Meet the Maker: Northern Ontario artist Julieanne Murphy-Steedman of Heirloom Island + A giveaway!

Julieanne created a custom map for me in exchange for this post.

Today’s post has been a few months in the making, so I’m really excited to finally be able to introduce you to a wonderful map maker and visual artist, Julieanne Murphy-Steedman of Heirloom Island. Julieanne and I have been following each other on Instagram since our friend Christine of Life on Manitoulin connected us a few years ago (it may be longer or shorter than that — my long-term memory is pretty crap and my short-term one’s not much better, ha ha) but it wasn’t until this spring that Julieanne reached out about collaborating. I love her work — her new series of maps of Ontario towns and cities fantastic! — so it’s been a pleasure to get to know her a little bit by email and share this interview with you. Julieanne mentions a couple of venues where you can meet her at the end of the post, but I’d love to flag the Ottawa one here again. You can catch her at Etsy Made in Canada at Carleton University’s Fieldhouse from September 27 to 29. Now to the Q&A! 


Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in a small town called Lively, just outside of Sudbury, Ontario. My sisters and I spent our weekends and summers with our parents at our family cottage on Manitoulin Island. I loved growing up on the lake and basically spending the summer barefoot.

I went to University in Sudbury and then headed off and spent ten years living and working around the globe. After that I moved back to Northern Ontario (nearly ten years ago now) and live just west of Sudbury with my husband and two sons (7+8) in a log home we built. I trained as a teacher and taught for several years always making art as my hobby. I now run my business, Heirloom Island, full-time and have a studio space in my home, as well as a small studio at our island cottage where I spend as much time as possible.


How do you describe your work? 

I am a map maker and visual artist. With acrylics I paint mainly landscapes (so much inspiration here in Northern Ontario) and love to fill my canvas with bold colours. This winter I produced two new collections, the ‘New Routes Collection’ which was a series of nine painted paddles and the ‘Paint Chip Collection’ which was a series of tiny landscapes painted on paint chips.

I use watercolour to paint local lakes (over 60 Ontario lakes) and I have really enjoyed developing this series of work over the last couple of years because it has allowed me to really learn about the geography here in Ontario. I’ve also realized just how lucky we are to have SO many lakes here. This landscape is such a meaningful part of life for some many folks here in Ontario, I really love hearing stories about growing up fishing on a particular lake or spending time with their Grandparents at their family camp.


And then there are my maps. I love maps. I spent ten years living and traveling around the globe and during that time I fell in love with maps. Wherever I was living I would always have a big map of the local area up on the wall so I could make notes on it of interested places or hidden hiking spots. I make maps now and they are probably my favourite thing to create.


What sparked your map series? Have you always been drawn to maps?  

I love maps for both their practical and beautiful purposes. My previous maps have all been black and white but for the  ‘Here + Now’ Collection I really wanted to experiment with colour. I think that this map collection allows you to view something or someplace a bit differently. This collection really sparked the idea for me that my art ‘celebrates places’.

How many hours go into a map?

The number of hours really depends on how much detail goes into the piece. Some places have a million neat little roads or a river, some really look like the town planner liked things to be lined up all nice and tidy! After I have the line drawing done I typically look through some reference photos for colour inspiration, then create a colour palette for the map from a photo. Often the colour palette initially looks great, the colours look lovely together but once I put them on the map it’s not the same story and I’ll scrap it and start the process again.

Where do you like to work?

I work in my light-filled studio (with a wall covered in maps!) or on the porch of our log home tucked in the trees here in Northern Ontario. I like to have on good music and drink a lot of coffee while I work.


Who/what inspires your art? 

I find a lot of inspiration from spending time out in nature. In my canoe, hiking with my kids, building snow forts in the yard. I love noticing the time details – all the colours that you can find in snow, the shape of a particular leaf. Honestly, nature just keeps on giving when it comes to inspiration for creative work. I also really love spending time with other creative folks and collaborating on projects. Getting feedback on work or watching another artist at work really gets the creative feels going. I am part of an artist collective called ‘The Modern Seven’ and when we get together to work or chat I walk away feeling energized and enthusiastic about getting back to my studio.


What does a typical weekday look like for you?

I work from home which I really like. I get up, have breakfast with my two boys and after they hop on the school bus I head out for a walk. After that my ‘work’ day starts. I try to tackle paperwork and any packaging that needs to be done in the morning so that I can do creative work in the afternoon. Some days I might be painting, planning upcoming projects, or prepping for art that I will be making in the coming days.

And a typical weekend?

Weekends are spent on our little island slowly renovating the ramshackle cottage we bought five years ago. It’s a long-term project but one that is well, fun. I love that our boys help stack wood, canoe on the lake, or work on building their tree house.

What’s next?

This month (September 27 to 29) I am taking part in ETSY: Made in Canada hosted by Cheerfully Made which takes places here in Ottawa at Carleton University. I’m in the process of making more Ottawa neighbourhood maps in time for the show. After that I’ll be in Sudbury at the Makers North Handmade Holiday Market on November 9 and 10. I’m also working on my next collection of paintings which will be released late October, all the details can be found on my website, Heirloom Island



And now for an amazing surprise — Julieanne’s offering one lucky reader one hand-drawn map of their choice from her shop, Heirloom Island. (More Ottawa and area maps coming soon!) To enter to win, tell me one of your favourite towns or neighbourhoods in the comments below. This entry is mandatory.

For another entry, follow try small things and Heirloom Island on Facebook, share this post (you’ll see the share buttons below) and tell me your Facebook name in the comments below. 

If you’re on Instagram, follow trysmallthings and heirloomisland and tell me your handle in the comments below.

And feel free to tweet the following once per day and leave the url for your tweet in the comments below (one entry per tweet). Make sure you’re following try small things on Twitter for your entry to count.

Meet Northern Ontario map maker and visual artist, Julieanne Murphy-Steedman, and enter to win a map of your choice from Julieanne and @trysmallthings http://bit.ly/heirloomisland CAN 10/7 #heirloomisland

The contest is open to Canadian residents 18+ and ends at 11:59 p.m. EST on October 7, 2019. The potential winner (chosen at random) must respond to prize notification within 48 hours and provide the correct answer to a skill-testing question, otherwise another winner will be selected.

Update October 8: Congratulations Joy M!

Photos courtesy Julieanne Murphy-Steedman. 

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  1. Joy Mills (@Jemrah1)

  2. Nicole Jubleew

    Tweeted here:

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