Artist teases stunning art from the “spaghetti on a plate” of old maps

Turning old maps into stunning art

London — These days, planning a journey is as easy as hitting “go” on a smartphone app. The traditional paper road maps of the past are all but obsolete. There’s one British artist, however, who sees old maps as a new canvas.

“This is absolutely stunning, this is beautiful,” Ed Fairburn remarked as he flipped through maps in his studio Southampton, on England’s south coast.

Most people don’t even own a map, but Fairburn can’t get enough of them. 

“I love the paper types, the textures. I love the stories that maps can tell, the history behind maps,” he told CBS News.

Artist Ed Fairburn, left, shows CBS News correspondent Ian Lee some of his work at his studio in Southampton, England.
CBS News

Fairburn’s journey begins with his pen, which he uses to tease beautiful images out of the lines and shapes on maps. He marks and draws in and outside a map’s own lines, drawing inspiration from each map’s unique features.

And those features vary considerably, especially when comparing maps from different sides of the Atlantic.

“I often think of U.K. locations like, you know, it’s like spaghetti on a plate,” he said. “There are roads going in and out of everywhere.”

Maps from the U.S., however, often look distinct because American cities were largely planned and built many years later, on grids. 

“I kind of see a lot of shapes and patterns in maps, almost like a sort of gesture, a sort of choreography in the landscape,” he said.

Under the artist’s pen, the streets, hills, and rivers morph into hair, cheekbones, and lips. 

A piece by U.K. artist Ed Fairburn is seen on the wall of his studio in Southampton, England.
CBS News

“You got all these, kind of shapes that complement one another but don’t necessarily align perfectly, and that’s kind of what I’m looking for,” said Fairburn.

His creative cartography is making its mark across the pond. His work has been featured at the Abend Gallery in Denver.  But it’s Fairburn’s transformations on TikTok that turned Katherine Revelle into a first-time art buyer. 

She’s bought three of Fairburn’s maps.  

“I came across a video of his process, and was just completely mesmerized,” she said.

The map magic captured her children’s imaginations, too. 

“They were a little bit delighted by a grown-up being a little naughty and drawing on maps,” she told CBS News. “The idea that they could get away with that — maybe a little inspired.­­ I think the idea of drawing on top of something that already existed was appealing to them — or maybe a little bit scandalous.”

For Fairburn, it’s an artistic adventure, and each piece arrives at its own unique destination. His original works sell for anywhere between $3,000 and $15,000, depending on their size, complexity and the time it takes him to complete.


  • Art
  • United Kingdom

Ian Lee

Ian Lee is a CBS News correspondent based in London, where he reports for CBS News, CBS Newspath and CBS News Streaming Network. Lee, who joined CBS News in March 2019, is a multi-award-winning journalist, whose work covering major international stories has earned him some of journalism’s top honors, including an Emmy, Peabody and the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Tom Renner award.

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