THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Maps and views blog

11 November 2016

Colouring maps for adults

Adult colouring books. Leave it to the kids? Whether you’re addicted to them, or bamboozled by their appeal, they’re probably here to stay. Adult colouring atlases (currently for sale in the British Library shop) are particularly interesting, and not so peculiar as you might think because before printed colour came in during the late 19th century, by hand is exactly how maps were coloured.

It wasn’t so usual to use colouring pencils in, say, the 18th century. Instead it was usually a water-based paint such as watercolour or the thicker gouache which could provide a brighter and smoother finish.

Page80+81Daniel Stoopendaal after Isaac de Moucheron, 'Plan or View of Heemstede in the province of Utrecht'. Amsterdam: [N. Visscher], ca. 1700. Maps C.9.e.9.(25.).

There were certainly expert map colourists, for example the artist who coloured prints such as the one above from the British Library's sublime 18th century Beudeker Atlas (online version here). Something to aspire to, colouring book enthusiasts.

But colouring maps wasn’t as glamorous a pastime as you may think. There are rumours, for example, that among others the 19th century London mapmaker John Tallis used child labour for the colouring of his maps. Looking closely at the outline colour in the map below, I think we can all agree that a gold star was probably not so forthcoming.

Tallisnam

John Tallis, 'North America'. From Tallis's Illustrated Atlas and Modern History of the World. London, 1851. Maps 5.e.25.

So when you next find yourself daydreaming as you delicately shade pale pink just the right side of a printed line, spare a thought for those browbeaten children who would likely have had at least 50 atlases to complete before bedtime.

Our exhibition Maps & the 20th Century: Drawing the Line is now open.