lots of both here in the UK,” relayed Fairburn in an interview with yatzer. “If I’m working on a specific commission I’ll usually source a map on the internet to make the most suitable choice, in terms of the location. When considering a map to work on, I look at the patterns, orientation, and other characteristics – I usually find that the more ‘cluttered’ maps offer the most scope.”

According to Fairburn, his aim isn’t to work against the map, but rather take note from it, preserving the functionality of each map by feeding the composition. To accomplish this, he often spends hours studying each map before actually beginning the work itself. It’s a complicated process, which takes time and patience. But, the results are well worth it.