The London Zodiac for Curiocity

Client: Curiocity Magazine/Penguin UK | July 2015 - April 2016 | Digital rendering
Curiocity: In Pursuit of London is a book by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd-Rose, the creators of Curiocity magazine and published by Penguin. It is divided into 26 alphabetically-titled chapters, each focussing on a different theme of London life, history or culture. Writers including Monica Ali, Shami Chakrabati, Michael Horovitz, Robert MacFarlane and Philip Pullman were among the contributors. Each chapter features artwork (including a double-page centrepiece map) by a different illustrator, and I was invited to create artwork for chapter N, 'Nocturne', all about London at night. I previously contributed map designs to Curiocity magazine's issues 'C' (see here) and 'E' (here).

This is an abstract representation of London in the style of a traditional zodiacal star chart, and is an evolution of an earlier design (inspired by my interest in astronomy and star charts) that I contributed to Issue C of Curiocity magazine in 2012.

The composition of two large hemispheres surrounded by six smaller circular diagrams is directly inspired by this 17th-century celestial map by a Dutch engraver, Frederik de Wit.

The two hemispheres loosely represent west and east London. The River Thames is represented as a snaking arm of a galaxy, Milky Way style, across both hemispheres. Each ‘constellation’, illustrated in the antique style with a zodiac-style character or object, is a grouping of locations (shown as stars) within a certain district linked by a particular theme. For example, ‘SCEPTRE’ is a sequence of supposedly haunted locations around west London; ‘COCKEREL’ is a sequence of famous hotels in Mayfair; and ‘ASTRONAUT’ is a sequence of locations linked to space exploration in Lambeth and Westminster.

The text in the chapter explains the meaning of each constellation and each ‘star’ location is described in sequence, like a walking tour. For example, the constellation "DREAM" (a scorpion) is explained as follows:

'Start your waking dream at the house of Sigmund Freud, which has occasional late opening. Bear south to Primrose Hill; at night-time the vista is magical. For a fulsome blast of dream-like surrealism, continue your journey east along Regent’s Canal from the zoo to Camden Lock. Wild dogs prowl their canal-side enclosure. A Jolly Roger flaps over Pirate Castle. Out on Camden High Street there are monsters crawling down the buildings: dragons, angels, silver scorpions and a giant white rocking chair.'

The figure for 'Creek' is based on the dwarf figure that appears on the statue of Peter the Great by Mikhail Shemyakin in Deptford.

Each of the six diagrams around the edge of map are spoofs of the astronomical diagrams that appear on the De Wit map and illustrate nocturnal subjects, as follows (clockwise from top left): cocktails (a martini glass), moths, bagels, disco, night buses (a bus map) and graffiti.

The 'N' title illustration for the chapter header page, and the illustration by William Blake that inspired it.

A selection of other illustrations I contributed to this chapter.

Clockwise from top left: 'Litter', 'Nightwalk (Charles Dickens)', 'Pagoda Sunrise' (the Battersea Park pagoda), 'Rough Sleeper' and 'Dalmatians (Primrose Hill)'.

The handsomely designed book itself, now widely available at all good bookshops.