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


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).


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.


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.

Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Ursula Kaelin, May

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m in my late twenties and currently working as a research assistant at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland.

I obtained a Master’s degree in Geomatics at ETH Zurich. After an apprenticeship I was still struggling to see in which direction my career path could lead and now I’m lucky to somewhat delay this decision a bit further while working on a diversity of research projects.

After the working hours mainly in front of the screen I like to use my free time for some walks in nature or doing creative stuff. It’s not hard to guess that the preferred material right now is paper.

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 was playing around with Sonobe-units, assembled them into smaller modular objects and brought some as decoration to the office. The question of a work colleague if it would be possible to put them together as a map was answered with a hesitant “yes” because of the intimidating amount of needed modules to get a decent resolution, but now the idea was stuck in my head.

After the initial planning (~670 modules) and purchasing of the paper a (rather soft) Corona-lockdown with prescribed home office took place. I then not only had enough time to realize the project, it also helped me to stay sane and gave me a real incentive to finish it so that it could be used as my video-conferencing background.

The picture shown in the calendar is taken at our office space where the map found its new home. I myself am again back in the home office waiting for better times and sometimes killing some more time with folding…

I want to mention Peter Keller (@valleyfolder) for the inspiration with his Sonobe-unit carpets that sometimes look like heat maps. Designers of the models included in the map are Patricia Crawford (full rigged ship), Paolo Bascetta (Rosa dei Venti), Jo Nakashima (velociraptor) and Kade Chan (gray whale).

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

A: A black-white raster image showing the continents and some code in Python lead to the basic construction plan of the desired resolution and with randomly assigned colors. Other tools used were paper, a knife, my hands and some sticks and nails to hang it to the wall. And as already mentioned: No glue.

Maps and Mappers of the 2021 calendar: Barry Rowlingson, April

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m a Senior Research Fellow in the CHICAS group of Lancaster University’s Medical School. We’re a bunch of statisticians and data scientists who mostly work on spatial aspects of epidemics, so we are quite busy now. I’ve been doing spatial statistics and GIS for over thirty years. Outside of work I like to bike, hike, play music (bass, guitar, drums, keys), and drive my rattly old Land Rover around.

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 a bit of a puzzler and prankster I’ve always been fascinated by the island of San Serriffe – perhaps the greatest April Fool’s prank ever. The effort put into the original newspaper supplement amazes me – not just the maps but the articles, stories and adverts. There were a few digital versions of the map on the internet – some very different from the original publications – but I wanted to create something close to the original, in a vector format, and to release the data so we had an open-source digital San Serriffe. Everything on my map is derived from the original map published in the April 1977 Guardian newspaper. I’ve never really done polished cartography like this before, so I learnt a lot about QGIS, especially its fine control of labels. I think I lost more than a few hairs adjusting things to stop labels suddenly disappearing when they got just a tiny bit too close to another feature!

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

A: First I took a few images from the original article and approximately geolocated the archipelago, and then digitised the borders, railways, roads etc all using QGIS. My original plan was to do a map in a modern OpenStreetMap style, but the hand-crafted style of the original drew me back, and I got to thinking about how that could be replicated in a modern GIS. Back in 1977 the maps look like they were made with old-school Letraset transfers, with icons hand-drawn and lettering cut up and pasted to fit curves – all things we take for granted in a modern GIS. Replicating that hand-made feel is much like trying to make synthesizer music sound human. Perfect beats sound cold and robotic, we need humans in the musical loop to add emotion and “feel”, and adding this kind of thing to a map using a GIS was an interesting challenge.

I’ve since created some elevation data for San Serriffe. Although there’s few explicit elevation points on the original map (two mountain elevations and a coastline at sea level) I used other cues to create an elevation surface. Rivers have to run downhill. Train lines can’t cover steep gradients. The Woj of Tipe is a flat swamp. Although this data didn’t make it into the calendar map it will find its way onto the Digital San Serriffe site at some point!

Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Valters Zeizis, cover

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I work as an Oceanologist for the Latvian met-office and work with meteorological and marine data. I have experience working with various spatial data, but I guess my favorite source is Satellite data. I tend to experiment with various sensors and processing methods and often share my results on social media. I think in a nutshell it’s also how I became engaged with the makers of GeoHipster calendar.

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: The image that is on the cover of this year’s calendar shows suspended sediment in the Gulf of Riga. The image shows suspended sediment that is poured into the sea during springtime river runoff. Relatively stable marine currents form beautiful patterns, while the coloring is related to optical properties of water – the density and size of the suspended matter. The inspiration behind the image is purely aesthetic, but in a sense it’s also analytical. It is also a rare occasion of a cloudless Satellite overpass during a very interesting and large scale natural event.

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

A: The image is made using Sentinel 2 data that has been processed by a script which enhances NDWI (normalized difference water index). The image came about while I was playing with the script ( and looking at the phenomena in a familiar area. After I was satisfied with the capture I also did some post-processing in GIMP.

Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Zoey Armstrong, back cover

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: My name is Zoey Armstrong and I’m a graduate student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I’m currently working on my Master’s of Geography and my thesis is examining the effectiveness of species distribution modeling using citizen science and herbarium data. Besides researching, I enjoy going out on hikes and improving my field botany skills, making maps, and playing 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: I was initially inspired to make the map because one of my professors who I TA for, and who also knew I’ve made similar type maps in the past, wanted me to create a demonstration on my map-making process as a teaching tool for the students. With that initial push, I started considering some ideas. Pretty early on I decided I wanted to use an antique map as the base map. I had seen similar things done with old USGS survey maps and I thought it was really cool being able to bring an old map to life with new data and technology. So after a bit of searching around online, I found a map of the Azores from 1899 by M. J. Thoulet and was immediately in love with it; I could tell the contour lines in the original map would look really good in 3D and I also liked that I could give the final product a more abstract feel. 

One challenge I didn’t anticipate was getting a hold of a high-resolution copy of the map. I could only seem to find low and medium-resolution images until I found that it was hosted in Harvard’s records collection. I decided to send out an email to the records division to see if I could get a high-resolution download… and it worked! I thought it was pretty cool that I had to interact with Harvard for the project. One thing I learned through this project is that hand tracing bathymetry lines takes a lot of time. I have a new appreciation for everyone who helped digitize old geographic records.

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

A: To create everything, I first found the old map of the Azores, then downloaded a combined topography and bathymetry dataset from GEBCO. I used QGIS to clean up and export the raster as a PNG where I could add it to an Autodesk Sketchbook Pro project. Sketchbook is a free barebones version of photoshop and that’s where I chose a color scheme and hand traced the bathymetry files. From Sketchbook, I exported two images: one in color that represented the final look of everything, and one in black and white to be used as a displacement input in Blender. This displacement input transforms a flat plane into a surface with all the peaks and valleys seen in the final map. Then a light source is added to the scene, giving the final render its accurate highlights and shadows. Overall, I enjoyed making the map, but definitely got a little carried away with it for a bit.