Custom Places in Paper

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a white wall with a black frame hanging on it

From the beginning, my favorite part of crafting Paper Places is the potential for customization. I started by finding map data for the towns around where I live and creating Paper Places for those areas. It is delightful to share my work at a local art market event and have conversations with folks about which towns look interesting, which ones have boring shapes, and what color would look best for a map of Boston in a living room/bathroom/kitchen/bedroom/office.

The other most common conversation I had in that situation was “Do you have [insert random place here]?” So I decided to create custom maps of any place you can dream up. That decision has led me (via map data) around the country to California, Virginia, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, Alaska, and more. I’ve even created a few Paper Places of spots around Europe!

I’ve learned so much about different areas of the U.S.:

Tucson and LA

I discovered that Tucson, Arizona has a really wild municipal boundary, but I can’t really tell why. I learned that Los Angeles bears a striking resemblance to Pikachu (the tail is an interstate corridor that connects the city to the harbor).

Framed rectangular map of Los Angeles, CA with a gray background and Tucson, AZ with a green background. Black frames hang on a dark gray wall with dramatic lighting from the side.

The Commonwealth of Virginia

To create the custom order below, I became well-acquainted with the coastal islands and rivers of Virginia. I can design Paper Places for states, countries, parks, lakes, etc. – anything with a discrete boundary! I also had fun adding a custom Place Marker to this map of Cape Cod for the same client:

Gray ladder shelf with plants and two framed Paper Places: Virginia with a gray background, and Cape Cod with a yellow background

Heading West and South

The more Paper Places I’ve created further away from New England, the more I realized that I’m lucky I started with little towns like Arlington, MA and Somerville, MA. As you head west and south of New England everything get bigger! The municipal boundaries get pretty intimidating to represent at the scale of an 8×8 or 8×10 piece of paper! I created these gorgeous gray and white custom Paper Places for a client who lives in Fort Worth, TX and grew up in Florence, AL. I carefully simplified the map data for each one to make something that could actually be cut out of paper.

Custom framed paper art map of Florence, AL with a light gray background on a white mantle near a small potted plant
Custom Paper Place showing the city of Fort Worth, TX with a light gray background hanging on a white wall with distressed wood surface below and to the left

As I design and cut out each map I find myself wondering who was responsible for all of the little zigs and zags in the boundaries. I wonder when those decisions were made, by who, and what their reasoning was! Sometimes I find myself getting lost clicking around Google Maps. I want to try to understand why that particular park or neighborhood was excluded, even though I’ll likely never visit that spot.

Maybe I missed my calling as a city planner? I don’t actually think so, but I do wonder what they were thinking sometimes!

How to order a custom Paper Place

Once you have a place in mind, all you need to do is fill out this easy customization form and place your order! You’ll hear from me in 1-2 business days to finalize any details and review the custom mockup illustration with you. Here are some examples of different mockups:

A collection of digital mockups of custom paper places, including Madison, NJ, Provincetown, MA, Seattle, WA, Isle of Palms, NC, Menlo Park, CA and Paris, France

This is a digital illustration that shows roughly what the finished product will look like. The colors and shadows aren’t true to life. They’re meant to give a general impression so you can decide if you like the design.

I created this map of Hamburg, Germany with specific attention to the rivers across the city, and the lake in the middle of the city. We finalized the design via the mockup on the left, and this is how the finished product turned out!

Make a Mark (on a map) – New Custom Map Markers on Paper Places

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Hand holding a place marker in front of a custom Paper Place framed map art

A friend commissioned some custom maps for family members around the holidays last year. He also asked if I could add some sort of indicator of where the family members homes were in each town. This was something I had thought of a few times over the years, but never actually sat down to figure out. This time, I figured it out!

A few months ago, I added the option to include a place marker when you order any Paper Place, or custom Paper Place, from my website. Etsy doesn’t make it easy to add this sort of customization, so this feature is only available here at yeiou.com right now.

Add a Map Marker

Screenshot of website interface to choose Place Marker Style and address.

In order to add a marker to your map, first choose the map you’d like to customize! Once you’re on the product page, scroll down to the “Place Marker Style” option and choose the design you’d like for your marker. Indicate the address of the location you’d like to mark, add the map to your cart, and you’re good to go!

Framed map of Medford, MA with a heart-shaped place marker indicating the location of the customer's home.
Framed map of Medford, MA

This map of Medford, MA was the first map ordered with the new options, and such a great color choice!

Make your own Paper Place

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Packaged Make Your Own Paper Place kit on a desk

Have you ever noticed how places are always an important part of the story? Whether the story is a fairy tale, a fable, or what happened Tuesday afternoon, there’s always a setting. Over time, you collect places that are important to your story, whether that’s a home, a park, a school or campus, an office, a restaurant, a town, a state, a region, a country, or all of the above. My work is about celebrating places, and I love to do that by preserving memories of them with paper – something that is everywhere, and usually so ephemeral and fragile, but cut and sculpted and framed becomes an heirloom.

The video tutorial shows how to use my Make Your Own Map Shadowbox Kit (available for now exclusively through GarrettWade.com), which contains all of the supplies you need to, well, make your own map shadowbox! The kit includes:

  • Instruction booklet
  • Shadowbox Frame
  • Paper for the map cut-out as well as the background
  • Japanese Woodcarving Knife (for cutting the paper)

You will also need:

  • A prying tool or old credit card
  • A pencil or other drawing tool
  • Optional: collage materials like glue, additional paper colors or textures, photographs, memorabilia

The funny thing about remembering and celebrating places, is that they then become part of the story of the place you are now. If you’d like to share your paper places online, tag @yeioupaperobjects on Instagram, and use #yeioupaperplaces!

The story of yeiou paper places

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Three framed paper places on a wall near a potted plant

I started making Paper Places in the summer of 2019. I had already started making house portraits, and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to make enough of them to keep my business afloat. The idea came to me sort of abruptly and at the last minute. It was the night before a craft fair I was participating in nearby in Somerville, MA. I made a few maps of Somerville and some of the surrounding towns, working into the early morning hours the night before the event.

The next morning, I hung them up with my other work to see what would happen!

The yeiou paper objects booth popped up at Art Beat in Somerville, MA
My booth at Art Beat 2019, Davis Square, Somerville, MA.

Throughout the day I had a lot of fun conversations about how weirdly-shaped places are! I sold a few, swapped out some background colors, and generally felt encouraged.

When designing my Paper Places, I focused on making them in a way that felt clean and modern. I designed them to be easy to hang on a wall in a grouping without looking weird. Pulling from the bright color palette of my paper craft kits, I offered a bunch of different color options. Once I had all of that, I focused my efforts on adding new place designs. It turns out there are a LOT of places in the Boston area, let alone the world!

Nine maps of Boston neighborhoods: Back Bay, South End, Mattapan, Roxbury, Brighton, Roslindale, Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, and Hyde Park
A few of the many neighborhoods of Boston, MA.

Custom Paper Places

I very quickly realized that I could never keep up with all of the requests for new places, nor could I reasonably predict which places people might want! In order to fill that gap, I added the option to order a custom-designed Paper Place! It’s been fun over the years to make gifts for parents, siblings, children, real estate clients, and friends, near and far.

Nov. 2019, one of my last in-person events before Covid lockdown – so many Paper Places!