How I Created my Best Selling Map of the West End

How I Created my Best Selling Map of the West End

Hello, I hope you’re having a lovely day! This blog post edition is especially for my fellow musical theatre lovers and anyone interested in the process behind my huge West End Map painting which has gone on to be one of my all-time best sellers. Each month I put a poll up on my Instagram story just to see what my followers would be most interested in reading about, and this topic had the highest vote! So, I thought I'd delve into the inspiration behind this piece and also share a little bit of the process as I personally find it super interesting to see how a blank piece of paper can become a piece of art, and maybe you will too. It definitely didn't just happen overnight!

A large watercolour map of the West End by London artist, Eve Leoni Art, featuring west end theatre illustrations of the London Palladium, Royal Albert Hall, National Theatre, His Majesty's Theatre and more.

Growing up, I’d heard of the big, popular musicals such as Mamma Mia, Les Miserables and The Lion King, but I never realised just how many musicals and theatres existed! Whilst studying for a degree in Musical Theatre at Italia Conti in London, I realised just how many theatres there are in the West End alone, and I was mesmerised by both their architecture and interior designs. My fascination grew not only for the shows that I adore to watch, but for the buildings in which they’re performed. 

Although I disliked geography when I was younger, I've grown to find maps really fascinating. Maybe this is because my dad used to test my sisters and I with capitals of the world every night before bed. Either way, I now love to sit and look at the globe in my London flat, or watch travel documentaries and work out where everything is in the world. I had seen so many maps of London in many different artistic styles, but I’d never seen anyone connect the dots between all of the West End theatres in London… and that’s when the idea hit me. Theatreland is it’s own special world and deserves a map of its own!

A close up photo of an illustrated West End map by Eve Leoni Art, featuring watercolour paintings of the Vaudeville Theatre, Savoy Theatre, Novello Theatre and National Theatre.

As someone who mainly painted watercolour pet portraits or local landscapes of my hometown in Cleethorpes, I had never illustrated a map before. However, I have a super busy brain with big ambitions (maybe sometimes too big) and so I thought I’d sketch some drafts because once an idea settles in my brain, I can’t let it go until I’ve at least attempted to create it. I knew it’d be a special piece as it was being driven by my passion for musical theatre and creativity as a whole. For so long I was holding myself back from evolving and experimenting as I felt compelled to stay inside of a box for the sake of social media and pleasing people, but whenever I allow myself to create whatever is in my mind, I find my love for painting again. Therefore, this painting was not only a game changer for my entire business, but also the very way in which I approach life… to just do whatever makes me happy!

When the idea first hit me, I knew it was going to take lots of research and planning to get it right. I’m also an ‘all or nothing’ sort of person, so I decided that if I was going to dedicate a lot of time to this, I needed to create it exactly how I wanted and get it seen by the right people; fellow musical theatre lovers!

 I started by researching all of the official ‘West End’ theatres in London and looking on Google Maps to see where they were. I realised at this point that my map probably wouldn’t be to scale, but I could try and at least keep each theatre as close to their nearest tube stations as possible. I started sketching and doodling some initial plots for the composition, and found there was space to add a few ‘off west end’ theatres, as well as a few iconic London landmarks like the Buckingham Palace and the London Eye.


A rough sketch of some theatres in London's West End by Eve Leoni Art.

Next, I had to collect photos of the theatres! I didn’t realise how detailed some of the buildings would be, so I really underestimated how long it would take to paint 45 theatres! Not only that, but it suddenly dawned on me that there’s no way I’d fit that many buildings (with all of their detailed show signage) on a piece of paper smaller than A2, which was at the time the largest watercolour size I offered. I found the largest piece of watercolour paper I could, and decided I might as well ‘go big or go home’. After realising that my desk or easel weren’t big enough for the paper, I converted the living room coffee table into my new workplace and walked around it with utmost care and cautiousness for the next few months.

Watercolour paper is very prone to buckling if not stretched beforehand. This is because when the paper absorbs the water it stretches, and as it dries it pulls the edges in and results in a rippling effect. To keep such a large piece of paper flat when it comes to painting, I had to practically run it a bath! I then taped each edge down to the coffee table to stretch it out and prevent the paper from shrinking and buckling. I’m pleased to say it worked very well and I couldn’t have been happier!

The first stage of a big West End painting, featuring some watercolour illustrations of London Theatres by Eve Leoni Smith.

I started outlining boxes for where I wanted each theatre to go on the much larger piece of paper, before adding the details and including some illustrations of people walking along the roads, some iconic black cabs and red London buses. I even included a few personal illustrations of friends and family to commemorate some of my favourite memories. Here is a close up photo of my little sister and I after watching Matilda at the Cambridge Theatre.


A watercolour illustration of the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End, featuring Matilda the Musical by Eve Leoni Art.

The painting part of the process took a few months (around other booked commissions and auditions) as I really wanted to capture the architectural detail without losing my own unique sense of style. I started filming the process on TikTok and gained lots of followers who enjoyed watching the journey with me. It was so fun to receive requests for certain shows at different theatres, and so it felt like a joint effort in creating this with lots of other musical lovers like me. That being said, the shows and details in the painting were primarily related to my own memories and experiences and don’t really reflect a particular time or year.

Some watercolour illustrations of West End Theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue on Eve Leoni's map of the West End.
Eve Leoni Smith's West End Map when it is half finished and features some watercolour illustrations of London theatres.

Shows are ever evolving so I found it impossible to only include shows from 2023 or to choose everyone's favourites. This is why I started an individual theatre collection on the side where different shows can be changed and make for great personalised gifts for musical theatre lovers!


Watercolour illustrations of West End Theatres as part of Eve Leoni Smith's West End Map Painting.

After painting all of the theatres, I added in the roads and opted for a baby pink. I actually spent ages deciding which colour to paint the roads, because after all of the hard work and love that went into illustrating the theatres, I didn’t want to ruin it by choosing a colour that dulled the whole painting or distracted from the detail. There was already a lot of grey in the theatres and I like my work to be bright and positive. Blue and green were already disregarded because of the water and grass areas, and red and yellow seemed too dominating. In the end I was very happy with the choice of pink; I feel it projects a positive energy and encapsulates the feeling of being in 'Theatreland'. I also just simply love the colour pink.


A close up photo of a watercolour map of the West End by artist, Eve Leoni Smith. It includes theatre illustrations of the Shaftesbury Theatre, Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Cambridge Theatre.

Finalised with some of my iconic splatters and blobs, my huge 22 x 30” original watercolour painting of the West End was ready to be professionally scanned and made into prints! Due to my serious imposter syndrome, I didn’t share the final piece online for a while as I was so worried I’d let everyone down if they didn’t like the finished painting after following my journey for so long. But I reminded myself why I started, and it was because of my own love and passion for the idea, so no matter what anyone else thought, I was pleased with my final creation and it deserved to be shared.


Artist and performer, Eve Leoni Smith, holding a watercolour map of the West End featuring all the West End theatres in London.

Much to my positive surprise, it was received so well and I got so much support and love when I finally shared it. It seemed to be really appreciated among the theatre community and it quickly became the best selling design that I’ve ever created. It was just the boost of confidence I needed during a really tough year, and it reminded me that I shouldn’t hold back from creating all the ideas in my head and that there are so many other people out there who are just as passionate about live theatre as I am.

I went on to create some 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles and organic tea towels too which are both also some of my most popular products, and I have since expanded my entire ‘Theatreland’ collection. I am now a proud and happy stockist in the Theatre Cafe Gift Shop down Shaftesbury Avenue… so if you’re ever nearby, be sure to go and check it out!


London artist stood outside the Theatre Cafe Merchandise Shop down Shaftesbury Avenue, holding up some art prints of West End Theatres.

I have just started a brand new huge theatre-inspired watercolour painting because I’ve found a new love for working at a large scale; I can’t wait to add some of the theatres I wasn’t able to fit onto the map such as Soho Place and the Bridge Theatre. If you’d like to follow along for the process of my next big painting, please feel free to give me a follow on Instagram or TikTok (@eveleoniart) where I will shamelessly be dancing around and sharing the painting process for each illustration.

Thank you so much for taking an interest in my small art business! I’m just a girl from the old fishing town of Grimsby, who moved to London to pursue a career in Musical Theatre. When Covid hit and there was so much uncertainty for the performance industry, I started painting to help with my mental health and to earn a little bit of extra money to pay the bills, and it turned into the business it is today. I couldn’t do any of it without the support of my followers and customers, so thank you for taking the time to support a small local artist with big, silly dreams. I really appreciate it.


Best wishes,

Eve x

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