Like A Kid Again: Make-Believe Maps

Guest post by Mandy Russell.

Over a year ago I had the pleasure of working with 180 area second graders, as a resident artist, teaching them how to make their own pretend maps. With paint, paper and Mod Podge, they were able to design their own little worlds, limited only by the edges of their canvas. The children took to the project quickly and became immersed in constructing land, rivers, roads, houses, landmarks and more. They worked happily and created beautiful art. These kids readily and quickly moved past any perceived mistakes. They hadn’t yet developed that loud-voiced inner art critic. They were free to express their creativity, plain and simple, without hesitation. Plus they were all soooo darling! It was an emotionally touching experience; one that I will never forget.

I remember loving maps as a kid, especially the fantasy kind, like the ones that accompanied adventure books. I would pour over them and imagine myself there, in that strange land. (Think Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Swiss Family Robinson, Treasure Island, etc.) I developed the following playful map project for my art journal but soon realized it could be completed on much larger paper.


Start with a smooth surfaced paper, like 140lb hot press watercolor paper or mixed media paper. Choose three or four colors of acrylic paint; two light values (representing water), and one or two medium to dark values (representing land). I especially like using fluid acrylics, but any will do. On a large piece of pallet paper, pour two separate puddles of the lighter paint. With a brayer, roll into the paint puddles (in no particular fashion) and then brayer the surface of your paper. I stay rolling in the same direction, but there really are no rules here, just cover most of the page, using only the painted brayer. Then do the same for the darker paint, however use a bit less. Think a little about placement here as the darker paint will be your land masses. Let it dry completely.


Using an art pen, I prefer Soufflé by Sakura, outline some of your darker paint splotches. These are your land masses. (I like the island look for sure!) Water down one of the lighter paint colors to create a semi-transparent wash and go over the water area on your map, homogenizing the colors a bit. This is your body of water. Let dry.


Now think about your make-believe map key. I like to refer to it as your key to happiness. After all, maps show us the way, so let this one show you the way to your most happiest of places. What places in this world give you the most joy? These could be real or completely made up. I love my home, so that’s on my key. I’m a shameless collector of art supplies, so I’ve included an art store on my map. Dog parks, botanical gardens, whales, butterfly sanctuaries, sea turtles and fireworks also give me great joy.

To construct your key, use a small size Pitt pen by Faber-Castell and draw a long rectangle somewhere along the side of your map. Decorate it with some crooked swirls if you’d like. Differentiate this key from the rest of the map by filling in the rectangle with a wash of a slightly different color.Stamp the word “KEY” at the top using mismatched letter stamps and a black Memento Luxe stamp pad by Tsukineko. (A most delicious, dark, thick ink! But be warned; Memento Luxe takes a while to dry completely on paper.) For your map symbols, use hacked-up acrylic stamps. That’s right, cut your less-used acrylic stamps into smaller segments! (Don’t we all have a few acrylic cling mount stamps that we rarely, if ever, use?) Use the Pitt pen to label your symbols with funky lettering. Find my quick and easy tutorial on lettering here. Go around the edge of your land again with the Pitt pen, just to define it a bit more.


Draw a north-pointing arrow on your map as well as a scale. Stamp on your happy places, constructing your pretend world. Label a few water bodies. Remember large water bodies get bigger writing than small water bodies. Just to stick to correct map anatomy!


You can make your map simple or complex, messy or neat, dark or flowery…whatever floats your boat! The point is to play like a kid again, gloss over perceived mistakes, and have fun in your own imagination. Get immersed in making your own world.


Mandy Russell sometimes feels likes she lives on her own planet. She is often misunderstood but continues to exert her unsolicited opinion anyway. She finds great companionship in her loyal doggie, messy children and knight-in-shining-armor husband. Art making for Mandy has been elemental in helping her heal from the devastating loss of her mother at a young age. For more info and unsolicited art advice, visit her website at


For more art journal inspiration, check out the following titles:
Click to Purchase Art Journal Art Journey! Click to Puchase Art Journal Kickstarter! Click to Purchase Art Journal Courage!

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One Response to Like A Kid Again: Make-Believe Maps

  1. collagediva says:

    Mandy, I love maps. This post reminds me of a map I created to commemorate my first year blogging and all of the neat people I met in “bloglandia.” You can see that old post here:

    It was fun to look back on my map. It brought back so many fond memories.

    Thanks! Kathryn, Collage Diva