The maps created by Eric Brightwell lack the precision of the Thomas Guide, and they don’t switch to a Google Maps-like Street View at the click of a mouse. Instead, he uses Sharpies and colored pencils to hand draw maps of Los Angeles area neighborhoods and cities on colored sheets of paper. The Silver Lake resident has drawn more than 100 maps of such places as the Fairfax District, South L.A., Tustin, Pomona Valley and what he called The Mideast Side for his posts that appear on Amoeblog, which is published by Amoeba Music. Each accompanies a brief story, history and photos pulled together by Brightwell for each blog post. The handmade, hidden treasure map-like quality have attracted a following, so much so that he will exhibit his maps for the first time in a show titled “Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography,” which opens next week at the 1650 Gallery in Echo Park.
The map making has introduced the 37-year-old Brightwell to new communities and also exposed him to the ire of residents who don’t agree with his cartographic view of their world:
Recently a guy was angry that on The Harbor [map] I included West Carson, which he insisted doesn’t exist. In some cases people are angered that the maps suggest they live somewhere other than where they thought… for example a friend of mine protested that my map makes it look like she lives in Mar Vista when she’s been representing Venice… People will even deny the existence of neighborhoods simply because they’ve never heard of them (e.g. Little Bangladesh and Historic Filipinotown). How can I forget? Someone practically tried to start a race war over my (correct) spelling of Silver Lake as two words! I do make a lot mistakes, especially misspellings, and people point those out, which is helpful but drives me crazy because then I have to re-do it or amend it.
Click on the link below for an Eastsider Q & A with Brightwell.
Q: Is this your first show?
A: Yes, it is. Originally I had no intention of making art nor did I think of them as such, they were just visual aids for my blog and tools to help me explore neighborhoods.I would’ve just used Google maps as a reference but their maps don’t show neighborhood borders and I have AT&T so my phone is pretty much useless in most places. I remember being especially confounded whilst trying to explore City of Industry… it has a very odd shape and I had no reception anywhere so I gave up and drove home in frustration. Anyway, a couple of my friends told me that they liked the maps and now they’re in a gallery, 1650.
Q:When did you start drawing the maps?
A: The first map that I drew for the blog was Southeast LA County in 2009. It was more for myself than Amoeba. My ex lived in the San Gabriel Valley but had lots of obligations in Southeast LA County and it was so off my radar that I couldn’t figure out where we were. Then I turned it into a blog post. A year earlier I’d started a poll so that readers could vote for what LA neighborhood or LA County Community neighborhood that they’d like me to blog about. I first combined the maps and the neighborhood blog with a very basic map of Wilshire Park that was simply designed to demarcate boundaries and plot a course of walking exploration.
Q: Did you have previous interest in cartography?
A: Yeah, I’ve always had an interest in maps. I was always into mythology and fantasy and in fourth grade I started drawing maps of imaginary lands inspired by The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. In the days of text-based computer games, making maps helped me avoid trap doors and other common dungeon hazards. Then I started making treasure maps for my little brother. When I moved to Tampa as a 16-year-old, I used to explore on my bike and map my surroundings.
Q: What do you draw with and on?
A: I mostly draw with Sharpeez on color paper. I also occasionally use colored pencils and other stuff.
You get to determine the boundaries?
A: I determine the boundaries based on several sources but filtered through my personal views… for example, Little Tokyo was much larger before the Japanese internment but there are all of these Japanese things outside the official boundaries (e.g. Aikido-Aikibujutsu, City Cat Karaoke Studio, Fugetsu-Do, Ginza-Ya Bakery, Hana Ichimonme Restaurant, Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Izakaya Honda-Ya Japanese Restaurant, Issendoki, Japan Arcade, Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society, Japanese Swordsmanship, Jodo Shu North American Buddhist, Kaigenro USA,Kato’s Sewing Machine, Kuragami Plant Boutique, LA Japanese Auto, Little Tokyo Car Wash, Little Toyko Cosmetics, the Little Toyko Library, Maryknoll Japanese Catholic, Mifune, Mikawaya, the former Mitsuwa Marketplace, Niitakaya USA Inc, Nishi Hongwanji Child Development, Shojin, Sushi Go 55, Tajimi Pottery USA, Utsuwa-No-Yakata and Zenshuji Soto Mission) so I just changed the borders… why should a Little Tokyo adjacent block with nothing on it but the Sushi Institute of American be designated as being part of the Arts District?
The Eighth District Empowerment Congress’s “Naming Neighborhoods Project” is helpful for South LA neighborhoods. Sometimes wikipedia, neighborhood signs, wikimapia and the LA Times’ “Mapping LA” help too…
Q: How many have you done for the Amoeblog? How many more?
A: I’ve done about 110 so far. I haven’t blogged about all of them yet… I’ll be gearing up to write about a neighborhood and then more votes come in and lead me elsewhere. I’ll never be done… There are too many neighborhoods and they both come and go.
Q: What are your favorite maps? What others would you like to do?
A: I’m partial to my Missouri, where I grew up. South LA was a beast but I’m proud of it because I’ve never seen any other neighborhood map of the area. I like the way The Harbor turned out… the water effect came from the marker I was using drying up. I am partial to the regional maps, the obscure neighborhoods and LA’s many ethnic enclaves.
Q: What kind of response did you get? Which map has gotten the most response?
A: Most of the responses are positive and enthusiastic… most people are excited to learn of places they didn’t know about. For some reason, the Verdugos map proved the most controversial… Recently a guy was angry that on The Harbor I included West Carson, which he insisted doesn’t exist. In some cases people are angered that the maps suggest they live somewhere other than where they thought… for example a friend of mine protested that my map makes it look like she lives in Mar Vista when she’s been representing Venice… People will even deny the existence of neighborhoods simply because they’ve never heard of them (e.g. Little Bangladesh and Historic Filipinotown). How can I forget? Someone practically tried to start a race war over my (correct) spelling of Silver Lake as two words! I do make a lot mistakes, especially misspellings, and people point those out, which is helpful but drives me crazy because then I have to re-do it or amend it.
Q: How big the are the originals?
A: So far all but one (Taiwan) are 8.5 x 11. However, I’d love to do larger ones and we’re going to offer that at the gallery.
Q: What does the show title – “Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography” – refer to?
A:It started as kind of an in-joke. I always give my residences names, following the old British custom of naming manors, halls, castles, &c. Pendersleigh was the name of a house in an EM Forster novel, “Maurice.” So I adapted that to “Pendersleigh & Sons.”