While color photography reigns supreme in travel guides and vacation planners have no shortage of realistic, or somewhat enhanced, images to consult, hand-drawn depictions of cityscapes and landmarks are a way for publishers to set their titles apart visually. What’s more, some publishers say illustrations can establish a more personal connection between the reader and the author’s experience.

In New Map Italy (Thames Hudson, Apr.), illustrations that originated as sketches in author Herbert Ypma’s notebook were rendered for publication by graphic artist Neil Gower and adorn the margins around traditional glossy guidebook photography. The book’s title comes from the simplified maps Ypma drew for himself as he explored, which were less about navigation than they were about “capturing the essence of things,” says Thames Hudson publishing director Sophy Thompson.

Rather than compile a comprehensive list of all there is to see in the country, Ypma breaks down each region by historical context, distinctive accommodations, and “eclectic experiences.” The illustrations convey the author’s detailed rather than widespread focus, Thompson says. “They give people a very immediate message that attention has been paid and it’s not computer-generated—it’s been lovingly drawn by the author.”

Similarly, The Best Coast (see “On the Road, Again.”), an illustrated West Coast road trip guide, springs from the author’s sketchbooks—in this case, the 50 Moleskines that Chandler O’Leary filled with drawings while traveling the route, says Sasquatch senior editor Hannah Elnan. (Sasquatch also published O’Leary and Jessica Spring’s Dead Feminists, an illustrated account of female icons that won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award in 2018.)

“An old-school road trip seems hopelessly nostalgic,” O’Leary writes in The Best Coast. But, she adds, it remains the best way to explore the region’s immensity in depth. Similarly, Elnan says, illustrations offer an old-fashioned but compelling way for readers to experience the landscape. “An artist’s eye captures things that you don’t see in a photograph.”

Fodor’s published the illustrations-only Fodor’s Brooklyn in 2015, with hand-drawn images by Claudia Pearson, an artist who lives in the borough. “We wanted something that was going to stand out and not be the typical guidebook,” says editorial director Douglas Stallings. The aesthetic carries over into the publisher’s new Inside city guides, launching this spring. Eschewing photos almost entirely and instead working with local artists on the spot illustrations “gives a different kind of feel to the series” compared to the rest of the publisher’s guides, he says.

At Countryman Press, the illustrated covers of books in the new Weekender series immediately convey a mood. “The bold color palettes and vintage travel-poster feel evoke the ease and accessibility of getting away,” says senior editor Róisín Cameron. “Plus, we wanted to have some fun with the skylines.”

The message: put down the iPhone and see the world for yourself.

Return to the main feature.