Create a Map of Your Personal Narrative

(This tutorial was originally published in the book Personal Geographies by Jill Berry, copyright 2011; republished here courtesy of

Final_500This map tells a story that needs telling. Is it the journey of your ancestors, or Lewis and Clark? Are you a military family that has moved a lot, or are you in the witness protection program and have to be shuttled around secretly in the night? Do you have a relative that traveled, like my grandmother, to exotic places whenever she could? Is there a place near or dear to you that needs to be explained because it has had a dynamic history or a colorful passage of time? Any story will do here, a tale of before and after, of immigration, romance, illness or that family secret no one talks about. Find a story that you want to explore, and map it out!

My Map Story

A number of years ago, I moved from Southern California to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I was struck by the abrupt and fantastic rise of the mountains running hundreds of miles to the east. My relatives were among the pioneers who traveled by wagon train across the prairie, and they, too, must have been awed at the site of the fourteen-thousand-foot peaks that jutted like giants into the sky. The daunting face of the Rockies halted many pioneers, some of whom tried to make a life here. Scattered across the prairie, sometimes entirely without visible neighbors, are the remnants of the houses that were built by these intrepid explorers.
The prairie houses have a mystique about them that strikes me every time I find one. A great effort was made to haul wood, stone, glass and furnishings for these homesteads. Babies were born, gardens were planted, barns were raised and livestock were penned. Then, at some dark point, these houses were abandoned. Now they sit, decaying in their bones and stories, on the prairies throughout the central United States. The curtains still blow in empty frames, and skeletal remains of furnishings silhouette the windows.
I drew some of the houses in pencil and then cut them out. I then set the prairie houses atop a vintage aerial map of the area, which I colored with exaggerated saturation. I wanted to show the contrast between the very alive landscape and the floating, ghostlike remains of the houses that once brimmed with life and now contain no life at all.


1—10″ × 10″ (25cm × 25cm) background map or aerial photo printed on coated laser paper
4–5 pictures of things that illustrate your story: people, things, houses or maps
black crayon
scrap paper
watercolor crayons

Step 11. Print a large background map or aerial photo onto coated laser paper. Draw or print images that will be superimposed on this map and cut them out into rectangles. Arrange the images on the map before you glue them down.


Step 22. Cover the edge of the image with a piece of scrap paper and color along the edge with a black crayon. Repeat this on an adjacent edge to create a drop shadow. Repeat this step for the remaining images, coloring on the same two edges.


Step 33. Color the background map using watercolor crayons without water. This creates a hand-tinted photo effect.


Step 44. Rub the colors with your fingers to blend them. The surface will be luminous and shiny.

(From Personal Geographies by Jill Berry, 2011: courtesy of

Personal GeographiesTo learn more about or purchase a copy of Personal Geographies, click here.

You might also enjoy:

Mind-Mapping: Create Your Own Head Map tutorial also from Personal Geographies.

Jill Berry’s artist profile.




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One Response to Create a Map of Your Personal Narrative

  1. This is a great tutorial. I would love to do this with an image of my family’s farm in VA, where my mother, aunts & uncles, and cousins live within walking distance… a great idea for our family Christmas get-together! Thanks, Jill, for another great map project.

    Creative Soul Juice