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Flights to Adventure - Maps for a Pilot’s Memoir

Greg Madonna has written a memoir about his time in the 1970s as a pilot, flying in South America and the Caribbean. It’s called "The Learjet Diaries”. His publisher suggested he add a few maps to show the geography to give readers a better sense of the places mentioned. It’s a dark story, of corruption and culture-clash, so the maps would need a serious tone.

He wanted black and white maps, showing countries, major cities, rivers, and mountain ranges - and perhaps some other illustrations to give the map an older look since the story is set 40 years ago. Greg wasn’t sure if we’d need detail maps of specific islands, but we kept that possibility open.

Map of the United States

I decided on the Robinson projection - it’s not the normal projection you’d see on maps showing only the USA, but I wanted to use the same projection for all the maps. We weren’t sure if this would need to be one artboard image or two, so for the first layout draft I sent a single image to confirm the coverage area.

USA map - layout draft - Learjet Diaries book project

I sent samples of some recent projects that aren't in my online portfolio yet - all with completely different styles. He liked the look of the map I created for "The Tsarina's Lost Treasure" so I tried something similar for the first style, but it didn’t look quite right to match the tone of the book. He wanted to try terrain imagery, similar to another sample I'd sent him so I added a light relief background - thanks Natural Earth! We also tried some sketches (Greg’s own!) but he didn’t like the way they looked with the terrain imagery. 

USA map - style option draft with mountain symbols  - Learjet Diaries book projectUSA  map - draft style option with relief imagery  - Learjet Diaries book project

Greg and his publisher preferred the relief imagery, which is the style we applied to the rest of the maps. And we also proceeded with a two-page spread for the map of the U.S.

USA map page 1 - design draft 1 - Learjet Diaries book projectUSA map page 2 - design draft 1 - Learjet Diaries book project

I overlapped the artboards in my working file, so when I exported all the artboards as PNG files it would make sure there was some overlap when the maps were printed in the book. But three cities would have labels in the overlap area, so I created two sub-layers for those three labels. Before I exported the artboard for the left page of the USA map, I made sure that “overlap cities map 1” was visible, and that “overlap cities map 2” was not. Then before I exported the right page, I switched the visibility of these two label sublayers. In this screenshot they’re both visible.

USA map - overlapping artboards for 2 page spread - Learjet Diaries book projectUSA map - Illustrator layers showing sublayers for overlapping city labels - Learjet Diaries book project

This is the final draft copy, showing the final look of the map for the book.

USA map page 1 - final draft 3 - Learjet Diaries book projectUSA map page 2 - final draft 3 - Learjet Diaries book project

Map of Central America

Now that we’d decided on relief imagery instead of symbols to indicate mountains, we started on the next map - of Central America. The initial layout draft didn’t include Florida, so I zoomed out for the first full design draft.

Central America map - layout draft - Learjet Diaries book projectCentral America - first design draft - Learjet Diaries book project

We still thought we’d add some Learjet images to the maps, so I found some clipart and included several of them on the next draft to see if Greg liked the look of any of them for these maps. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find public domain line art of 40-year-old Learjets! In the end, Greg and his publisher decided against including these images on the maps so I removed them. And I added curved country labels.

Central America map - design draft 2 with jet clipart - Learjet Diaries book projectCentral America - final draft 3 - Learjet Diaries book project

Map of the Caribbean and the Bahamas

My initial layout drafts for the Caribbean were in landscape orientation, which meant the book would need to be turned sideways to view the map.

Caribbean map - layout option 1 - Learjet Diaries book projectCaribbean map - layout option 2 - Learjet Diaries book project

It was more important to show part of South America and to use a portrait orientation, so I made this change for the first full design draft. The only changes for the final draft were to lighten the terrain imagery and curve the labels.

Caribbean map - first design draft - Learjet Diaries book projectCaribbean map - final design draft - Learjet Diaries book project

Map of South America

The layout for the South America map was simple, so there were no changes needed. I worked on the South America map at the same time as the USA map and suggested two label options - straight or curved. Greg liked the look of the curved labels so I applied that change to the rest of the maps. I worked on them all concurrently.

South America map - design draft 1 - Learjet Diaries book projectSouth America map - final design draft 3 - Learjet Diaries book project

There were about 50 layers in Illustrator for this project, which I organized into sub-layers for each map view.

USA map Illustrator layers - Learjet Diaries book projectCentral America map Illustrator layers - Learjet Diaries book project

Caribbean map IIlustrator layers - Learjet Diaries book projectSouth America map Illustrator layers - Learjet Diaries book project

Greg’s book, "The Learjet Diaries: A Coming of Age Story", is available now on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. He told me some of the stories when we first talked on the phone, but there are more details and teasers on his Amazon page. I look forward to reading about his adventures!

Follow me on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook. Watch a time-lapse video of this map in progress.