Through the window of the studio, in north London, the occasional ray of sunshine manages to penetrate the city sky’s thick layer of cloud. The light illuminates a large, attic-like space filled with random objects: tables scattered with paintbrushes and watercolours, dozens of white plaster spheres arranged across a number of shelves and, hanging from the ceiling, sections of maps attached by clothing pegs to a web of narrow ropes. This is the curious setting where one of the world’s few remaining teams of globe-making artists go about their work. They are Bellerby & Co. and, on a small scale, have managed to create perfect worlds.
It was precisely that quest for perfection which led Peter Bellerby, the company’s founder, to create this studio. For years, he searched for the perfect globe as a gift for his father, but was unable to find one that he liked: the most modern versions were too simple and the antiques, aside from costing a fortune, were normally falling to bits and featured maps long out of date. So he decided to make one himself, a globe just as he’d imagined.
He looked for a map and improved it, learned to use new digital design programmes, studied thousands of ways to create the perfect sphere… All of this took two years, along with most of his savings. He hadn’t even created a single globe. It was then that he decided to set up a company, aware that no-one would make globes quite like him and that he was sure to find a gap in the market. That was in 2008.
Today, he has managed to improve on the quality and perfection he was searching for back then. All of the firm’s products, which are made to order, are created from start to finish in the London studio by a team of artists who have learned the globe-making trade straight from Peter Bellerby. The whole team work with incredible accuracy and attention to detail: it’s impossible to find a single join or line that doesn’t fit perfectly with the next. What’s more, all of the maps are hand painted, making each globe a unique and different piece.
The process, as with any hand-made product, is long and complex. The most difficult task, primarily at the outset, was to create a genuinely round ball (although the Earth itself isn’t perfectly spherical). The reason is that the slightest difference between the size of the mould and the maps later placed on the sphere’s surface mean that the pieces fail to join up, leaving blank gaps. After much searching, Bellerby managed to get Formula 1 engineers to produce the perfect mould. With this, they make a plaster ball which is later adjusted and balanced to spin naturally.
Photo: Gareth Pon
The next stage is, perhaps, the slowest and most painstaking. A map is printed, designed specifically to be used on a sphere; it is divided into triangular sections, up to a total of 24, depending on the size of the globe. One by one, with extreme care and precision, each of the sections is placed onto the ball, checking along the way that every country and parallel lines up to perfection. Afterwards, an artist fills it with colour, using watercolours and different shades to create a unique piece of exquisite beauty. The final steps consist of applying varnish and placing the globe on a stand which has also been designed and produced at the Bellerby & Co. studio.
At each stage, Peter Bellerby’s constant striving for perfection is evident; it is something he has passed on to his team, who dedicate time and care to every single piece that passes through their hands. This task is one that can only be carried out by true artisans, by the few remaining masters who make globes that are a perfect copy of the Earth in which we live.