Yelp is all about connecting people with great local businesses, and we recognize that these businesses — led by artisans, doers and creators of all kinds — are the lifeblood of our communities. Behind every business is a great story. The Tucson Makers + Shakers blog series showcases local makers, artisans and innovators. Find out what makes them tick and discover why they love being in business in Tucson
Allow us to introduce mapmaker, artist, and designer Emma Gundlach. Emma has been creating art her entire life and her hand-drawn maps are unique gifts and memories, windows into a special time at a special place. Her commissioned pieces tell a story and harken back to a time pre-Google Maps. They are tangible and beautifully made.
How did you get your start?
I grew up creating and would try to sell things I made to my family. I grew up in a family of 8. My dad was an architectural engineer and my mom is a studio artist. I studied painting at Savannah College of Art and Design. I lived in Austin for the past six years and was making art part time. I got into maps when I was traveling in the Middle East. I was teaching art in Israel in 2012. Americans can cross the borders in the cities much more easily than other people, and I found it to be really interesting: these borders and lines that I was crossing. So my main focus for the past 5 years has been cartography and telling stories with maps. I’m self taught in cartography, my background is in fine art and painting. My conceptual art classes were the most helpful in learning mapmaking. My work definitely has an illustrative voice, I’m continuing to learn and study more in cartography. Moving to Tucson in February 2017 is when I decided to launch full time. Previously I was working on commission in Austin. We have so many digital memories, I like being a part of people’s stories and giving them something they can keep in ink.
What was the moment you knew your brand had to happen?
I don’t know if it was really a specific moment, but the past three years working in Austin my work really evolved and I realized how much I loved what I was doing, and how much of a response people were giving me about my maps and illustrations. In addition to mapmaking I do hand-lettering and graphic design, invitations and event design. I’ve done a handful of full branding projects for companies. I consider myself a designer and a creator. I’m inspired by the old school cartouches on old maps.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Honestly marketing is not my strong suit, and so many of the projects I’ve gotten up until now have been word of mouth and personal recommendation. I’ve also attempted to be more consistent with Instagram. I think I would like to eventually hire someone to help that take off because it’s not my strong suit. Even studying entrepreneurship in college we learned you had to sell yourself and your creativity beyond a poster or illustration or something like that. I would like to spend some of my next year focusing on that. People who come to you for a commission know that they want you to make something for them, versus soliciting commissions and showing the uniqueness you can bring out of a commissioned piece. Thankfully people recognize that you’re investing in them, that person, and creating a tangible memory. There’s definitely a large group of people being drawn back to that and appreciating hand-drawn and unique pieces.
What do you do to make sure you are regularly inspired?
I love hiking, I always feel inspired when I go out into nature. Since being here I’ve bought a National Parks pass. I’m a Tucson Museum of Art member, I go repeatedly to shows. Reading really inspires me, I’ve been checking out more books from the library about cartography and Arizona geology. Hiking and being in nature is one of my biggest inspirations. There’s so many incredible colors in the desert here. The purple cactuses, and the red rocks in Madera Canyon, and the white rocks halfway up Mt. Lemmon. It’s totally different than the hill country of Texas. I grew up in central Texas and it’s all big rolling hills and cedar and oak trees, and tons of rivers.
What’s the most helpful piece of customer feedback you’ve received?
Initially, before I started doing this full time, people had a lot of questions about quotes and pricing, and now I very carefully write out specifics with several options and include a breakdown of every element of what a commission includes.
What’s your advice for other makers, business owners or someone who wants to start a small business?
Put yourself in a place where you’re interacting with other creatives. It can feel isolating to work out of your home studio. It’s isolating to try to figure out how to do your own marketing, and how to stay inspired. Collaborating with other artists is really important and having a new perspective on things is really helpful. Social media helps with that connectedness but it can also feel really comparative too. Having a physical, relational community that is local is really important as well. Remember you’re not alone! We’re all going through this together in our own capacities. Inspiration can come from people who are even working with other mediums and see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. It’s not a competition, it’s a community.
What makes you most excited about having your business in Tucson?
There seems to be a very supportive community here for creatives and artists, and it might not be as fast-paced as Austin was, but if feels more like people want to invest in you as an artist and part of their community. I love that mentality, that it’s a local sourcing, local promotion, local investment. People seem to actively create the community they want to be in. I got to know Danny Martin just by serving him coffee and he’s been here for 10-12 years now and has become a part of the tapestry of Tucson and he is always wanting to show me art and introduce me to other artists here, and I think that mindset is really unique to Tucson. All of this ties back to where i get my inspiration from too, because creative conversations spark more creative conversations and put you in the cycle of creativity. Puts you in the mindset that inspiration is all around you.
If customers come away knowing just one thing about your business, what do you want that message to be?
I want to tell stories and I do that through the medium of cartography and illustration. Each person, business and community have unique dialog and we often express it through a digital photo, Instagram post, etc. My artwork seeks to chart these stories through memorializing a time and place — through mapped streets and drawings that are uniquely capturing an experience.
View Emma’s Map’s & Illustrations portfolio, items for sale and learn more about her main focus on her website: http://www.emmagundlach.com/. Follow her on Instagram and don’t forget to bookmark her business page on Yelp.
By Amanda Schreiber, Yelp Tucson Marketing Assistant.