Maps and mappers of the 2020 calendar: Victoria Johnson, August

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: My name is Vicky Johnson, I’m a cartographer in Washington DC. I work on a data analysis team in international development (not trying to be cagey about where I work! I just prefer to keep my professional and personal work separate. It’s probably overkill but I feel better about being sort of a goofball on twitter). I’ve been a geospatial professional for about 13 years, my career path has taken me everywhere from QA on the Census’ road network data to municipal government in New Zealand. Over this time I’ve discovered that I really like local mapping best. There’s nothing quite as rewarding as really getting to familiar with a place and translating that knowledge into geospatial data. In my free time I play drums and make a lot of ice cream.


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: This map was created for a role playing game designed by a former coworker. He provided me with a few pages of background and I did the rest – essentially, it’s an alternate, speculative social and geologic history of the American Gulf Coast set in the 1920s. I had great fun both creating situationally cohesive terrain and replicating map styles of the time. One thing I learned while making it is how hard it is to create believable fake terrain! I spent ages messing around in various software programs before deciding to grab some SRTM data and massage it into the existing landscape. Much easier and more realistic-looking than the disasters I created in Blender.


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

A: I used QGIS to get the STRM sized and oriented, ArcMap for the non-faked GIS tasks, Photoshop to blend the new terrain with the real stuff, and Illustrator for the aesthetics, plus a lot of research into how maps were designed and produced in the 1920s. There were two resources I relied on fairly heavily, a USGS Standards Manual available at Project Gutenberg and a Latvian design manual from 1928 posted at These sorts of guides are wonderful as reference and creative material, they’re fascinatingly rich documentation of cartographic history and it’s always enjoyable to consider how all of these careful, nuanced decisions were arrived upon by map-makers almost a century ago!


Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Megan Gall, June


Q: Tell us about yourself.

 A: I started my career as a shovelbum, digging holes and mapping Fort Ancient Indian villages in West Virginia. We used survey equipment to inform the hand drawn maps, but one day I went into the office and someone had turned my hand drawn map into an image on a computer. My imagination caught fire. I’ve been a sociologist since I was 5 years old, noting and questioning patterns I saw in the ways humans behave and organize themselves. I knew that GIS would give me a foundational set of hard skills to build a career doing what interested me most — thinking about and studying group behavior. I looked for people who were using maps to study living people and current problems, and I found critical mentorship in them. 

Since then I’ve used spatial analytics to research and inform policy makers and non-profit groups on issues around homelessness, justice reform and crime, education inequality, housing discrimination, and historical predicates of current racial and ethnic inequality. I’ve been working in voting rights for years now. I draw maps for redistricting, but that’s only a sliver of what spatial folks can do in this field. I use spatial analyses to support the work of the civil rights lawyers ensuring compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I use the same types of analyses to support the work of advocates who want to understand voting and demographic patterns.

We need more spatially-minded people working on civil rights and social justice issues. This is a serious issue throughout the civil rights space but is particularly acute in voting rights. I invite folks who are either starting or re-inventing their careers to think about contributing their skills and considering this path. Please reach out to me via Twitter (@DocGallJr) if you want to explore ideas, ask questions about the nitty gritty of the work, or just chat about this type of spatial work. I’m always happy to talk shop.

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: One day a friend asked me for a map of Prince shows. This was obviously a great idea. I’d used the final data set for several iterations of a Tableau viz (the latest, not quite done version here), but I also wanted to use these data for a static image because it presents new and interesting challenges for visualization. I’d been working with these data for years now, so this was a new take on how to use them. The GeoHipster calendar seemed like the perfect impetus and avenue for that goal.

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

A: I originally consulted two unofficial tour listings from princetourhistory and princevault. I geocoded shows to the venue. When a venue address wasn’t available, I geocoded to the city – the only other geography I had. Because of that, I had to add some jitter to the mapped data. I used R programming and the tmap package, by Tennekes et al, for the final product. I initially tried to make the map with the ggplot2 package, by Wickham et al, but had more aesthetic control with tmap so switched over at some point in the creation process. Although I was trained in GUI based GISystems, I taught myself to code in R several years ago because it adheres to the notion of scientific reproducibility in ways that GUI GISystems can’t. This map took about 50 lines of code – fully reproducible. Again, an invite, I’d love to hash out the differences between ggplot2, tmap, leaflet, and other spatial packages in R. Please reach out if that sounds like a great time to you, too!


Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Nikita Slavin, April

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m a 29 years old student from the Cartography M. Sc. Program, from Saint-Petersburg, Russia. I hope it will go well and this September I’ll successfully defend my thesis about the exhibition methods of historical maps in mixed reality.

I obtained my first degree at St-Petersburg University in 2012, Faculty of Geography and Geoecology, Department of Cartography and Geodesy.

After graduating from university, I explored several fields: geodesy, UAV mapping and GIS in nature protection. During my service at the Kronotsky National Reserve on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the land of bears and volcanoes, I was a GIS engineer. I participated in a lot of different projects: the development of a GIS system; geodynamic monitoring systems; educational projects and making a lot of different maps. During my time on the Kamchatka Peninsula, I realised that I want to develop myself as a cartographer and fortunately I was enrolled in our perfect cartography master program.

I’m an outdoor person: hiking, rowing, cycling trips. My side job is a tourist guide. I’m happy then as I meet beautiful maps for these activities. In the school I was into competitive orienteering – maybe this is one of the reasons for my love of maps.

In map-making I’m trying to find a way to combine modern and classic technology, approaching high-quality mapping standards in a digital era. You can see some examples in my Behance portfolio. Also, there are some examples of my little hobby – making wooden maps. I don’t know that I’m going to do after graduation – kind of looking for job from autumn- maybe this post could help to find it 😉


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: This square map in the Pierce projection is a rebuild of my original “Ocean Plastic Map” for the book-atlas project “SDGs in action” (in preprint process now). “Ocean Plastic Map” was created during the course “Project Map Creation” (the very cool one) of the second semester (my best) in Vienna – you can see it on Behance. Warm thanks to our teacher Manuela Schmidt.

When I was looking for an idea for that course, I thought that it could be interesting to visualize the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans: describe the sources of plastic waste, plastic transportation, and its global distribution.

I enjoy DIY things: that’s why I developed an idea of making a volumetric map – stacking semi-transparent layers could show underwater relief in 3 dimensions rather than just 2. Also, the idea of making a map about plastic pollution made from plastic seemed quite cool and ironic for me. To make it more artistic I decided to represent pollution with common plastic objects: bottles, straws and plastic bags. The process was not easy going as expected, but it was worth it. 

For the first stage of the project, I looked for the data – many thanks to Laurent C. M. Lebreton for the very friendly cooperation and providing data. Laurent C. M. Lebreton was one of the co-authors of the paper “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea” and Timo Franz from Dumpark – their project Sailing seas of plastic is unbelievably impressive.

Whilst working on the project I realized that we simply don’t know all sides of the plastic pollution problem and how to solve it. I hope that my small contribution helps in making things clearer.

The square version presented in the Geohipster calendar is made for the project “SDGs in action”. One of our lectures, Markus Jobst, invited me to participate with my map. One of the requirements was to use the Pierce projection – and the map looks surprisingly good with it.


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

A: Software stack:

  • QGIS for some pre-processing
  • ArcGIS Pro for processing data and the raw design stage
  • Adobe Illustrator with the incredible great plug-in Collider Scribe from Astute Graphics for the final design

Data Sources:

  • ETOPO2 for bathymetry
  • Natural Earth data for the world relief shading, country borders and rivers

Data about plastic pollution from the paper “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea” as mentioned above

Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Heikki Vesanto, March

Q: Tell us about yourself.


A: I am originally from Finland, but got started in GIS during my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Great university with one of the most picturesque campuses in the world.

After Glasgow I went back to Finland for a MSc in Geoinformatics at the University of Helsinki. Great program which gave a great broad base for GIS, including exposure to all the main GIS packages, ArcGIS, MapInfo, and crucially QGIS.

After graduating I went back to Scotland, which really is a lovely country, well worth a visit. Where I worked at a small GIS consultancy doing some pretty innovative work. They were training QGIS, and helping local councils transition away from ArcGIS. The councils had really simple GIS workflows, which could easily be replicated in QGIS, so switching was clear. It also broadened the availability of GIS in the council. You were no longer limited to the x number of license you could afford, rather anyone who needed access to GIS could have it.

Unfortunate after a certain vote in 2016 made the UK feel a lot more difficult to plan a future in. Despite Scotland still being a lovely place, with very welcoming people. So now I am in Ireland, still in GIS, working with QGIS and PostgreSQL/PostGIS on a daily basis.


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: There were some pretty clear inspirations for this work.

Firstly I discovered the data from Dónal Casey who did an earlier version:

Also heavily inspired by Alasdair Rae and his commuter maps of US:

There is currently a fair amount of debate in Ireland about transport policy. Ireland is a very car dominated country with very low density housing even in the urban areas. This results in a lot of urban sprawl, which can clearly be seen in the map with the commuter catchments of the urban areas. Trying to solve the public transport issues in Dublin has come in the form of continuous proposals from the government but very little actual implementation. The latest effort is a rapid bus corridor proposal, which is probably the best option for Dublin, with its low population density urban sprawl. However the proposal is meeting some resistance with the general public. But I believe visualising and communicating the issues and solutions is crucial to driving public engagement.


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

A: The data is supplied by the Central Statistics Office Ireland as part of the Census POWSCAR data set (Place of Work, School or College – Census of Anonymised Records).

The processing was done in PostgreSQL/PostGIS. It’s a simple join from the centroid of each home Electoral Division (ED) to each work ED, with a column containing the count of commuters. Working in a database means it is a single SQL query that produces the end file for visualisation. The map was then made in QGIS. The blending modes really help with overlapping lines, allowing large clusters to really stand out, while keeping the smaller commutes still visible.

I am really happy with the end result. There is something to be said about simplicity, with just one layer of lines sitting on top of a subdued Natural Earth DEM.