Archive for May, 2014

Doing Good. Cartography Edition.

You can’t get uphill by walking downhill.

Do good cartography.

If you’ve done bad cartography in the past, made some mistakes, used low-resolution datasets at high zooms, forgotten to change the font from Arial to something more engaging, employed a pastel fruit color scheme, put a north arrow on an Albers Equal Area map, provided too small of a gutter when tiling and some labels got cut off, failed to normalize the choropleth, or used solid lines for disputed territories, take heed:

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Unmitigated Audaciousness at the Museum

I visited the Denver Art Museum’s exhibit of Modern Masters yesterday to gain some inspiration for my latest basemap design. There are over 40 artist’s works on display, borrowed from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, from now until June 8, 2014.

My favorite take-away from the exhibit? The obvious courage and audacity that artists need in order to convey the importance of their finished pieces. If you read this blog often, you’ll know that I’ve remarked quite a bit on the impact of criticism, how to encourage it, and how to deal with it (throwing in some pertinent references to one of my favorite writers, Mark Twain, as a matter of course).

To exemplify these twin traits of courage and audacity, there was the unstated, yet implied, feeling of greatness in all the works despite their huge variance in style from impressionist to cubist and from surrealist to pop art. For artists to apply such varied techniques all within the time-span of a century was quite a feat in light of a general public’s need for constancy and more gradual change. In short, selling themselves and their revolutionary works most certainly required unmitigated audaciousness, which these artists had in no small supply.

How much audaciousness do we need as cartographers? Given the plethora of brand-new tools and those that are maturing to such an extent as to provide vastly new and robust techniques, I’d say there is a great parallel here and a great lesson for us. While our new and maturing tools provide us with the abilities to make great new maps that teach the world geography lessons of a much different sort and with more impact than in the past, we will need to practice the art of backing up our new styles with sufficient aplomb to get them widely adopted. 

Now for the personal nit-picking portion of the post. I got waylaid in an attempt to take a non-flash photo of one of the descriptions that had caught my eye and that I had wanted to remember to blog about. Yes, a museum person took me to task! The outcome was that I have forgotten the quote and artist it was attributed to. :( The gist of it was, however, that when a critic told an artist that it looked like a particular piece of art must’ve taken no time at all to paint, the artist had replied that the critic must have not taken any time at all to look at the painting. Oh, to have such snappy replies!


One little painting in the exhibit spoke the most to me and I do remember it despite not being able to take pictures*: Henri Rousseau’s Flowers in a Vase, 1909**. Rousseau’s critics ridiculed him for his “childlike style” though his fellow artists appreciated his “pure, untrained approach.” I always favor the more simplistic approach, which isn’t to say that the meaning behind a map should be simplistic, but rather that the explanatory text and the overall message should be clear even if the work that went into it was quite difficult.

So get out there and do something crazy. Make a map like nobody’s ever seen before and do your bit to further our understanding of the world.

*What museum doesn’t allow non-flash photography these days? Are they crazy?! I also must mention here that there’s a book on display that has to do with the principles of color. Though one might not expect to gain much actual intelligence from it given that one of the gems was something like “yellow is the color of depression and sadness,” which is–ahem–much debatable, it sure would have been great if someone from the museum had bothered to respond to my twitter inquiry as to what the book was, given that I couldn’t take a damned picture of it to remember! Okay, rant over…

**Also known as “Bouquet of Flowers with an Ivy Branch.”

Robert Therrien's audacity. (Not in the Modern Masters exhibit.)

Robert Therrien’s audacity. (Not in the Modern Masters exhibit.)

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Friday Cartography Notes

Just a few short notes for this Friday:

  • Follow Mike Bostock on twitter. He’s the d3js guy and the NY Times Graphics Editor.
  • You might have seen my video on using QGIS to enter in the SF Bike Share Open Data Challenge. Here’s the blog post to go with it and here are the winners of the challenge. I was disappointed not to see much geo / mapping going on in the entries.
  • A lot of geo people still don’t get projections. Who can blame them. If you want a really good intro to projections, I have to recommend the treatment of it in several chapters of Dent’s book. I don’t normally recommend this book since it is quite dry, but if you are willing to get into the weeds of the subject, this would be the best place to start. I’ll recommend my own chapter on projections once the 2nd edition is published (May 22!).

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