Our Orlando Map from this past June's First Friday has become well-loved over the last several months. So much so that we actually went forward with answering a regular request: having 18"x24" prints made of the hand painted 9'x9' backdrop.

We never anticipated such a huge response from our fellow Orlandoans! What had started as just a backdrop for our first Rethink Homelessness partnership has evolved into a way for us to spread awareness, celebrate our city,  and engage with our community. It's been an amazing few weeks.

A lot of you have been curious about how the map and Local Love Orlando came to be. So, I'll break it down for you with a quick Q&A with the designer of the map (and Macbeth Photo's studio manager), Hillery Brooks. 

What was the idea behind partnering with Rethink Homelessness for June's First Friday?

Greg and Carolyn of CT Social (the social media team behind Rethink Homelessness) came to us in February with a request to work together on one of our First Friday events. They wanted to spread the word about the work that the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness (CFCH) is doing in our city, and we already had plans in the works to host our second annual "Local Love" First Friday. The first one involved this hand-lettered chalkboard.

Local Love round 2 was the perfect event to partner with CFCH on, because celebrating our local community comes with the responsibility to help our neighbors who don't have the same resources and comforts that we do.

What made you decide to use a map for the backdrop? 

The idea of painting a map came to us while brainstorming with Greg and Carolyn. We needed to find a visual representation of both homelessness and our community, which was not an easy thing to do. The backdrop needed to be beautiful and shareable, but homelessness is an ugly thing that's hard to talk about. We finally concluded that we can celebrate our city and the neighborhoods within it while still having a serious conversation about those who don't have a home within them. A map seemed like the best way to represent that.

How long did it take to hand draw, letter and paint the 9'x9' backdrop? 

From sketches to completion, the original map took about a month. But there was a week-long trip to Haiti somewhere in there, and the actual paint didn't touch paper until about 3 days before our deadline to start promoting the event (apparently procrastination didn't end with art school).

And I definitely didn't work alone—Nathan Selikoff made the mapping research process go so much faster than I could have done on my own. He spent a lot of time working out the official neighborhood names and boundaries, and provided me with a file he had put together. Morgan Walker drew all of the illustrations with ink directly onto the map—she didn't use a projector or even a pencil. Her drawings really made the map come alive and feel like it has a personality. Drew Powers showed me Sanborn Maps (which ended up inspiring the color scheme), and he did the "Orlando" lettering at the top of the map in that amazing ornate style. And finally Melissa Spilman came by the studio to hang out while we were finishing up the map, and before long she was on the floor drawing the compass. It was a collaborative effort, and that's what I think makes it so great.

Whats the craziest map request you've gotten from someone so far? 

It's not really crazy, but we've gotten a lot of emails from people asking why certain neighborhoods (or main street districts, or neighboring cities) aren't on the map. The usual answer is that we just had to cut it off somewhere. We also were careful to research and name neighborhoods that are deemed official in the city of Orlando, rather than featuring every residential area that we came across. And even for some that we wanted to include, there just wasn't room at that scale to fit them on the paper.

I completely understand why someone would be bummed if their neighborhood isn't included. We're already working on ideas for future projects that include more of the Orlando area, and we love hearing what areas people feel are missing so we can do more research.

Why do you think this backdrop stands out so much more than any other you've made in the past? 

It's definitely one of the more vibrant backdrops we've made. But beyond that, I think it fulfills a need that a lot of Orlandoans have to visualize where they fit in on the map. I love watching people study the neighborhoods, find the cross streets, and identify where they live and work. The neighborhoods and main street districts each have their own divisions and colors and illustrations, but they all fit in together to make up our city. I guess that sounds kind of philosophical, but finding an appreciation for and a place in Orlando is something that seems to come up a lot these days.

When was the decision made to produce map prints available for purchase? 

We always had it in the back of our minds that this could become a print, but we really started working on it after the June First Friday event. Even before the event happened, we had people seeing our Facebook posts asking if they could buy a print of the backdrop. The interest only grew as people started sharing their images and tagging Rethink Homelessness. We've been told over and over again that this is something that hasn't really been done before—a map of Orlando that isn't all about theme parks and tourism.

How long did the production process take to make the 500+ prints? 

Longer than it probably should have! After the June event, we knew that a lot of people wanted prints. We didn't realize how much would be involved in digitizing a photograph of a painting while shrinking it down so that it was still readable at 18x24 inches rather than 9x9 feet. And even once the print file was ready, there were a lot of decisions to make in regards to how big the print run would be, how to handle shipping and pickup, stuff like that. We're a photography studio, so this was a whole different world. 

And of course, these took time to print—and rightfully so. Mama's Sauce does an incredible job in meticulously caring for every single print that runs through the press (in our case, five times per print). It's a process that can't and shouldn't be rushed, and it's the reason the print quality is so gorgeous.

We finally went live with localloveorlando.com 13 days ago (December 9th)—so almost exactly 6 months after the event. We've already sold over 450 prints, so we may end up doing another run if the demand is there.

What will you be doing with the original backdrop that inspired all of this? 

We've donated the original painting to the Mayor's office, and they're currently working on framing and hanging it in the Orlando Information Center. Pretty exciting stuff. We plan to host an event (hopefully in January) when it's ready.

To find out when new products are available or other Local Love projects are happening, sign up for the email list at the bottom of LocalLoveOrlando.com. We have more ideas in the works for products and events that help raise awareness about local businesses and causes that make us love Orlando.