A World Map With No National Borders and 1,642 Animals


A self-taught artist-cartographer and outdoorsman spent three years on an obsessive labor of affection with few parallels.


In July 2020, his universe shrunk to a two-bedroom condominium by a rattling prepare line, Anton Thomas pulled out an H pencil and opened a portal to the world.

Directly, his days of solitude have been stuffed with New Zealand’s native birds; cavorting dolphins, turtles and whales; and polar bears on ice floes. Three years, roughly 2,602 working hours and 1,642 animal species later, “Wild World” is a hand-drawn map of our planet that each conjures up and celebrates surprise.

Mr. Thomas, an exuberant New Zealander residing in Melbourne, Australia, initially anticipated spending lower than a yr on the mission. However because the months wore on and he sank deeper into the “alternative to flee spiritually, and to not go mad,” he stated, the scope of the duty grew. It was typically a wrench to pull himself away on the finish of the day.

A hiker and outdoorsman, Mr. Thomas as a toddler yearned for a world the place nature dominated supreme. His map represents the “idealistic planet that I wished,” Mr. Thomas, 34, stated. “I might look out at Wellington Harbor,” within the New Zealand capital, “and see all the homes, and picture what it was like earlier than any people confirmed up.”

To craft every creature with enough element, he drew principally beneath a magnifying glass, utilizing sandpaper to sculpt his pencil ends to fastidious factors.

Virtually as time-consuming was the analysis guiding his hand. Ought to a South Atlantic archipelago be written because the Falkland Islands or Las Malvinas? Did it matter that the thylacine, typically known as the Tasmanian tiger, might be extinct? Was a preventing bull Spain’s most iconic animal?

So Mr. Thomas set himself tips. Animals must be native to their location and neither domesticated nor extinct. The names of locations would, the place potential, be those most popular by their inhabitants. Human-made borders don’t characteristic. (In observe, this meant each names seem; the thylacine doesn’t; and a Cantabrian brown bear supplanted the toro.)

The map makes use of a Natural Earth projection, and its middle runs by means of 11 levels east of Greenwich Meridian, simply previous Oslo, partially to provide New Zealand and Fiji a extra harmonious placement.

Regardless of striving for “neutrality,” Mr. Thomas acknowledges that any inclusion or omission will spark debate. “Both approach,” he stated, “you’re having a dialog.”

Mr. Thomas spent his first years in Nelson, a small New Zealand port metropolis. To him, its mountains and rivers have been a paradise far eclipsing the fantasy settings of kids’s books or video video games.

The son of an artist, he has no formal coaching past drawing maps, some additionally illustrated with jaunty animal life, from his earliest boyhood. Then as now, he stated, he understood cartography merely as representational drawing from a distance.

Illustrated maps like Mr. Thomas’s are highly effective partially as a result of they mimic how the human mind perceives the world, stated John Roman, an artist-cartographer in Boston and the writer of “The Artwork of Illustrated Maps.”

“We don’t see the latitude and longitude traces of maps,” he stated. “We see the world, in our heads, by means of icons.”

For Mr. Thomas, this equates to a form of “emotional geography,” the place options with better emotional heft — the New York Metropolis skyline, say, or the Golden Gate Bridge — could take up more room.

“There are animals the sizes of mountain ranges on my map,” he stated. “However you realize what? The African lion ought to tower over Kilimanjaro, if we’re drawing an emotional map.”

Virtually as extraordinary as Mr. Thomas’s maps, stated Tom Patterson, a retired cartographer for the Nationwide Park Service, is how he explains them. “His enthusiasm for his work simply form of bubbles out,” he stated.

Mr. Thomas didn’t got down to change into an artist-cartographer. After highschool, he labored within the kitchen of a politics-themed pub in Wellington, whereas performing as a gigging musician.

At 21, dreaming of rock stardom, he departed his homeland for 2 years of “excessive jinks” in North America.

The music profession didn’t progress. However the continent’s gorgeous topography “supercharged” his childhood ardour for geography, he stated, and he started compulsively doodling maps. “I might fall asleep, simply eager about the best way the Sierras become the Cascades,” he recalled, “or how huge the Mississippi Basin was.”

Two years later, working as a chef in Montreal, Mr. Thomas was at a private {and professional} crossroads. “I nonetheless hadn’t gone to college or made any plan for a profession,” he stated. “I used to be fairly apprehensive on the time, like, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’”

Mr. Thomas discovered his approach out of the kitchen by means of a fridge.

A housemate had painted an previous fridge white, and he requested Mr. Thomas to brighten its doorways. For six weeks, he sketched the Americas, full with cityscapes and forests (although no animals), attracting an viewers of passing houseguests, who informed him about their very own travels as his fountain pen traveled from British Columbia all the way down to the Chilean shoreline.

“I liked it,” he stated. “And the opposite factor I seen was that everyone else liked it, too.”

Later, on shifting to Australia, Mr. Thomas honed his abilities as an illustrator and cartographer, ultimately spending 5 years on a many-layered, full-color map of North America.

When the coronavirus struck, he was on the level of sending prints of that map to clients, and it was not till July 2020 that he might embark on “Wild World,” armed with a brand new easel and magnifying glass, and with an empty schedule stretching earlier than him.

On July, 28, 2023, the pandemic lengthy over, Mr. Thomas added the final touches to his map: six ultimate creatures, together with a golden-breasted songbird, a bat weighing lower than half an oz., and a bristly arachnid. Within the staple-bound log ebook the place he had chronicled his work, he concluded, in a ballpoint-pen scrawl: “FINISH WILD WORLD!!!”

Since then, he has been in “small enterprise mode,” getting ready to ship copies of “Wild World” worldwide. However cartography — and the open path — beckon, and for his subsequent mission, he hopes to mix the 2.

For Mr. Patterson, the previous Park Service cartographer, Mr. Thomas’s work stands alone — carried out solely by hand with out digital backups or erase instruments and with a stage of element that conjures up the viewer to position their nostril ever nearer to the web page.

Is some other mapmaker doing something comparable? Mr. Patterson paused momentarily. “No,” he stated.



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