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There are a lot of map competitions out there. But to the best of my knowledge, none is devoted specifically to the appreciation of monochrome maps. And it’s time to remedy that. I love working in monochrome (and gave a talk about it at NACIS 2018). I think color is overused, and the challenges of a limited palette can be liberating. I want to draw more attention to the great work that mapmakers are doing in this medium, and encourage more people to experience the joy of composing with only one ink.

So, I’m hereby declaring a Monochrome Mapping Competition! Please help spread the word, so that we can reach mappers everywhere. It’s starting small, but I truly want this to grow into a respected competition that recognizes great work in an under-appreciated subset of the cartographic arts.

How to Enter

Option 1 (preferred): Fill out this form (requires Google login).

Option 2: Email your map (or, a link, if it’s a web map) to somethingaboutmaps@gmail.com. Include a title and list of contributors for each work.

Deadline: June 15th, 2019 Rules and Freedoms
  • Entries must be in monochrome. That doesn’t necessarily mean black and white. They can be made from tints of any “ink.” So if you’ve got a green & white map, it’s welcome here.
  • You may submit up to three entries.
  • All entries need to have been completed in the last five years or so (after January 1st, 2014). This is a competition honoring the fact that monochrome is a part of contemporary cartography.
  • Entries may be at any size and in any medium — hand-drawn, digital, static, interactive, etc. If you’re not sure if it counts, enter it and let me and the judges figure that out.
  • You can suggest a better name for the competition. “Monochrome Mapping Competition” is a bit of placeholder for now.
How you Win

I’ll collect a (digital) pile of map submissions from all of you folks. Then I’ll turn them over to a panel of judges, who will look over and score each one. The highest-scoring maps (mostly: see below) will end up being in the Final Selection — the winners. The exact number of selections is going to depend a bit on how many maps are submitted.

If this sounds familiar, it’s basically the process that Tim Wallace and I developed for the Atlas of Design. There is no one “winner,” and there are no hard categories — the process recognizes that many items can all be co-equally great, each quite different in appearance and pleasing to separate audiences.

The Final Selection of winners isn’t based 100% on the judges’ scores; there are a couple of adjustments I may make, as the Curator (a title I just now made up for the competition-runner). No one mapmaker can appear more than once in the Final Selection, so if they have several that are high-scoring, I will choose one of them. Likewise, if I see a particular map type really dominating (like shaded relief maps, for example), and it’s monopolizing all the top spots, I might put a cap on the number of places for that type in the Final Selection. So, in sum: the judges’ scores are the main factor in consideration, but I may make adjustments when choosing the final winners to ensure that no one person, company, or map type takes up a bunch of the spotlight.

What you Win

Honor and glory. There’s no money at stake here, and we’re not publishing a book of winners (maybe someday). But you’ll be touted by me and others, and all the maps in the Final Selection will be posted here on this very blog. Each selection will also be accompanied by a brief commentary, written by one of the judges, giving us all a better understanding of what makes each map great.

Judges

I’m very excited to say that a bunch of really awesome people have signed up to judge the maps. Click here to read the list, alongside a discussion of how the panel was chosen.

Note that judges can also enter the competition. They’ll simply step aside and recuse themselves from judging their own work, and it will be scored by the rest of the panel.

Those are all the details. Please enter your work and spread the word around the globe. I’m excited to see what everyone comes up with!

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SomethingAboutMaps by Daniel Huffman - 5M ago

Since my first live stream went so well, I’m extending the experiment! I’ll be doing (at least) three more in the coming months, on the 1st Wednesday of each, at noon Central Time. So mark your calendars and join me as I try out a few different formats.

Videos will be streamed at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqdKhw-PVDm6i6DxjYdaXPg/live

You can also subscribe to me on YouTube. If you do that and you click “set Reminder,” you’ll be notified when I go live, just in case you forget.

Hope to see you there!

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Earlier this week, I conducted an experiment in live broadcasting. I took a map that I’d previously made and spent nearly an hour going through it layer-by-layer, discussing my design rationale and techniques. If you’re interested, have a look at the recording.

A Live Experiment in Disassembling a Map - YouTube

Livestreaming is something I’ve wanted to do for a while — I’ve had conversations with colleagues on and off for months about it. There’s an appeal to me in creating an interactive environment for talking about maps. Doing things live also saves me time, because if I were to create something pre-recorded, I would spend a lot of time obsessing about small details. A ten minute video can take me hours to record, re-record, edit, etc. Instead, I can just start the stream and let it happen.

I’m hoping to keep doing things like this during the course of this year. I’ll still put text content up here from time to time, of course. For tutorials, I prefer to offer text, because it’s easily searchable and doesn’t require sound. But, in addition to those, I’m hoping to get a chance to be more off-the-cuff with all of you.

Whenever I figure out my next streaming event, I’ll be announcing it on Twitter.

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As is now my annual tradition, it’s time for me to tell everyone how much money I make.

As a freelancer, I often wonder how I am doing financially as compared to my colleagues. Not out of a sense of competition, but just to answer the persistent question: is this normal? Am I earning a “typical” living? Do I get an unusually small or large amount of money from selling prints? Things like that, born of curiosity. I can look at the great work of a colleague and think it’s valuable, but the big question is: does the rest of the world value their skills the way that I do?

I find the financial opacity of the freelance world a bit intimidating, and I suspect that some others do, too—particularly those who are interested in freelancing, but haven’t yet jumped in. So I’d like to do my part to lend transparency by laying out my financial picture for all of you.

Freelance Earnings

I have been freelancing since I took my Master’s degree from UW–Madison in May 2010, but things didn’t really take off until 2012, so let’s start there. My gross earnings from freelance cartography have been:

2012: $12,016.34
2013: $20,352.75
2014: $8,508.58
2015: $10,881.25
2016: $22,795.00
2017: $48,775.38 [$45,000 from one big contract, so it’s a bit atypical].
2018: $17,795.60

I have also earned money from some other non-mapping freelance work. I do editing and layout for Cartographic Perspectives, and I’ve done some bits of paid writing, other design work, etc. This income isn’t terribly relevant to those who are wondering about the mapmaking business, but I’ll include it here for the sake of completeness:

2012: $1,128.08
2013: $1,528.00
2014: $7,014.00
2015: $10,194.00
2016: $2,000.00
2017: $9,925.00
2018: $7,505.00

These bits of side work, as well as my teaching (below), have been very helpful in leaner years.

Teaching

I teach from time to time at UW–Madison, covering the Introductory Cartography course. Again, not too relevant to the subject of freelance earnings, but perhaps interesting if you’re curious about what adjunct teaching pays. My pre-tax pay for one semester of a 40% appointment is $7,182.18 (formerly $6,954.39 from 2010–2015).  This number seems to compare favorably with what I’ve seen posted at other institutions, or heard from colleagues elsewhere.

Donations

I do a fair amount of pro bono work, and I’ve been much more shameless about asking for support for my tutorials, Project Linework, and other resources that people seem to draw value from etc.

2012: $37.00
2013–14:
$0.00
2015:
 $5.00
2016–17:
$0.00
2018: $1,594.00 (a number that completely floors me)

Speaking of donations, here are some handy buttons if you want to help empower me to keep sharing cartographic knowledge and resources.

Sales of Prints

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is sales of prints. Instead of making maps for clients, I sometimes (or often) spend time making maps for no one in particular. And then I’ll put them up on Zazzle in case anyone wants to buy them. I’ve also occasionally printed maps locally and sold them through an art store or by word of mouth. But Zazzle is where almost all of my sales happen.

My earnings from sales of prints:

2012: $772.39
2013: $678.68
2014: $270.19
2015: $116.52
2016: $797.54
2017: $342.78
2018: $354.10

And, if you’re curious as to what sells and what doesn’t, here’s a breakdown of Zazzle sales:

Fame and exposure are generally free, and often much more plentiful than actual payment. It takes a lot of clicks before someone actually buys—I have also seen this behind the scenes with the Atlas of Design. I often see colleagues whose work gets a lot of attention, and who are offering cool prints, and wonder if they are receiving lots of praise with little money behind it.

Concluding Thoughts

I never really intended to be a freelancer, because I dislike instability, and the numbers above fluctuate wildly. But I fell into it accidentally anyway, and it’s been great, though it’s definitely not a life I would have been able to choose if I had to worry, for example, about dependents.

I also haven’t been able to save for retirement very much these last few years, as I’ve been focused on more day-to-day expenses. But, things have been looking up lately, and I’ve started putting at least a little bit away again.

I hope all this stuff above offers some useful insight as to one freelancer’s life. I’m sure some others earn more, and some others earn less. I’d encourage others who are comfortable doing so to share their own financial information, to make the picture a little broader.

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Friends, this last year I’ve been more bold about asking for donations. And I’ve been quite honestly amazed by the level of support that I’ve received. I love giving back to my fellow mapmakers, and their generosity in return has been humbling and gratifying. Thank you all so much; that includes not just those who have opened their wallets, but all of you who have offered advice, aid, and kind words.

Since the start of 2018, I’ve been keeping organized track of some of the ways I’ve tried to contribute to the cartographic community, aided by your support. I want to give you what will be, I hope, the first of an annual series of reports. So let’s jump in.

In no particular order, in 2018, I:

  • put up a detailed new tutorial on my blog (Smart Type Halos in Photoshop and Illustrator)
  • made a couple of updates to my Shaded Relief in Blender tutorial (thanks Dunstan Orchard and Anton van Tetering for pointing out improvements).
  • spent a while writing up a walkthrough of one of my mapping projects: On Airline Mapping
  • publishedThe Power of Appearances,” an adaptation/combination/rewrite of two of my earlier blog posts, in Cartographic Perspectives
  • publishedA Freelancer’s Approach to Teaching Cartography,” a reflection on how my mapmaking career informs my pedagogical approach, also in Cartographic Perspectives.
  • presented on monochrome mapping (a favorite of mine) at the 2018 NACIS Annual Meeting
  • contributed a new map of the Kingdom of Pergamon to Wikipedia, in the spirit of the old FixWikiMaps project
  • built a new low-fi polygon linework set for Project Linework called “1981,” which I hope you’ll make use of
  • conducted a mini survey of my fellow cartographers on the typefaces they like to use
  • conducted, along with my colleague Aly Olivierre, a sizeable survey to help bring transparency to how much freelance mapmakers get paid
  • completed my final year as Director of Operations for NACIS; I’ll still be helping out with the transition in the coming year as Nick Martinelli takes over for me
  • undertook an ongoing effort to reprint the first three volumes of the Atlas of Design, including creating an all-new layout for Volume 1.
  • made a bunch of maps on a typewriter and wrote a blog post on lessons learned
  • answered a variety of questions on Twitter and via email

As we move into 2019, I hope to continue to merit the support you have shown me. I never know exactly how much I’ll be able to do so in a given year, but I do know that I fully intend to keep up my efforts to contribute to the cartographic community. You have all taught me so much, and I will continue repay the favor.

If you’d like to support my efforts, please click one of these handy buttons.

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SomethingAboutMaps by Daniel Huffman - 8M ago

This is my father’s manual typewriter, a Royal Safari II. Or maybe it’s mine — I appropriated it quite a long time ago.

I remember playing with it a bit as a child in the 1980s, but for the most part I’ve rarely used it. But I’ve kept it around anyway, because I’ve always had a nostalgia for old technologies. Maybe I liked the idea of being a person who owns a typewriter.

A couple of weeks ago, I remembered that it was in the basement, and I thought — as I do from time to time — about how nice it would be to have a reason for using it. And then it occurred to me that I should just go with my default reason: maps.

After a few hours of planning and typing, I managed to create a typewriter map and I put it out on Twitter, where it ended up being by far the most popular thing I’ve ever put on that platform. Or probably ever, anywhere.

Made a typographic map last night, on an actual typewriter. pic.twitter.com/diE05Feu4i

— Daniel P. Huffman (@pinakographos) November 15, 2018

It’s probably of no surprise to anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes that I chose to start this project by mapping my homeland in the Great Lakes. I think it’s always useful to begin with somewhere familiar when trying something new, because you can use your local knowledge to confirm whether or not the technique is doing justice to the place.

Click here if you want to see a giant high-resolution scan. It’s full of smudges from the ribbon, alongside errors corrected with a generous application of Wite-Out. But I’m quite pleased with its messy, organic, analog nature. Other seemed to be, too.

I hadn’t expected such a warm reception from the internet, but even before that happened, I had considered my experiment a success. So I followed it up with a couple more maps, to get a feel for some different styles. You can click on either of them to have a look in more detail.



It was an interesting diversion from the digital precision of my normal workflow. Sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, but in any case a chance to mess around with some new challenges.

The ideas here aren’t new. John Krygier has a post about typewriter mapping. Early computer graphics, such as ASCII art, along with early mapping software (like SYMAP), use essentially the same style as what I am doing (though mine is much more rudimentary): constructing images through individual characters.

In any case, now that you’ve seen the maps, read on to learn more about the challenges and decisions that went into their creation.

Map 1: Rivers of Lake Michigan

Though I just called this project a “diversion” from a digital workflow, all of these maps actually started on the computer. For this particular one, I began with a grid in Adobe Illustrator. Each rectangle in the grid represented one character position on the typewriter. There are ten characters to the inch, at an aspect ratio of 0.6. The final grid was 75 × 60, which would fill a 7.5″ × 10″ space.

Atop that, I dropped some data from Natural Earth. And from there, I began “tracing”: plotting out which characters I could type to represent the rivers and coastline, and where each one should go.

After a little experimentation, I decided that if I wanted to draw linear features, there were three characters that were best to use: ! / _. Together, I could create rudimentary lines that roughly connected together in a pseudo-vector style, even if the typewriter grid itself is basically a raster.

A backslash (\) would also have been great, but that was a character invented pretty much exclusively for use on computers, so it’s not found on my typewriter. As such, I had diagonal lines that sloped somewhat cleanly in one direction, while they stairstepped back down in the opposite direction. Compare the coastline on both sides of Lake Michigan, below.

For the state boundaries, I decided to try something different. I simply filled a bunch of “pixels” in with asterisks, rather than using more “linear”-looking characters. A raster, rather than a pseudo-vector, approach. It creates a small visual distinction between the boundaries and the coastline, which might be pretty hard to do otherwise. There aren’t a lot of symbology options in a situation like this.

The biggest of those options, though, is color: my typewriter has a two-color ribbon, so I tried to make the most of it by setting the rivers off in red. This also helped with a labeling problem: I could name the rivers in red, to distinguish them from any other features. Other than color, though, the only way to vary my labels was to set some in capitals, and some in title case. I’m used to labeling most every class of feature on a map in a different style, but that’s just not possible here. My islands and my cities, for example, look the same (black, title case). The states are lakes are the same, too (black, capitals).

Once I had spent a couple of hours or so on developing a plan, it was time to start typing. I loaded some paper into the typewriter and got to work. At first, I proceeded very linearly: left-to-right, top-to-bottom. But that was tedious. There’s a lot of white space in this pattern, so sometimes I was forced to hit the space bar a few dozen times to advance to the next character on the line, and there was always a chance I might miscount and make a mistake. More importantly, though, following this workflow revealed a problem with my typewriter. Whenever I hit the carriage return lever to go to the next line, there was a chance that I’d somehow get a misalignment. Have a look at these patterns I typed:

Notice how the characters don’t all line up along the left side, but then become more aligned on the right? I’m not sure why it kept happening, but it seemed most often to appear when I would use the carriage return lever. So, instead, I shifter to a different style of typing. I would start to trace features somewhat linearly. For the top left part of the map, for example, I began by typing three asterisks, then I manually moved down one line, then typed four more, then moved down another line, and typed four more, etc. following the line of the state border.

I manually moved the paper up and down and used the backspace and spacebar keys to align myself to where I needed to be at any time. In this way, I mostly avoided misalignments, though smaller ones still kept creeping in. About three-quarters of the way down the page I got a minor leftward shift that you can see in the final product. You can also see where I typed some periods over again to check if it was just my imagination or if it really was misaligned.

Fortunately, it wasn’t enough to ruin my work, but it was a constant danger, and something I am still trying to figure out.

The final product has various interesting smudges where the paper accidentally contacted the ribbon. In particular, I noticed that typing in red always produced a faint black “shadow” a couple of lines above. When the slug hit the red part of the ribbon, a small portion of it would lightly hit the black portion of the ribbon, too. Later on, I started holding scrap paper over my map in order to prevent this, so that the black shadow would go on the scrap.

In sum: my typewriter is not a precision instrument. This makes it a somewhat uncomfortable-feeling tool for a detail-oriented designer like me. I like being able to zoom in to 64,000% in Illustrator and correct errors that are small enough that no human eye could possibly ever see them. But, there’s something attractive about the organic messiness of the typewriter.

Once I was done, I scanned it, and then turned it over to the Robinson Map Library, since I wasn’t sure what to do with it now that I was finished. So, come to Madison if you ever want to see the real thing (this goes for all three maps).

Map 2: Shadow Contours

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Gentle readers, I am back again with yet another tutorial that relates to the legibility of type. I love the art of map labeling, and the fact that this will be my third post on integrating type into a map suggests that I’ve probably thought way too much about it. While my two previous posts were on type knockouts, this time around, I’m going to talk about another favorite trick of mine: making type halos that appear only when needed.

Notice in the map below that there’s a faint glow around parts of the label for the Cadillac Plain. You can see it most prominently on the left side of the label. By the time you get to the right side of the label, it’s mostly gone.

Clipped from the map featured in my Terrain in Photoshop: Layer by Layer walkthrough.

Notice what happens when I turn off the label, but leave that glowing halo. You can see that it shows up only in some areas.

Also, notice how the Lake Mitchell halo is much more prominent than the Lake Missaukee one.

Specifically, it pops up only where the underlying map is darkest, and then it gracefully fades away as the map lightens. This halo is a tool that we bring in only when it’s necessary to help the label’s legibility. When the map is light, the dark label survives fine, and a glow serves no purpose. The labels only need a boost when the underlying map is darker, since the contrast between the label and the map will be weaker. You can see the value that the glow brings by looking at how the labels appear without it.

We don’t want to overuse the glow when it’s unnecessary, since it’s covering up our map and it feels clunky when it’s used in places where it’s not needed. Compare the first image, with the glow that fades in-and-out, with a glow that doesn’t change based on its context.

Now the label for Lake Missaukee has a glow around it, but it’s not really necessary. It looks a little silly, and/or heavy-handed. A needless intervention.

So, how do we make these variable label halos, that fade in and out as needed? Well, that depends on what software we’re working in. Let’s start with Photoshop.

In Photoshop

Let’s start with a map, and some labels. You might have imported these labels (and/or parts of the map) from Illustrator, or perhaps you made the whole thing in Photoshop. It doesn’t really matter. Here’s my starting setup, though. For simplicity in this demonstration, I have a single map layer, and a group with a few labels in it.

Click for a larger version (you can do this with most of the screenshots below).

To start, I’m going to need to make a copy of the Labels group. Click on the it (in the Layers panel) and drag it down to the bottom until you’re hovering over the icon that looks like a piece of paper with a corner turned up. Release the mouse and you’ll have a copy of your group.

Double click directly on the name of one of these groups to rename it. Call the topmost one “Labels” and the bottom one “Glows” (you can also click and drag group in the Layers panel to re-order them). Then, turn the Labels group off by clicking on the eyeball icon to the left of the group name. We’ll be setting this aside until later.

Now I need to make some nice glowing halos. I can do that selecting the group that contains my labels, then clicking on the fx icon found at the bottom of the layers panel, and choosing Outer Glow.

There are a lot of settings here — probably more than you’d need in most situations. They’re all worth playing around with to understand, but for simplicity, let’s focus on just a few.

For color I’m going to go with a white halo, set at 60% opacity, so that my glow simply whitens up my map a bit. And if it’s not already set, the normal blending mode is probably called for here, so that I don’t have this white color blending into the map in unexpected ways.

The size slider controls how far from the type your halo will extend, and the spread slider controls how soft and fuzzy its edges are. The settings you see in my example above are not likely to be the best settings for you. This is something you need to experiment with — there’s no one-size-fits-all sort of answer that I can give you. The overall goal is to make something that’s effective, but subtle. It should give the labels a boost, but not be too noticeable on its own.

Next up, it’s time to start making things fade in and out. Select the Glows group and then go down to the bottom of the Layers panel and click on the image of a rectangle with a circular hole.

This creates an opacity mask for the group. We’ve worked with these before, if you’ve been following along with my other tutorials. If not, go check out the Opacity Masking section of this tutorial before proceeding, which will explain the basic concept (though in an Illustrator, rather than a Photoshop, context). For now, our mask is empty, and so it’s represented by a black rectangle, which means: hide everything in this layer.

We’re going to put a copy of our underlying map into this mask, so that the glows get more or less opaque as the map gets darker or lighter. I’m going to go click on my map layer, hit Cmd-A (or Ctrl-A, if on a PC) to select the whole thing (or go to the Select menu at the top and choose All), and then I’m going to copy it (Cmd-C on a Mac or Ctrl-C on a PC) to the clipboard. From there, Alt-click on the opacity mask to go inside. To paste in our map, go to the top menu and choose Edit  Paste Special  Paste in Place to ensure that the map ends up in the correct place.

Since we’re in a mask, we’re only working in shades of grey, which correspond to levels of transparency for our glows. Dark means “make the Glows layer very transparent” and white means “leave it opaque.” What that means is, right now, our mask is completely inverted from what we want. Dark areas of the map (where we want our halo to help out) are also dark in the mask, meaning that the halo is being made more transparent. To fix this, hit Cmd-I to invert the mask.

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SomethingAboutMaps by Daniel Huffman - 10M ago

While I’ve not been posting here this summer, neither have I let my writing faculties lie idle. The newest issue of Cartographic Perspectives, which is the free & open journal of NACIS, came out today and it happens to have two pieces that I wrote, along with a third one that’s connected to my work. I hope you’ll check them (and the whole issue) out.

  1. The Power of Appearances” is a combination and re-working of two tutorials I’ve previously put together here: Even Fancier Type Knockouts in Illustrator and The Power of Appearances. I reworked some figures and hopefully presented everything in a cleaner, more coherent package.
  2. A Freelancer’s Approach to Teaching Cartography” involves me musing about how I bring my experiences as a practicing mapmaker into the classroom. I teach introductory cartography occasionally, and I continue to alter the structure, expectations, and content of my course in order to make the experience of my students more like my own as a freelancer.
  3. While I didn’t write it, you can also check out Daniel Cole’s “Review of the Ecological Atlas of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas.” I made 130+ maps for the Ecological Atlas, which was published last year. You can also see the whole atlas for free, online.

Before I leave off, I’ll also immodestly drop in those donation buttons you’ve probably seen me adding everywhere. In the mapmaking community, practitioners both inside and outside academia come together to share knowledge through journals or conferences. Academics build their CVs and get tenure based partly on this sort of work, and are highly incentivized to do so. But many of the rest of us have no such incentive (in fact, some people’s companies would prefer that their employees not spend work time writing tutorials or presentations). It’s an ongoing challenge with a journal like Cartographic Perspectives, which relies on getting content from non-academics. If you’re outside academia, I hope you’ll consider being a part of the journal sometime, if you’re in a position where you have the time and resources to share your knowledge.

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