Unique Mapmaker

Draftsman Ruben Atoyan paints original city maps
I guess everyone has this idea once in a while: what should I do to have a nice bank account and do something I really care about for a living? Clever books advise inventing something like a wheel, a knitting needle, etc., the main thing being to become the first ever man, or woman, to do this thing. You are the first one, you register your invention, get a patent, and you are free to do what you like doing so much. Your know-how will feed you for at least ten years or so.

Inventions do not come very easily to me, in fact, I have not invented anything worthy yet, but I keep hoping and collect stories about successful people that have made great achievements.

I hope one day I will get as lucky as Ruben Atoyan and I will come across some simple yet brilliant truth about some perfect opportunity.
In the early 90s Atoyan got $25 a month in a publishing house where he worked as an editor, and his wife and two kids were getting quite sulky too fast in a gloomy atmosphere of his small flat in Minsk suburbs. It was at that moment that Ruben decided to act.

He used to be an ordinary mapmaker, but painting was always a great pleasure and favorite pastime, so he went to the Stroganov school to retrain. An old professor discouraged him: “Why take up painting? You have a wonderful profession, go to Minsk, there is a big map-making factory there, work as a mapmaker and paint landscapes in your free time just for yourself and your family.”

Ruben followed this advice and came to Minsk, defended a thesis on perspective drawing… And then came distress, a poor salary and family fights. He opened his thesis once and reread the chapter about Durer, Leonardo and Rembrandt who were all involved in drawing ancient maps… Atoyan had been looking for mistakes in perspective in those 500-year-old drawings for his thesis, but now he saw a wonderful prospect for himself. He could revive the lost genre and paint maps in details, adding real landscapes and architecture. When Atoyan made his first maps in the 90s he was the only mapmaker of the kind in Europe, capable of drawing historic centers of world-famous cities and towns “with heart afire” and amazing precision.
A Lithuanian entrepreneur got very interested in the idea and placed the first $150 order with the Belarusian painter (who thought he was very lucky at the moment). That entrepreneur is now considered one of the most successful businessmen in Vilnius (which was the first “commercial” project of Atoyan’s), and his publishing house makes all maps and geography books in Lithuania.

At present businessmen of the world are looking for Atoyan and begging him to spare some time to have unique painted maps for the best travel agencies of the world. He might have up to eight cities at once on his working table. He painted Warsaw, Minsk, Venice, Berlin, the Crimea, Nesvizh and Cambodia.

There is a company in Germany that does almost the same thing: its specialists draw city maps. I saw these German maps — precise, laconic and very cold, each one of them a result of combined efforts of a crew of helicopter pilots, architects, artists and mapmakers.

Atoyan’s works are unique because he is the only member of his crew. In Venice he spent almost three weeks. He made 600 pictures of the city and shot almost eight hours of video. Then he went back to Minsk to draw with his left hand (he is a left-hander). It took him almost 18 months to complete the map.

By the way, there has been no profession “artist-mapmaker” until recently. Atoyan is the first man of this trade. He reads lectures in European universities and trains the best mappers of the world. Polish professors have introduced a new specialization in their universities, “designer, maker of maps”.

His favorite map is Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the largest religious monument in the world. He worked on the “eighth wonder of the world” for over one year. Naturally, he traveled to Cambodia to see the temple and study it.
I might never reach Angkor, but Atoyan’s maps have an amazing participation effect. I look at them and travel…

by Victoria Popova
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