Tag Archives: Vanessa Knoppke-Wetzel

Maps and mappers of the 2018 GeoHipster calendar — Vanessa Knoppke-Wetzel

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m really passionate about data visualization, and am a huge advocate that everyone is capable of creating beautiful, well-designed, and user-friendly maps, graphics, and data viz (even if they say “they can’t” because they never learned). I sort of stumbled upon cartography – it never was my original plan, but I’m so very glad I did. My feelings about the importance of balancing design and analysis all began when I attended NACIS in Portland, OR, and a panel was discussing the importance of design in maps vs some that argued it wasn’t as needed anymore in many cases, because of advances in technology. I had no idea how much listening to those discussions would affect me, but ultimately I realized a trend in the talks I give, the research I enjoy (and research I did), and the products I enjoy exploring, all ultimately are related to sharing knowledge, breaking it down to shareable pieces, and exploring how to find new ways of visualizing things… on screens.


Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: All of the above really is a backdrop for why I made this map (although at the time I had not fully fleshed out and realized all of this). At the time, I was constantly frustrated with map design, and was always “waiting” to learn more about how to design maps to look a certain way, based on certain styles or aesthetics that had to be defined (like cubism, or impressionism). My mom is an artist, and I had spent so much of my life constantly surrounded by art, exploring art mediums (my mom always picked up new creative hobbies), and taking all the art classes I could. This, I think, is why I kept expecting there to be a book or class that explained what I was searching for, which ultimately was how to translate the aesthetic of maps off-screen to on-screen: what techniques did I need to learn and practice to learn how to do X? I got frustrated, and as a result, decided to create a map on-screen actually mimicking brushstrokes (I love painting). I should note here, one of my secondary frustrations was that neither Illustrator nor Photoshop could ever approximate the particular brush-strokes and looks I wanted them to. I knew there had to be products out there besides these “standard ones” that weren’t just CLONING a brush-look, but creating a better approximation of what happened. Corel Painter, as it turns out, was the solution – at least, one of them. Not only does it have a multitude of brush types, but it goes beyond brushes (sponges… pens… so many things). Additionally, there are different background textures that can be applied, and the different paper textures also are programmed to react differently to different paints, brushes, ‘wetness’ of paint, etc. Really fantastic. Anyway: this map was me exploring texture and paint. The topic is also near and dear to my heart – Madison, WI has so many beautiful places to run, so I wanted to show my favorite places. Finally, I always had admired the iconography of old maps, so I decided to draw some “detailed, but sketchy” icons for my favorite parts of the running routes.


Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: I used my mental map for the creation – a very purposeful choice, as the world in our head bends differently than accurate data ;), Corel Painter 12, and a drawing tablet.