Meet the artist behind the Hereford City Map

Last year, Hereford City Life introduced their beautiful new illustrated map created by local artist Jesse Watkins.


Having seen Jesse’s work online, we were impressed with her previous maps and, as we talked through our plans, knew she would be able to deliver the perfect map for the city centre. From the initial draft, Jesse’s unique style captured the essence of the city and all the essential details we needed to include.

To share a bit more with you about this fantastic local artist, we’re sharing a Q&A we did with her late last year. 

Hereford City Life:  To help our visitors learn more about you, can you share with us a bit about your background and career?

Jesse: My parents are both artists, so I grew up surrounded by art. They definitely encouraged me to think outside the box. I remember my feet aching as they dragged my brother and I around yet another modern art museum.

My earliest memories are drawing and doodling all over paper at any opportunity, with my brother in tow. We had boxes and boxes of colourful scrap paper from an old office that someone had thrown out, and we could help ourselves anytime. I think having copious pencils, paints, and paper really helped me feel abundant and non-precious in my creativity.

By the time I got to high school, my academic books were brimming with doodles in the margins, and I liked to spend my lunch-breaks in the art room when it was cold, as I just felt like I was home when pottering around in there.

At 17 I did a Foundation Course at Hereford College of Art, then got a place to study Fashion Design at Brighton University. It was a four year course, with one year working away in industry, as an intern. This year changed my life! I spent the first few months of it interning at Amelia’s Magazine in London, which was a small company just off Brick Lane. By the end of my time there I had taught myself Photoshop & InDesign (having pretended I already knew how to use them to get the job), and had worked up to Artistic Director, designing pages and illustrating articles and headings.

Next I flew to New York to intern at Nylon Magazine. A huge, corporate company, I definitely did not have any creative input in the magazine as a lowly intern! I was on the Starbucks coffee runs, and returning clothes back to PR studios all over Manhattan. I loved this time though, and fell madly in love with the city. Both places moved me away from working with textiles and towards a more 2D fashion/illustration world.

After Brighton I took a few years to travel. I worked all sorts of part-time jobs to fund this, and found a way of travelling very frugally. It was a magical time of discovering the world, and finding my feet as an adult. I was very lucky that my parents were totally relaxed about leaving me to find my own path, at my own pace. These times of ‘unproductively’ are highly important as an artist.

Then in 2013, back in the UK, I followed my intuition to apprentice as a sign-painter. I was living in Bristol, and would drive up to Hay-on-Wye for one week a month to learn the traditional skills of sign-writing with Christina Wright. This was when I launched my own business and started doing signs for cafes and shops alongside Christina. I was about 25.

Over the years I have lessened the amount of sign-painting I do, choosing to focus on illustration projects that are offered to me, instead. I currently tend to illustrate maps, cards, book-covers and logos. I like to use my imagination as much as possible, and am based in my studio round the corner from my home in Presteigne, so I can pop home to breastfeed my youngest son Holden at lunch.


HCL: What an amazing journey to get to where you are! Did you have a connection to Hereford before you decided to study at the Art College?

J: Yes, I grew up in Hay-on-Wye, and went to Hereford College of Art when I was 17, after my AS levels at the Sixth Form college. My mum lives in Hereford now, so I spend lots of time with her and my sons there.


HCL: Obviously, we love your style and the character it brings to the map. Can you tell us a little more about your style?

J: It’s definitely a hand-drawn style, as opposed to computer illustrated. I don’t know what this is called - analogue instead of digital? I like to use paint, pens and pencils, get my hands grubby first, and then edit in Photoshop at the end. My style has developed slowly over time, and continues to develop still. I think that’s what I love most about being an artist: you can always make art about what is current/interesting in your life at that moment. So your work is continually evolving alongside your self. Each step of my creative career - be it walking the office dogs around Soho in New York, or painting a traditional Gypsy wagon in the frozen Welsh hills - has added a distinct mark. For the Hereford map I tried to capture the essence of a city that feels full of ruralisms - cows, the meadows, and the river. The old and the new.


HCL: You definitely captured it! The header with the cattle and river is one of our favourite features. Do you have a part of the map that was your favourite to draw?

J: It was fun trying to draw all the buildings, having a closer look at the wide mix of architecture Hereford has. I think my favourite part was mapping it all out on the page at the start - the header, the keys, and the border illustrations - and then working out the colours at the end. The whole process was meditative. I listen to loads of spiritual and mental-health podcasts as I’m painting, too, which seems to help my flow.


HCL: Finally, can you share with us your favourite place to visit in Hereford City Centre?

J: To eat out, we love The Yard, The Koffie Pot, EnSushi, and [Café at] All Saints. I love the vegan burgers from The Burger Shop, and am really grateful that Hereford is now catering more for vegans, as I don’t eat dairy and only eat meat occasionally. I am also a little bit obsessed with Fodder. I get all my dairy-free chocolate, sweets and herbal teas there, to stock up my studio snack drawer.


You can find out more about Jesse and her work here:


Want a Hereford City Map? You can find them in most Hereford locations or can download a digital copy here.