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A Changing of the Guard at GeoHipster

Mike Dolbow
Mike Dolbow

From Mike

“You’ve seen enough of that one.” –Nigel Tufnel

Well, here we are! It was about five years ago that I agreed to head up the effort to create an independent business for GeoHipster, building off the amazing momentum that Atanas began back in 2013. Since then, I’ve been amazed at all the opportunities and connections that GeoHipster has opened up for me: attending conferences, meeting some pretty cool people (including many of you!), and connecting with other map nerds around the globe. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to do this and “steer the ship” over the past few years.

But, as I explained to my fellow GeoHipster collaborators in December, it’s become pretty clear to me that I’ve run out of steam. I haven’t published an interview since January 2021, I’ve only pitched one or two since then, and I keep forgetting other key parts of the effort. (Notice how late we’ve been in publishing our “Maps and Mappers” posts for 2022.) In other words, I feel like I’m not putting in the effort that our community deserves.

So back in December, I started asking around to see if anyone was interested in taking over leadership of the brand and establishing a new business for it. Lucky for me (and for all of us), Randal stepped up. We’re not in any rush to do a “clean hand-off” or anything like that, but I do anticipate that by the end of this calendar year, GeoHipster will no longer be a registered business in my home state…but will carry on in Tennessee. I’ve got a plan for transferring most of the assets as well as donating to some of our favorite geo-charities.

I’m confident that GeoHipster will be in good hands with Mr. Hale, who has conducted many interviews for us over the years, judged for the calendar, and provided valuable guidance and insights. Perhaps most importantly, he embodies the fun and independent spirit that makes GeoHipster stand out as not just a business, but a force for good within the community. It’s been a pleasure serving in this role over the years, and I’m incredibly excited to see where Randal takes it next. Happy Mapping!

Randal Hale
Randal Hale

From Randal

….and that’s where I come in….I think. Hello! 

Mike put out a call and I slowly stuck my hand up and volunteered to run with this. As Mike said above, Atanas started this weird journey back in 2013. At that point in my life I was sitting in Athens, Georgia responding to Atanas and probably going “What is a geohipster anyway – oh yeah I’ll do some interviews….”. I think we even ran a poll somewhere on what we think a geohipster does. For me the website turned into this documentation project on “why we do what we do”. It’s also scattered with healthy irreverence for this industry, poking a bit in some areas, and just being fun. That’s the most important thing – make it fun. 

Anyway – over the next bit Mike is going to teach me all the hidden features of the website and how GeoHipster is run. I’ve been thinking about this for a good while and I’m excited. Of course I’m already running “one thing” – which is North River Geographic Systems. So I’ll be juggling for a bit as I get into a good routine. 

With that – bear with me as we get this thing rolling. I look forward to it and I hope you all hang with us during this transition.

Maps and Mappers of the 2022 calendar: Jonathan King, January

Q: Tell us about yourself:

A: Originally from New England in the U.S., I’m a second year student in the International Master of Science in Cartography degree program, which takes place in Europe at the Technical University of Munich, the Technical University of Vienna, the Technical University of Dresden, and the University of Twente. Probably like most people reading this article, I’ve been interested in cartography for a long period of my life. Since elementary school, some of my favorite things to do have included perusing the content of globes, atlases, and maps and making maps (or at least attempting to) of real and imaginary places. For my undergraduate education, I completed a B.A. in geography partly because I like maps, but perhaps more than anything because I like a lot of things and geography seemed like a sufficiently broad and synergistic discipline to allow me to pursue a lot of interests. Following graduation, I completed two cartography and geospatial analysis internships and then spent about ten years working in a few jobs that often had little to do with geography – a fact which might be considered hipsterishly ironic because I spent the majority of that time working for National Geographic. I also occasionally did work with maps in volunteer and recreational contexts. 

At some point a few years ago, I decided I wanted to pursue more formal education in cartography and geoinformatics and spend some time living in Europe (my Europhilia is nearly as strong as my cartophilia), so I enrolled in my current program. In addition to maps, I really like reading, traveling, attempting to learn new languages, playing the bassoon, and trying unusual foods. I’m honored by my map’s selection for inclusion in this wonderful calendar alongside the amazing work of other cartographers. Its selection helps me confirm for myself that I’ve likely taken a step in a good direction by studying cartography at the master’s degree level.

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: I made this map last spring for a class called Project Map Creation, which is a degree requirement for my current study program. It is taught by professional cartographer Manuela Schmidt, to whom I’d like to express strong gratitude for the help she gave me while I worked on the map at the Technical University of Vienna. Students enrolled in the class are required to spend a semester creating an analog thematic map about a topic of their choice. In past years when this course was offered, many students made maps showing cultural features of the places they’re from. I decided I wanted to do the same thing. The thought struck me that Maine’s lighthouses might be an interesting focus for my map: They are culturally iconic of the place where I’m from and have a large number of spatial attributes suitable for visualization on a map and ancillary infographics. 

I often kayak along the ocean coastline of Maine’s Midcoast region in the early evenings when lighthouses first begin to flash their lights. I’m curious to learn the geographic locations of the lighthouses associated with the lights I see, as well as general information about the lighthouses’ histories and how they can be used for navigation. I thought other kayakers and casual boaters might be similarly curious, so I created the map with these people in mind as target users. The map shows the geographic locations of Midcoast Maine’s lighthouses, the colors and flash patterns of the lights’ primary lights, and the oceanic spaces where each light is generally visible for an observer two feet above sea level (such as a kayaker) during a night with good weather conditions (meteorological visibility of ten nautical miles).

As is the case with all maps, this one excludes information about the geography it depicts, including some I’ve come to think is important. In addition to the primary lighthouse lights the map provides information about, small sector lights, whose colors, flash patterns, and visible ranges differ from those of the primary lights, shine from some of Midcoast Maine’s lighthouses. When making my map, I decided not to include information about these sector lights, since I couldn’t quickly figure out how to do so in a legible and aesthetically pleasing way. I considered their exclusion an appropriate generalization for the map’s scale. However, in retrospect I’ve questioned this decision because lighthouse sector lights help mariners avoid dangers to navigation. My exclusion of this information likely means that while the map is appropriate for use as an art object published in a calendar, it should not – despite its title and original intended use case – actually be used for navigation.

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

A: My sources include:

I carried out geoinformation pre-processing in ArcGIS pro and cartographic styling Adobe Illustrator.

Rosy Schechter to GeoHipster: “Be kind to yourself.”

Rosy Schechter is a human being who has been fortunate to channel her love of learning and desire to improve the world into a tapestried professional practice. This path has most recently led her to lead Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC), a private foundation that both provides free IP address space to the international amateur radio community and makes grants to support amateur radio and digital communications science and technology. Prior to joining ARDC, she ran a nonprofit that focused on open sourcing data related to cannabis plants (Open Cannabis Project) and another nonprofit that connected people all over the world to learn about how to make open source maps (Maptime). A large portion of her career has also centered around educational and technical writing; she’s written curriculum on HTML, CSS, and Javascript basics, edited a guidebook for communities in Ghana wishing to exercise land tenure rights, copyedited a book on the science of tattooing, ghostwritten articles on the science of cannabis, and diagrammed how the patent system works with cannabis plants. Though she now roams the West Coast with a root in Portland, OR, she originally hails from Atlanta, GA, where she got her MS in Digital Media at Georgia Tech and a BA in Philosophy at Georgia State University. 
Twitter: @RosySchechter

Website: bethschechter.com 

Rosy was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You founded Maptime in 2013. How did that come about? Was Maptime your first encounter with the geo crowd?

A: It all started at the 2013 State of the Map US conference. I was working in business development at the one and only Stamen Design, a boutique data visualization and design studio in San Francisco. Aside from being my first State of the Map event, there were two events that stood out: meeting Alan McConchie (Maptime cofounder and amazing human, who I’ll talk a bit more about shortly) and a striking talk by Alyssa Wright on the dismal number of women contributing to OpenStreetMap – 3%, and only 1% of open source contributions overall. This lack of female contribution had a negative effect on the data, and thus the overall map. For example, there were a variety of different accepted attributions for bars, brothels, and nightclubs, but a proposed attribution for childcare was rejected, though a tag known as `baby_hatch` remained. It made no sense and was clearly the result of a lack of contribution from non-white males. I wanted to change these numbers, which meant learning more about the technical details of mapping myself.

A few weeks later, I invited some friends over to Stamen for snacks and beverages and to work on Javascript tutorials for mapping. There were only a handful of us, and Alan was one of them. A brilliant cartographer with a knack for teaching, he had recently started working at Stamen and was happy to be our resident expert. Camille Teicheira, also a coworker, helped organize. Everyone had lots of fun, and we decided to do it again the next week. And then the next week. And then the week after that!

Before we knew it, word about our little get-together started spreading. In SF, suddenly we had a waiting list for this event that we called Maptime (which is just what it sounded like: time for making maps). Our soon-to-be-friend Lyzi Diamond in Portland, OR, wanted to start a chapter there, which became known as MaptimePDX. Thanks to these co-founders – Alan, Camille, and Lyzi – talking to their friends and tweeting the tweets, folks from all over the country and even internationally heard about us and wanted to do similar meetups in their city, including Washington DC, Berlin, and New York City. Just like that, Maptime was born. 

Q: We met at the 2015 State Of The Map conference in NYC, where you gave a passionate presentation about Maptime to a packed room. Your excitement was contagious. Tell us more about Maptime.

A: I remember! At that time, Maptime had exploded to be something like 40-50 chapters all over the world. And it really was exciting. I had never been a part of a phenomenon like that, and it was incredible and beautiful to me that there were people all around the world who just wanted to get together and learn about making maps, who shared a love for cartographic art and science and had a desire to share knowledge. I am still in awe at how quickly it spread. People stepped in to volunteer on our website (like Rafa Guitierrez), help with our code of conduct, fill out our resources and learning page, and, in a delightfully participatory way, make the whole thing happen. 

Q: At the 2016 SOTMUS in Seattle you gave another passionate talk (I have watched the video many times). In your summary you say “the truth is, [Maptime’s] success has come with a heavy load, one that has challenged my ideals around volunteerism, open source projects, my duty as a founder, and who I am as a human being.” What happened between 2015 and 2016?

A: Thank you. This is one of my favorite talks, and it means a lot to me that you like it and have watched it so many times. It was also one of the hardest – up until that point, most of my talks had been happy and enthusiastic or some kind of how-to. This one touched on some darker subjects, and I wanted to speak to them honestly.

Between 2015 and 2016, I moved from San Francisco to the deep suburbs of Portland, OR. Frustrated with the cost of living and our dismal chances of ever owning property in the Bay Area, we bought a relatively large house on a third of an acre. The summer was great – we were getting settled in our lovely new home, the sun came up early and set late, I worked and gardened. But then winter set in. We didn’t have many friends in Portland yet, we worked remotely, and it rained all the time. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize just how hard it would be. Plus, I had moved from a tiny apartment in the Mission to a three-story house. Cleaning became a part-time job in a way that I didn’t enjoy – still don’t, but now there are roommates to help share the load. At the same time, my mom was having some severe health issues, the same ones that brought about the end of her life in 2019. I had already been feeling a little burnt out when I moved to Portland, but suddenly I was incapable of keeping up with Maptime. 

Though I didn’t want to admit it, I eventually opened up about what was going on with the Maptime board. It turned out, to my surprise, that they were also feeling it. At that point, it had been well over two years since Maptime started. In SF, we ran events every week and then every other week. When Lyzi moved to town, she started a Maptime in Oakland, just across the Bay. All of us had been running events, organizing around the international growth of Maptime, and working our regular jobs. Even though Stamen was supportive and gave us some time to work on it, it was still a lot. As a project that ran free events run by volunteers, it was bound to happen. 

The board decided to step down and pass the baton to a new board, which we announced at the talk you’re referencing. And amazingly, I still see bits of Maptime activity glimmering in my email and around the internet, which makes me very happy.

Q: A lot has changed in your life since 2015, including your name. Care to share details?

A: Sure! Career-wise, Maptime taught me that I really loved writing curriculum and how-tos. So the next job I took was as a curriculum writer for a delightful company called Skillcrush. I eventually decided to try the freelance life out, which gave me some flexibility that I’d been craving. During those early days, I rented a little art studio and started painting. One of my favorites is this 8’ x 4’ quail – Queen Quail, or Inky

It was during this time of freelance that I got involved in the cannabis industry and once again got to put my nonprofit chops to use. Sadly, though I met a bunch of wonderful people on that journey, it ended in heartbreak. It was around then that my mom passed away (not long after her mother, my grandmother) and my relationship took a big hit. I describe that time – 2019 – as my Bad Country Song Year. It was one difficult thing after another. It felt like the entire house of my being had been shaken in an earthquake, and all that was left was scaffolding. For me, it made 2020 and a global pandemic feel easy. That’s how bad it was. 

As it often goes, those times of great destruction are also a time of growth. In addition to taking on practices like prayer and meditation, I also decided that it was time to do something I’d wanted to do since I was a kid: take a different name. I was experimenting with the name Rose when one day I was out to lunch with a friend. When I walked up to his table, he greeted me with “Hey, Rosy!” A lightning bolt of delight ran down my spine. Needless to say, the name stuck. I love it. I also love how often people tell me that they love my name, that they had an aunt or grandma or truck or boat with the same name (likely spelled Rosie). It brings me endless joy. 

The last name I had a harder time settling on – I tried on Moss and Wolfe (the latter being an homage to my mom and her love for wolves). But ultimately, on the 2021 autumnal equinox, I came back to Schechter – my atavistic root. 

So, these days I go by Rosy Schechter, with no penalty to family or friends who still call me Beth. I practice Iyengar yoga daily, which helps to treat an autoimmune disorder (Graves’ Disease) and keeps depression at bay. My relationship is solid. And to top it all off, I have a job that I absolutely love. It’s been a journey, and I am so grateful to Be Here Now.

Q: Currently you are the Executive Director at Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC). How did you end up in that field? What do you like about it? What are your daily duties?

A: My first job working with a nonprofit was actually Burning Man Project, when I was an admin for them as they transitioned from LLC to 501(c)(3) back in 2012. Then there was Maptime. Though we never became an official 501(c)(3), Maptime was the first nonprofit I ever ran. Later, I would run an organization called Open Cannabis Project (OCP). A board member from OCP, John Gilmore, who also sits on the board of ARDC, reached out to me after its founder, Brian Kantor, died in 2019. A tiny nonprofit that had suddenly come into an endowment unexpectedly needed someone to lead it. Knowing nothing about amateur radio, I gave it some thought and then signed on to the adventure in July of 2020. Since then, I’ve helped ARDC get organized operationally, build a small but mighty staff, and together distribute over $10 million in grants, gifts, and scholarships. 

The running joke about being an Executive Director is that it’s a continuous spectrum of “Other duties as assigned,” all while making sure the ship runs smoothly. It’s a challenge, but one that I enjoy. I would dare to say I even love many things about what I do. First, I love being in a philanthropic role: there are few greater pleasures than providing funds that can help make someone’s dreams come true. Second, like with maps, amateur radio and digital communications provide endless room for learning. Since coming on board, I’ve had to learn about the FCC spectrum and regulations, internet routing, packet radio, satellites, and so much more. I also love that we’ve created a culture that offers room for human-ness and flexibility. 

Q: I know of more than a few people who left the geo industry. Some cite burnout or other reasons, others just move on quietly. This topic is dear to my heart, as I must admit the thought has crossed my mind. Why did you leave? Is the cure for burnout workload reduction, or must one change roles/jobs/fields?

A: Leaving maps was hard, and to be honest, I miss it on the regular. That said, I am also someone who craves learning many different things. Through Maptime, I learned that a big chunk of what I loved was curriculum development and documentation. I got to then do a bunch of that work at Skillcrush. Craving more topics, I did even more freelance technical writing work: documenting mapping applications, editing guidebooks on land rights and the science of tattooing, and diagramming how cannabis patents work. So, part of my leaving has nothing to do with being over maps so much as it had to do with wanting to keep learning and trying new things. 

As someone who has been burnt out and is currently not burnt out, I can tell you what works for me:

  • 32-hour workweek
  • Plenty of time for creativity and volunteerism
  • Iyengar yoga!
  • Eating healthy food
  • Taking time off 
  • Spending time with friends
  • Opportunities to learn and try new things, at my job and elsewhere

As I write this, and reflect on the fact that this list reflects my current reality, I recognize that it’s a privileged place to be. That said, as some of my former colleagues know and former managers may lament, I have been advocating for a 32-hour workweek since I had my first office job. I really and truly believe that it is the key to keeping people healthy and happy in their jobs. 2021’s Great Resignation has taught us that people are no longer standing for work environments that lead to moral injury and burnout. If we actually treated people like people, then maybe they wouldn’t want to leave. Maybe we wouldn’t have a healthcare shortage. 

Q: What are your thoughts on change in general? You say “It’s OK to move on”. Is change a goal unto itself, or means to an end?

A: What are my thoughts on change? You mean the one constant that exists in the universe? My thoughts are that I’m fine with it, or else I will be run over by it. 

In all seriousness, change is necessary. A friend of mine, who is training to be a spiritual director, recently shared with me the idea that stagnancy is the root of all illness. I believe this, for our bodies, our lives, and our societies.

That said, I’m learning as I get older that commitment is just as important as being able to surf the waves of change. Otherwise, it’s too easy to be in a state of constantly starting over, which can be detrimental mentally and financially. These days, when I go to try something new, I treat it as an experiment and make a commitment to do it for a certain period of time. Why? Because I’m going to suck at it at first, and some work is required to not totally suck at it. So this year, for example, I’m committed to finishing a screenplay I started working on with a friend. Perfect is the enemy of done, and done feels really good.

Q: Do you miss geo? Do you see yourself returning to the geo field?

A: I do miss geo, and I’m open to coming back. Right now, however, I’m really loving working in philanthropy, so I’ll likely stay here for a minute. 

Q: Do you consider yourself a (geo)hipster? Why/why not?

A: I’m probably more of a Geo-Hippie. I am literally wearing tie-dye leggings as I write this, with Tarot cards and a singing bowl directly to my left. 

Q: I love what you say in your Seattle talk: “It takes sunshine to make a rainbow, but it wouldn’t be possible without rain.” So rain’s not all bad? Sometimes you don’t even want an umbrella.

A: Well, after living in Portland, you just kind of get used to rain and living in boots and a rain jacket for 6-8 months out of the year. And after living in drought-country California for a spell in 2021, I can tell you, not only is rain not bad, it’s essential. Literally and metaphorically. If I hadn’t had my Bad Country Song Year, I would not have found the spiritual and physical practices that have led to my current state of well being. It’s not like my life is perfect, far from it. But I have tools now and a deep appreciation for my life that I didn’t have before that year. I also have an even deeper appreciation for the people in my life – family, friends, colleagues, community – who have supported me or offered patience during the harder times. It’s really humbling. 

Q: If you had to give one piece of advice to our readers, what would that be? 

A: Oh that’s hard. One piece of advice? I’m going to have to give you two that go together.

First, practice accountability. When you are accountable for your actions, it helps your soul feel whole and radiates outward to your home, work, and community. That person you said you would call but didn’t? Call them. Feel bad because you always wanted to write a screenplay / learn Tai Chi / get back to painting? Find a class and go to it. Wish you had done something differently when you were in a relationship with your now ex partner? Find a way to make a living amends. 

There are many ways to keep yourself accountable, and the key is finding what works for you. Shameless plug – here’s a worksheet that I created and use to help me keep on top of my commitments. I’ve shared it under a Creative Commons license, so feel free to modify and share with attribution! I have a friend I meet with weekly, and we each go through our lists. It’s really helpful to have someone to report your progress to, and who can help motivate you when you inevitably fall behind.

Which brings me to the second bit of advice: be kind to yourself. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. There is no magical handbook for how to be perfect that some people got and you didn’t get. No one got the book, no one is perfect, and anyone who thinks they are needs therapy. If you make a mistake and you can learn from it, it’s not a failure – it’s a lesson. Only if you are kind to yourself can you give yourself the strength to keep learning, which is truly one of the greatest joys in life.

It’s our new favorite tradition: Releasing our calendar on #PostGISDay

The 2022 GeoHipster Calendar cover, featuring an image of the Lena Delta by Inge van Daelen.
Behold the cover of our 2022 calendar!

Well, let us be the first (?) to wish you all a happy #PostGISDay today, by delivering on our promises and bringing you our absolute favorite day of the year! That’s right: once again, in addition to raising a glass to your favorite open source spatial database extension, you can celebrate by ordering yourself a brand-spanking-new map calendar for next year. (Or order one, two, or three as gifts! Who doesn’t need some video background improvements these days?)

The calendar is now available for order and features maps from:

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be tweeting out teasers of the maps that were picked over @geohipster – but if you really want to experience these maps in their full glory, you’re going to want to buy a copy of your own, for the low price of just USD 15.99! (And allow yourself at least 10-12 business days for print and ship.) In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this peek at the map that graces our back cover. Now what are you waiting for?

A map of chlorophyll concentration in September 2020, using the Spilhaus projection.
Long live the Spilhaus projection!

Call for Maps: 2022 GeoHipster Calendar

Could your map be the cover of the 2022 GeoHipster Calendar?

Is it true that 2021 was almost as unpredictable as 2020? We don’t know the answer to that, but we do feel like our 2021 calendar was our best yet. We also know some of you are back in the office and need wall candy…and those of you who are still working from home love to mix up your backgrounds! So why stop now? That’s right, we’re pleased to announce that there will be a 2022 GeoHipster Calendar, and we’re opining up the call for maps today.

We want to continue our tradition of revealing the calendar by PostGIS Day in November, so get your maps in soon. All the details are available on the 2022 calendar page. Happy Mapping!

Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Kate Berg, September

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: 👋 I am a GIS lead at the State of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), where I wear many hats including web GIS administrator, open maps and data wrangler, geospatial educator, and project consultant. When I’m not wearing those hats, you can find me in the water scuba diving a local Michigan shipwreck (I wonder where the idea for this month’s map came from!) or at the desk dabbling with my latest carto- creations. I am known on Twitter by my alias @pokateo_ because my idea of a perfect day is being surrounded by yummy spud dishes. Another hobby I enjoy is making and sharing geography/geospatial memes under the tag #mappymeme on Twitter.

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: As an avid scuba diver, I’d been playing with various Great Lakes shipwreck spatial layers and knew I wanted to do something fun with them but didn’t know what. It wasn’t until I came across this article and saw a painfully sad Google Maps + Microsoft Paint map for the “Bermuda Triangle of the Great Lakes” that I had a lightbulb moment. I played with two versions of this map: a messy conspiracy theory board (akin to this Always Sunny meme) and an antique pirates map you see on this month’s calendar page. There are various Easter eggs on the map including a faded list of all the ships that have gone missing in the triangle over the years, a reference to a Stonehenge-like structure recently found under Lake Michigan as a possible correlation of the disappearances, a remnant of old maps where cartographers would put the phrase “Here be dragons” in unknown areas with potential danger, and a simple map monster that’s apparently factually inaccurate (should have checked out Michele’s Lake Monsters of the world :p).

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

A: I used ArcGIS Pro to complete this map. The majority of the artistic flair credit should probably go to John Nelson (as per the uzh), as I adapted some of the styles, textures, and bathy he’s shared on his national treasure of a blog. The triangle’s location is from the previously mentioned article, and the shipwrecks were a combination of datasets from NOAA and this most excellent story map by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. This map was originally made portrait with north straight at the top, but to submit to the calendar I adjusted it to make it landscape and I am pretty happy with the funky tilt of the map. I am humbled to be in the 2021 calendar. Thank you for all GeoHipster does for our special spatial community!

Raluca Nicola: “The community profits from everyone’s knowledge.”

Raluca Nicola

Raluca Nicola works at Esri as a Product Engineer for ArcGIS API for JavaScript. She enjoys creating maps and data visualizations using the latest web technologies. Most of these maps are in 3D and all of them live on the web. 

Raluca was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ana Leticia Ma.

Q: Can you tell me about your journey as a web cartographer? 

A: My journey started with me being clueless about what I want to study and generally what I want to do in life. I started studying math in college because that’s what I liked most during high-school. In my second year I realized it was too abstract for me, so I quit math and started studying geography. I found it interesting to learn how the world around us works. I soon discovered GIS and enjoyed analyzing and visualizing data to explain real world phenomena. Then I got more and more drawn towards the visualization part, and in my Master’s studies I focused on cartography. During those studies, I had a web cartography course and I was hooked. I like coding and the web is a great environment: I can create beautiful, interactive visualizations and it’s so easy to share them with others. 

Q: What do you like most about being a cartographer?

A: I love the data exploration part. It feels a bit like detective work to process and visualize a dataset in various ways and extract important information from it. And then the part that I enjoy the most is figuring out how to convey that information to others in a good way. In recent years I discovered that the magic in visualization comes when you combine concepts and ideas from different fields in novel ways…and I love to apply that to cartography. 3D cartography for example, makes use of 2D cartography and classical data visualization concepts, but it’s also heavily influenced by architecture, games and art. And like everything else nowadays, it’s also heavily influenced by technology. 

Q: Where do you get your inspiration to make maps? 

A: I try to take it from everywhere: maps and visualizations I stumble upon (mostly online), movies, commercials, articles I read, ideas I discuss with colleagues and friends. I think inspiration can come from the most unexpected places! 🙂 

Q: How’s your experience working with 2D and 3D maps? Do you have a preference for one over another?

A: My motto is: choose the technique that helps you send your message across in the best way. From experience, I would say that there are fields where one could be better than the other. For example, 3D is great when you visualize data related to cities or urban planning, and 2D can be better for complex multivariate data visualizations. But even in those cases, I’d first analyze the goal of the project and the audience, and then I’d choose the mapping technique. 

Q: How do you keep up with the latest trends in mapping? 

A: I think social media like Twitter or Linkedin are great platforms to see what people who are passionate about GIS and cartography are up to. Whenever I can, I also try to attend conferences that are specific to cartography like NACIS, Eurocarto or the International Cartographic Conference. 

Q: You live in a country with the most beautiful landscape. What outdoor activities do you like to do in Switzerland? 

A: Switzerland is amazing if you like mountains! I try to go hiking every weekend, and I often bike around Zurich, exploring the surroundings. I also enjoy skiing in winter, even though I’m not the greatest skier. 

Q: What was it like to work in the Swiss Alps and make maps for the Swiss National Park?

A: Such a great experience! It was a one year internship after university and I learned a lot there. I was really lucky to have a great supervisor who gave me some awesome and challenging tasks to work on. The village where I lived was very small; about 1000 inhabitants. And that was very strange for me, because I had only lived in big cities until then. I lived in a shared flat with other interns at the park. We had a really nice time, we cooked together, went hiking a lot, and watched movies. I also participated in my first karaoke there…turns out I can’t really sing, hehe!

Q: Aside from making maps, do you have any nerdy hobbies that you want to tell us about?

A: Not really a hobby, but for sure nerdy: I have an obsession with computer keyboards. At some point I built my own keyboard, but it was probably the worst one in my collection and the one I paid the most for…my fingers didn’t really get along with the layout of the keys. 

Q: One of your maps was featured on our Geohipster calendar in 2020, so you’re ahead of the GeoHipster game. What advice do you give to our users?

A: One piece of advice I try to offer is to share with others what you do and learn 🙂 The community can profit so much from everyone’s knowledge. Even if you think that it’s something simple, I’m sure someone out there could use it at some point, so share it!

Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Owen Powell, August

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I am a GIS Consultant working for Arup in the UK, with a specialism in data engineering and 3D visualisation. I think I have an unusual background for someone in GIS, having studied Fine Art, and later 3D Modelling & Animation. I have a passion for art and design, and studied painting, photography, and architecture which I still love. 

I got into GIS by accident but found it fascinating, especially being able to join data together with spatial relationships. I learned Maya & Blender (thanks to Nick George if you’re out there!) before ever knowing GIS was a thing. 

I am one of the people responsible for the popularity of Blender in cartography in recent years, having developed and shared new workflows and techniques. 

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: I am slightly obsessed with Japan, and Japanese culture – it is so unique. I made this map of Hachijō-jima Island for no real reason other than to create something new and different, plus I love making maps of islands. In my work I try to do something different each time, and consider it a failure if I just repeat a style I’ve done before, or in the style of someone else. 

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

A: I had some help from @kenjirototsuji with finding the data, and navigating the complexities of Japanese GML schemas from the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan.

The basis of the map was made with FME, in creating a surface as well as textures such as the coastal vignette. I love that FME gives you complete control and works with practically any format of data. FME is vital in my work, effectively extending the possibilities in Blender beyond the standard VFX and games industry data formats. 

The map is an orthographic render of a 3D model, made from triangulating contours and extruding 2d features (GML > FBX using FME). This is something I find myself doing more and more, because the resolution of elevation data rarely fits well with the available topographic data. If you create your own DEM raster or surface then there are opportunities to fill voids or smooth areas to match your intended map scale. 

With this map I used Blender’s node-based shader editor where you can mix map layers as textures to affect the way it reacts to light, for example with the roads, water, and the coastal vignette.

Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Ron Halliday, July

Q: TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF.

A: I am a professional cartographer, a graduate of the Cartography: Digital Mapping program at the College of Geographic Sciences in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia, Canada. At the time it was one of the only mapping courses in Canada, and – fortunately for me – I grew up a mere 60 kilometres (~40 miles) from the campus. As a child I loved perusing and drawing maps, but it was only at a career fair during my final year of high school when I discovered that I could make them for a living!

At the start of my career I worked in Calgary as an independent consultant, creating maps for biologists, ecologists, geologists and the like. Since moving to South America in 2004, my work has focused on aerial surveying, environmental protection, transportation, tourism and board games (yes, board games).

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: In 2020, these population flag maps were all the rage. I didn’t come across any, however, that included vexillological information! Nor did I see any that could match the level of detail possible with population data from Statistics Canada. So I downloaded their 489,676 dissemination block polygons and went to work carving up Canada into the same proportions as the flag.

The two outer red bands were fairly straightforward, but it was difficult to find a spot in the rest of Canada with nearly 5 million residents where the maple leaf would fit, and with small dissemination blocks so that its shape would be recognizable. But through trial and error I eventually found one! Then it was just a matter of (de)selecting a few polygons here and there in order to get the population/proportion accurate to four decimal places.

Q: TELL US ABOUT THE TOOLS, DATA, ETC., YOU USED TO MAKE THE MAP.

A: This map was made using QGIS 3.14.15. Population data came from the 2016 Statistics Canada Census Program, and the blurb about the flag was taken from the 1964 royal proclamation by Elizabeth II.

Anton Thomas: “Creative inspiration is not field-specific, everything in life flows together to inspire what you do”

Anton Thomas is an artist-cartographer from New Zealand, based in Australia. He creates hand-drawn illustrated maps with colour pencil and pen. His focus is primarily on large works which showcase the world in heavy detail and vivid colour. His works include North America: Portrait of a Continent, a map that took almost five years to complete.

Anton was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ana Leticia Ma.

Q: How did your journey as a cartographer begin? 

A: I was obsessed with maps as a young child. Growing up in small-town New Zealand, my surroundings were awe-inspiring. The geography of the South Island is magnificent, and maps helped me understand it. Exploring them evoked mystery and adventure. While I did like fantasy fiction, I found the real world to be far more captivating. And New Zealand has the geography for it: one looks across the ocean to snow-capped volcanoes, while the Pacific crashes into primeval coastline. It was a vivid place to grow up.

NZ is also very isolated, so perusing atlases and globes was a way to explore distant lands. I would stay up at night drawing maps, committing coastlines to memory. I also loved drawing animals, landscapes, cities, dinosaurs – whatever interested me – and I combined these with maps from the start.

This passion was somewhat neglected through my teens, but came roaring back when I began travelling in 2011. After a childhood in NZ, I was amazed at the vastness of continental geography. I spent two years criss-crossing North America, and my love of maps was reignited. I began to draw them more than ever, culminating in my Portrait of a Continent project (discussed in Question 3).

Q: You’re working on a map called Wild World. Can you tell me more about it?

A: I started Wild World last year, in the middle of a long lockdown in Melbourne. After years drawing a map of North America, I was desperate for something different. I wished to focus only on the natural world, instead of the countless skylines and cultural features of my previous works.

So, it is a world map about nature. The map is in the lovely Natural Earth projection, centred on 11°E rather than Greenwich (I prefer the edges to cut through the Bering Strait, unlike 0°). After sizing it, I printed off the base map and stapled it to the back of my art paper. Then using a lightbox, I traced all coastlines, rivers, and relief and began drawing.

I’ve dreamed of this map since childhood. At age 15 I drew a world map in which the coastlines are shaped by animals of each region. More recently, after seeing Tom Patterson’s stunning physical world maps, I envisioned an animal map showcasing physical geography in detail. Painstaking attention is given to geography and labelling, as I hope it can be a great reference map for world geography. Meanwhile, animals are amazing at evoking place (think tiger in India, kangaroo in Australia), and evoking place is a key goal of my work. There have been many animal pictorial maps through the ages, but they often have a cartoonish character. The illustrations can feel separate from the map, stamped on top like clipart. There are some great maps in this style, but I like to bake my illustrations into the geography, so everything flows together. I want my baboon wandering the mountains, not pasted over the top.

I include no extinct, introduced, or domesticated animals. Only native extant fauna (also no cryptids. Sorry, sasquatch enthusiasts). So Wild World does present Earth in an idealised fashion – although civilization’s footprint can still be seen (e.g. the current extent of the Amazon or the Aral Sea). By showcasing the majesty of Earth’s natural heritage, I hope it can inspire people to consider its importance – and its profound fragility.

Finally, I needed to move on from the North America project. After years on that one map, I’m putting all I learned into something new. Experimenting with new ideas, and (hopefully) proving not everything I draw takes years! I hope to finish and release prints in late 2021. You can sign up to be notified at www.antonthomasart.com/wild-world 

Q: It’s wild how you spent 5 years working on your map North America: Portrait of a Continent. How did that project come about? Did you ever think about giving up in those 5 years? 

A: In 2012, while living in Montréal, I drew a map of North America on a refrigerator. The fridge was old and covered in rust stains, so my housemate painted it white. Looking at the bright new surface, he asked me to draw something to liven it up.

At this point I’d been backpacking the continent for two years, working as a cook, a labourer, turfing lawns, busking… whatever kept me moving. I had grown obsessed with the geography I saw. Visions of a grand map consumed me, one that would showcase that vastness – filled with skylines, landscapes, and animals. So, in a creative frenzy, I used the fridge to test this idea.

Fast-forward to 2014, and I was living in Melbourne, Australia. After the fridge I’d drawn a large map called South Asia & Australasia, this time with colour pencils (on paper, not a fridge). This gave me the experience required to draw North America properly. I thought it might take six months, but as the map progressed so did my skills. The detail became increasingly refined. The research became more in-depth. It was all done in my spare time (nights, weekends), as I maintained a day-job to pay the bills. It was an astounding amount of work, compounded by constant re-drawing due to my technical improvement. In the end, I completed the map in early 2019: almost five years later!

The odyssey hijacked my life but giving up never crossed my mind. I loved drawing it; the map offered me meaning and direction at a difficult time. Midway through the project I attended the NACIS conference in Colorado Springs (2016), meeting a wonderful cartography community for the first time. The map was well-received, and this was a crucial boost. What I learned at NACIS was revelatory, while the response to my map hardened my resolve to finish it.

Q: Can you walk me through the process of drawing each geographical area, especially for areas that you have never physically visited or seen?

A: Everything starts with research. When I get to a new region, I read all I can about it. I do so in stages, starting with physical geography. I must get a sense of where the mountains, plains, forests, deserts, and rivers are. I open new tabs on anything intriguing and follow the breadcrumbs.

Then, I move past physical geography. In the case of North America, there was a huge layer of cultural research. Where are the cities? What are the iconic landmarks? I read about the history, economy, sports, arts, flora, fauna and more. I am always searching for that which would be familiar to a local.

In the case of Wild World, I bypass much of this stage and go straight to animals. What are the apex predators? What are the most famous animals in the region? Animals are often used in regional iconography (e.g., New Zealand’s kiwi), what are these? I look across the animal kingdom – mammals, birds, reptiles, fish etc. I check national parks and nature reserves, as they preserve wildlife populations and have plenty of information available.

This is all done online, and everything I draw is cross-referenced. You cannot count on Wikipedia for everything. If it is suggested that the national bird of Angola is the red-crested turaco, I need more than just a sentence without citation. I look out for local sources, hashtags on Instagram that may be leads, even checking Angolan government and tourism websites.

While researching, I mark off ideas in pencil on the map. I pin important locations on Google Earth, such as mountain peaks or national parks. Once I’ve learned enough, I can see the artwork in my mind. I ink in the labels, grab my pencil, and begin sketching.

Q: Is there an artist, philosopher, or cartographer that you get inspiration from?

A: Heinrich Berann’s painted panoramas are legendary. His map of Yellowstone had a big impact on me. The way in which it is both landscape art and a map, without concern for fitting into either category, is wonderful. I think these categories can be confusing anyway – most cartographers are visual artists too. Berann’s work feels unbothered by such distinctions, and his maps are magnificent.

Many in other fields have been inspirations on my maps. Ernest Hemingway, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, and Ibrahim Gonzales (of Buena Vista Social Club fame) come to mind. Jack Kerouac’s descriptions of American geography were very influential. Creative inspiration is not field-specific, everything in life flows together to inspire what you do.

Q: You made a world map with dried peas at NACIS Tacoma. Aside from that, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve used to make a map?

A: Ah, that was fun! Well, I made a map of New Zealand by cutting up a pair of jandals (“flip flops” as they’re known in the States), a map of Australia with vegemite smeared on toast, and a cat fur world map after a friend groomed their fluffy cat (the only map that ever made me sneeze).

Most recently, while on holiday in Tasmania, I drew a map of Tas in the sand every time I was on a beach. Early on, the map wasn’t great due to my unfamiliarity with the island. But as my trip progressed, the maps improved as I filled in my knowledge. I drew them on beaches in the north, south, east and west – even on sandy riverbanks in the interior.

Q: I really enjoyed your jamming sessions at the NACIS virtual event. What kind of music do you like to play? Do you listen to music when you’re drawing? 

A: It was so fun to play some music with my fellow cartographer/musicians at NACIS! Hopefully it’ll be in person one day. I play guitar and sing, predominantly blues and soul. I listen to a lot of music while drawing, and often like to explore music from the region I’m mapping. This method helps you to feel immersed in the place at hand – especially important when you can’t travel there. Music is a most powerful expression and reflection of place. Ask yourself, what does a place sound like? With this, you begin to approach the beating heart of a region, a culture, a spiritual channel that transcends language.

Plus, music mapping is a great way to discover new music! Music that you may never come across otherwise.

Q: What’s your life philosophy, and what advice do you give to our GeoHipster readers?

A: I feel at my core I try to remember life – and this planet in which it unfolds – is filled with wonder and adventure. It’s more vast, beautiful and terrifying than any fantasy world in fiction. Certainly, in ways it is also a tragedy, and that is a burden and a puzzle. But our mere presence itself is extraordinary, and an appreciation for the vastness of the Earth helps one to consider that broader picture. To move beyond yourself. It’s why I hike, it’s why I explore music, it’s why I love maps. I don’t want to ever forget how amazing this life is, no matter how precarious things can seem.

As for maps, I would just say… try to make maps that interest you. Follow the path that your curiosity urges. If you’re having fun with it, it will be easier to remain passionate and work hard, thus acquiring the requisite hours to get better and better.

Q: What does being a geohipster mean to you?

A: In all honesty I’m not quite sure, except to say I think I was a geohipster “before it was cool” (as any good hipster activity should be)? Referring to my Montréal fridge days, circa 2012 I was a 22-year-old bike-riding line cook trying to speak French (badly), who would return to my houseplant-filled apartment in La Petite-Italie to drink Québécois beer and draw a map on my refrigerator. Hopefully I acquired enduring geohipster creds from this!

Q: Where can we purchase your beautiful maps? 

A: Prints of my maps are available at www.antonthomasart.com – shipping worldwide. The North America map is currently available, and Wild World prints should be ready later in 2021. You can subscribe to be notified when it’s available at: www.antonthomasart.com/wild-world