hidden europe 61

The Map-Maker: From Brockley to València

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Just published in early 2020, Mike Hall’s rail map of Iberia neatly combines cartographic tradition with modern styling (map and image © Mike Hall).


We explore the work of contemporary illustrator Mike Hall who, from his base in Spain, produces many very fine maps. Creative use of tints and fonts, often complemented by an elaborate cartouche, and a bold aesthetic underpin maps which are both practical and beautiful.

Mike Hall wakes early on these summer days. He makes his way quietly to his study, taking care not to disturb his sleeping partner and daughter. Throwing open the shutters, the morning València sunshine brightens the room and reveals a scatter of maps and atlases. Coffee to hand, Mike settles in for some solid work on his latest map.

This is a meticulous, painstaking endeavour. But with a range of blue chip clients in both the private and public sectors, Mike has moved from being a mere hobby cartographer to develop a buoyant business as a professional illustrator and map-maker. From his base in the Spanish Levante, Mike’s cartographic imagination spans the globe. He has produced synoptic small-scale maps of entire regions, like the overview map featured in Anissa Helou’s book Feast: Food of the Islamic World and, at the other extreme, very detailed plans. Examples of such large-scale work include Mike’s visitor maps of a resort hotel complex on the coast of Barbados or a Benedictine monastery and visitor centre in Devon.

Mike takes up the story. “I spent a lot of my childhood obsessively drawing maps. Some were of real places, other maps were pure imagination. Flights of cartographic fancy,” he explains. “I lived in Harlow, a new town in Essex. Learning in school about the town’s rapid post-war development, I realised that farms and tiny villages had disappeared as Harlow expanded, and it seemed to me that these changes in the landscape deserved recording.”

Yet cartography was a closet hobby for Mike. “I used to consider this interest to be uniquely mine and a slightly embarrassing secret; other kids in a town like Harlow liked football, cars and pop music, not nerdy things like maps and geography. It took a long time for me to realise that many other people out there share my fascination.”

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Editorial hidden europe 68

In this new issue of the magazine we present articles with a focus on Sweden, France, Greece, Spain and Malta. We have a number of thematic pieces too, taking inspiration in part from rail travel which is experiencing such a welcome renaissance in many parts of Europe just now.