Archive for October, 2015

The Art of Illustrated Maps: A Book Review

Note: I received an advance copy of this book for free from the publisher. I offered that I would review the book if I liked it.*

I was first introduced to HOW books through Jim Krause’s excellent, and snazzily “flexibound,” Color Index 2. This publisher knows how to design books for designers. They’re also pretty well known for producing HOW magazine.

So when they asked me to take a look at the brand-new book, The Art of Illustrated Maps by John Roman, it was not far fetched to think it’d live up to a high standard and, happily, it does so and more. It includes a multitude of illustrated maps, both historic and contemporary, from a variety of mapmakers. This would be enough to make the purchase worthwhile, but the text goes beyond that with a healthy dose of history, how-to material, and explanatory text about the showcased pieces.

Art of Illustrated Maps

Roman covers a lot. He indicates that anxiety at the onset of a project is normal and an incubation period is needed to counteract that anxiety, whether or not the intricacies of the project are pondered consciously. This is absolutely in accordance with how my own creative process works and with what I’ve previously preached on this blog.

If you are a person who likes to approach map design with a clear methodology, you’ll be interested to read about the hierarchy of design, which Roman explains as the listing of A-B-C items where A items are uppermost on the hierarchy, B items are one step lower, and C are the lowest. Because of the sheer density of information in a typical illustrated map, Roman cautions that these can be subtle when you start to look for them. The concept is valuable nevertheless, and I’m reminded of some egregiously bad maps I’ve seen recently with regard to hierarchy (hint: a transparency slider should not be in the prime visual space of your interactive, public-facing, map).

The contemporary illustrated maps in the last section of the book are perhaps the most useful from my perspective. It’s fascinating and instructive to see how different artists approach things and is a great reminder that there are no hard-and-fast rules in cartography and that we need to be supportive of the rich and varied nature that the form can take.

bookpic2Is it lavishly illustrated enough for the coffee table? Yes. Does it provide plenty of design ideas such as color palettes, layout concepts and typeface inspiration? Yes. Does it have a well-written chapter on the history of illustrated maps? Yes!

“Unlike technical cartography…the structure of illustrated maps, like jazz and creative nonfiction, grants the artist permission to improvise with facts without setting limits on the styles or techniques employed to relate a visual story–a true story.” ~page 3

John Roman graciously answered a few questions expressly for the readers of this blog:

  • What was the impetus behind writing the book?

    Having been an illustrator who specializes in “illustrated” maps, I longed for a book, any book, on the subject of my unique specialty. None existed, however…so I felt there was a need for a book on this form of conceptual mapping. The field has grown enormously over the past ten years or so, and I believed the time for an in-depth look into the history and psychology of this branch of cartography had arrived.

  • What is one of your favorite historical facts about illustrated maps?

    Two facts, actually: 1) That maps of the “mind” were the very first type of map and that “geographic cartography” as we know it today, grew out of that original, conceptual form of mapping…and

    2) That “illustrated” maps actually had a name about two thousand years ago. In 150AD, Claudeus Ptolemy gave illustrated maps the name “Chorography”…a name that has been lost over the centuries. (In fact, at the same time, the name “Cartography” was also born.)

  • In your opinion, what should my readers—who are primarily cartographers—do when they are feeling discouraged about a project?

    To keep in mind that historians refer to mapmaking as the oldest form of art. With this thought, all of us working in the mapping trade can feel assured that our need in society has always been there…and always will!



*And speaking of disclosures, the book links here are affiliate links, which really just means that if you were to buy something through one of the links, I would be able to purchase about 1/10 of an exorbitantly priced healthy smoothie that I really should just make at home for much cheaper.

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GIS Coffee

Do you want to order some coffee for a good cause? is taking orders, for the next 6 weeks only, for GIS-y branded coffee and mugs. It’s a project coming out of the  excellently executed and always supportive #GISTribe discussion that happens on twitter every Wednesday.

The coffee just went on sale yesterday and is already generating a lot of buzz. (Pun not intended–after all I haven’t actually received my coffee yet). I went ahead and ordered The Experience package, which looks to consist of:


I bought this package myself, this is not a paid or sponsored post. I just wanted to help out. I can’t say what the coffee is like yet since we don’t actually get the orders for another 6 weeks. But these are good people behind this thing and I’m hopeful!


If you want to order, use the special code Nathan Saylor agreed to give the readers of this blog: QMD at checkout for 10% off.

After reading through the website I still had some additional questions about, and asked them of Saylor. I’ll reprint the questions and answers here for your edification as well!

  • So all orders get fulfilled at basically the same time? Yes, except for the GIS Day shipping orders which is an option for an additional $15 and must be ordered by Nov. 2.
  • This is a one-time kind of thing, you can only order within those 6 weeks and then no more? At this time, yes. This is our first try at something like this. If we meet or exceed our goal, we will likely do this or something like it again next year. But there are no plans to do this full-time.
  • I understand the dream of a coffee shop for geo people but are you actually doing something physically? Like a brick and mortor? (Gretchen’s question clarification: I thought maybe they had all gotten together on a regular basis in real life.) No plans for that, but I think that would be a pretty hard sell unless it would be in D.C., Boulder, CO, or Redlands, CA.
  • Like will the hashtag be used one day at a special time for all of us to drink our coffee at the same time and chat on twitter? I hadn’t thought of that, but it isn’t necessary. #GISTribe chats every Wednesday at 12pm Pacific regardless of choice beverage.
  • Also, what does the music have to do with it? You don’t have coffee shops in your area that have live music? (Gretchen’s response: no, I live in a cave and I’ve never heard music in my life. Gretchen’s non-snarky response: I figured out that with The Experience package they also send you some music.)
  • Whom does the money go to? Will there be profit? Our initial goal is $300 to cover general web costs, but more to promote #GISTribe in the geo community. For example, Nathan Heazlewood (@nheazlewood) held a #GISTribe event at the Esri UC this past year. We did a live chat projected and it was a lot of fun. He supplied refreshments, but I felt it would be better if we had an expense account for those sorts of things. I’m already thinking in the spring we could get some lanyards and maybe some other items made up for conference season. Also, when #GISTribe was first starting out, Emily (@wildlifegisgirl) would offer prizes for contests. Those were paid for out of pocket and as a result, have tapered off. We’d like to bring prizes back starting with this event. Profit-wise? Beyond our goal, we will donate to  who organizes mappers such as ourselves in humanitarian mapping efforts in disaster-hit areas. Setting up a scholarship fund is also on our radar. We haven’t set this up as an NPO at this point, but we’re definitely of that mindset. Any more questions or want clarification? Send them along. Thanks!

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New Notes and GIS Coffee!

I was just updating my company website and realized I could copy and paste the “recent activities” section on this blog and expand on the GIS Coffee bullet too. So here goes:

We are:

  • in the throes of writing QGIS Map Design, a book that’s due out in 2016. This immersive experience is giving us all kinds of fun while we use SourceTree, Git, and LaTeX in a new kind of continuous-build book writing process. This is not the way traditional publishers do it!
  • buying coffee over at This was just announced today so it’s very recent. I bought The Experience and can’t wait for it to get here, though I noticed that they really aren’t shipping until Dec. I’m a bit confused about shipping and how this all works so I have some questions out to the owners of the site. Once I hear back I’ll probably write up a longer post. If you decide to buy now, remember to use the coupon code QMD at checkout for 10% off.
  • continuing to support the Hood Canal Coordinating Council (See our NOAA CCAP map here!) and will even be doing some d3 for them in Nov/Dec 2015.

We were recently:

  • keynoting the Manitoba GIS User Group Fall Conference on October 7, 2015. Check out the slides.
  • collaborating with Bright Rain Solutions and Mangrove Services to create interactive d3 charts for an NGO. See this in action here.

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Slides from MGUG 2015 Keynote

Here are the slides from the MGUG 2015 keynote I gave last week. There’s a lot of information that just doesn’t come through on the slides, since I shy away from putting much in the way of actual words on slides. However, I’ve been asked a few times for these so here they are. Enjoy the animated gifs if nothing else.

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New book, talk, etc.

A couple of news announcements and more:

  • I will have a new book out early next year, co-authored with the QGIS whiz Anita Graser, titled QGIS Map Design. It focuses on teaching QGIS map design through recipes on how to create beginner, advanced, and expert level maps. And we’re not just talking regular, run-of-the-mill map designs: these are modern maps made with modern techniques.
  • I’ll be giving a keynote on Cartography in the Modern World at MGUG next week, along with what appears to be quite a great line-up of speakers. I’m looking forward to it!
  • I still haven’t written up a review of The Map Thief, a book I read months ago and intended to review. It’s a fantastic book for those wanting to learn more about historic maps as the stories told about how some of these old exploration maps came to be are the most intriguing parts of the book. I didn’t find the main story (about the map thief himself) to be quite as interesting, but that’s probably due to my nerdiness concerning the maps and their history out-competing the main story line. I believe this book makes a good addition to the cartographer’s library.
  • This Spain tourist map was tweeted this week and deserves a look from anyone concerned with creating amazing webmap designs / information graphics.

    BBVA Tourism


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