Birds Make the Art, Part 5: Avian Cartography

Birds Make the Art, Part 5: Avian Cartography

Julie Leibach
Published: 02/08/2012


The Harbingers (detail), Sparrow, cut Geological maps of Great Britain, pins, installation, dimensions variable, 2011/Claire Brewster
We know that birds are all over the map, but in the case of British artist Claire Brewster’s work, maps are all over the birds. She uses old cartographical items to create, through careful cutting, intricate avian forms. Inspired by nature, she also re-imagines insects and botanicals in paper. Below Brewster reveals some of the thought behind her elaborate designs.

How do you choose which birds to represent?
I research in books and on the Internet, looking for pictures. I am influenced by the movement of the birds, which is why hummingbirds are big favorites of mine. Somehow little birds seem to have more character to me. I like the idea of them punching above their weight in the bird world. I am also influenced by nature in the urban environment. I live in the center of a big city (London, UK) and love seeing the birds that have also made London their home, and how they have adapted to survive in the big city.

Searching for the remains, cut Map, pins foam board, box frame, 60 x 70 cm, 2011/Claire Brewster

Do you use a guide to help you?
I don’t use a guide as such. I tend to search on Flickr for images but also get my inspiration from other places, like the amazing TV series Earth Flight (a BBC natural history documentary series) and I have a book, Flights of Fancy, Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition, which I find very inspiring. I like reading about how certain birds have gained their reputations. My piece, “The Harbingers” was based on the idea of sparrows being seen as bringers of bad luck.

Where do you get your map material?
I usually get the maps from eBay, Etsy or junk shops. eBay and Etsy are great because they give me access to maps from all over the world that I wouldn’t normally be able to find. I enjoy the thrill of bidding on eBay, I think a sense of the unknown is good and the maps are not always as they seem, for me there has to be a sense of jeopardy.

Is there a reason you use certain maps with certain birds?
I work in two different ways, really. Sometimes a map is just asking for a particular bird—I’m not sure why; I just see it and know that is right for the map and the bird. And sometimes I get an idea for a piece and use a map because it relates to the birds or the idea I have.


You can see my heart, cut page from atlas, pins, foam board, box frame, 34 x 44, 2012/Claire Brewster

What instruments do you use to create these works?
It’s pretty basic, really. I use a knife—my favorite brand is Olfa (they are Japanese). I draw out the bird beforehand and stick it to the back of the map as a template and off I go.

How long does it take you to create one piece?
I’ll borrow a brilliant answer to this question [posed to someone else] that I read recently: Each piece takes a lifetime, as I am bringing my life experience and training to each piece. In reality the amount of time is usually several hours as I spend a lot of time drawing the birds first so they look natural and then cut them out.

Do you consider yourself a birder?
I would say I’m a nature lover more than a birder, as I am more interested in the form and shapes that the birds take rather than the type of bird.

The little birds, cut British Isles Road Atlas, pins, foam board, box frame, 81 x 91 cm, 2009/Claire Brewster