Illustrators dream up imaginary islands in a new book

In 1719, Daniel Defo published Robinson Crusoe, an epic tale of adventure, strife and island life. One of the earliest English novels, the book behind left a impenetrable legacy in literature and beyond, its traces still felt in stories revolving around island castaways in popular culture. It even spawned its own genre, Robinsonade, which lifts from the novel’s themes of desertion and survival, and applies them to narratives far beyond the confines of a desert island.

It’s also inspired a new Thames & Hudson book, which is commemorating the classic novel with the help of 91 illustrators, each depicting a mystical isle in map form. Archipelago: An Atlas of Imagined Islands features illustrations by the likes of Coralie Bickford-Smith, Hervé Tullet and Rian Hughes, each work stamped with their individual artistic codes.

Top image: Sömnö © 2019 Bill Bragg; Above: Mihi © Coralie Bickford-Smith
Robinson © 2019 Rodica Prato
Tip Toe Archipelago © 2019 Hervé Tullet
Port Venture © 2019 Ben Giles

The maps vary hugely in appearance, some using conventional characteristics like those found on dusty old maps while others draw on contemporary illustration styles. In some cases the artists even toyed with depth, as seen in the layered collage creation by Ben Giles, or Hervé Tullet’s footprint centrepiece.

The illustrators were given a blank canvas, with the simple invitation: “imagine an island”. Rose Forshall’s island, Selkirk, pays tribute to the explorer said to have inspired Robinson Crusoe; Isabel Greenberg’s kingdoms of Angria are home to the Brontë children; while Brendan Kearney maps out Crumbs, a series of islands discovered by shipwrecked bakers and their dogs. The artworks are all joined by an individual description of each island determined with the help of editor Huw Lewis-Jones: what is its story, where is it found, and who lives there – if anyone?

Beyond the islands, the maps invite questions about the illustrators themselves. From the name and theme they landed upon to the features and nuances they’ve picked for their imaginary island, each creation reveals much about its creator.

The maps evidently offer a unique storytelling opportunity – something cartography lends itself to surprisingly well. Earlier this year, Perry Nightingale produced The Island of Creativity for CR, a map created to visualise the various landmarks an individual passes on a creative voyage. The freedom of form allowed him to “represent things that are still hard, if not impossible, for science or technology to measure,” and, like Archipelago, paints an imaginative picture that inspires some form of discovery.

Archipelago: An Atlas of Imagined Islands edited by Huw Lewis-Jones is published by Thames & Hudson on September 19, £24.95; thamesandhudson.com

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