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Cartographer Chronicles: Dan Cole

When it comes to map-making, Dan Cole is a true master. A passionate academic, Dan has designed maps for research and academia for over 40 years. As the GIS Coordinator and Chief Cartographer of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC., Dan has created maps and cartographic pieces for museum exhibits enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. As a researcher, Dan has authored scholarly publications in several renowned academic journals, and co-edited the book “Mapping Native America: Cartographic Interactions between Indigenous Peoples, Government, and Academia.”  

For Dan, his interest in maps began when he was a child. He often enjoyed being the “navigator” on family vacations and building off a natural fondness for exploration he developed hiking trails as a Boy Scout. In his freshman year at the University at Albany – State University of New York, Dan first became interested in a career in cartography while studying under esteemed cartographer Dr. Michael Dobson. The opportunity to turn a genuine interest into a full-fledged career was too good to pass up, and Dan soon found himself enrolling in every cartography, geography, and remote sensing course he could. In the final year of his Bachelor of Geography degree, Dan became a cartography teaching assistant, providing him his first opportunity to act in a teaching role. 

Immediately after graduating, Dan was recruited to an assistantship position at Michigan State University (MSU). Here he published his first research paper, which was co-authored alongside Richard Groop, now a professor emeritus in Geography at MSU. Completing a Masters degree in Geography in 1979, Dan moved to Oregon State University (OSU) and began collaborating with cartography professor Jon Kimerling, first as a TA, and later to run the Cartographic Lab there.

“Were there Dinosaurs in your backyard?” – One of Dan’s maps on display in the Deep Time Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Leaving OSU in 1981, Dan took on a variety of roles at several recognizable institutions across the country. Some of these roles included; leading the Cartographic Lab at the University of Maryland, working as a cartographic technician for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), contract cartography work for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and taking on a course instructor position at Montgomery College. In 1986, Dan began working at the Smithsonian Institution (SI) and was able to pursue his passion for research full-time. Some of his earliest mapping pieces with SI became an integral part of the “Handbook of North American Indians”, a series of scholarly reference volumes documenting the culture, language, and history of all indigenous peoples in North America. Through a cooperative arrangement, he was also responsible for researching the changes to the Bureau of Indian Affair’s “Indian Land Areas” map in 1987 and 1989.

“My first five years there mostly involved cartographic research, doing both manual and computer-based mapping for the Handbook of North American Indians—at the time we used Adobe Illustrator 88!”

Later, Dan moved to a role as the GIS Coordinator with the Smithsonian’s IT Department. There, he was exposed to the entire breadth of cartographic projects spanning the Smithsonian’s impressive list of research disciplines. He worked on projects related to biodiversity and species ranges, created maps documenting climate change, and contributed to interactive map exhibits showing the impacts humans have on the environment. From volcanology and mineralogy to prehistoric studies and even the study of dinosaurs, Dan became involved in most of the Smithsonian’s major subject areas. Several of Dan’s map creations even feature in the permanent exhibits at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Pathways and origins of invasive marine species, one of 40 maps created for the Ocean Hall exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Although each unique exhibit and area of study came with its own specific objectives, from a cartographic standpoint, he found that most still shared a few key concerns. He noted that one of the biggest challenges for almost all museum researchers is to geo-reference the vast number of artifacts and biological specimens that are contained in the museum’s collections. Such a process is crucial to analyze where specimens were found in the past and to provide insights on where they could be found in the future based on changes to the environment.

“Collections for nearly all museums around the world, including the Smithsonian, have environmental characteristics documented with the collection site. But most, by far, do not have coordinate locations for artifacts and specimens collected before the GPS era; rather, the majority of their collections have descriptive locations. So we must use Natural Language Processing—a computer science-based technique—to process coordinates from the written descriptions.”

By the mid-1990s, digital mapping processes had become an integral component of map creation. Dan became one of the first adopters of MAPublisher, using the first version of the software to work with maps and geographic data in the Adobe Illustrator environment. Today, MAPublisher continues to play a crucial role in map production at SI, and Dan still uses MAPublisher to produce maps for some of the museum’s most popular exhibits.

Since obtaining MAPublisher in the 1990s, I have been involved with over 20 different exhibits and multiple publications. All of these required importing shapefiles to Adobe Illustrator, PDF, or EPS formats so that publishers or exhibit staff could work with them. While other digital mapping software has improved over the years, I find the placement of typography is still handled more elegantly with MAPublisher.”

One of five maps that form part of the “Narwhals: Revealing an Arctic Legend” exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (now a travelling exhibit!)

The museum environment presents some unique challenges for a cartographer. In a museum setting, maps need to be designed to communicate with the general public, synthesizing and presenting complex information for an audience that may be unfamiliar with the subject matter. This differs from research-focused work, which typically requires static printed maps that adhere to the strict guidelines of academic journal and book publications, and is typically viewed by experts in that particular field of study. For museum exhibits, cartographers need to employ careful design techniques to make maps informative and engaging to diverse audiences of all ages. These techniques result in maps that vary widely in format, from traditional static poster maps to animated and interactive maps that tell dramatic stories or serve as learning tools. Commenting on some of the unique challenges in today’s “pandemic era”, Dan notes that virtual online exhibits have made the use of web-mapping and interactive maps more commonplace.

“For the immediate and long-range future, I see greater use of static, animated and interactive maps online for public education on a variety of topics, with less interactivity in-person.”

Dan continues to oversee GIS support and teaching for staff at SI. He greatly enjoys the opportunity to work on diverse projects from a variety of interesting areas of study. As the GIS Coordinator at SI, he now covers over 400 GIS and satellite image processing users, plus over 500 story map writers and developers, including staff with very little knowledge of geography, cartography, or GIS. His passion for map-making remains to this day, and his maps continue to be enjoyed by visitors from around the world. An educator at heart, Dan has some parting advice for any students or young professionals seeking to break into the wonderful world of cartography;

“The advice that I give to nearly everyone interested in a cartography or GIS career is: while you’re still in school, plan to get a minor or double major in the field that interests you. Get a broad-based education that enables you to serve your clients in any field and join professional and academic organizations to expose yourself to others’ work. Most importantly, even once you are employed, never stop learning!”

“The Great Inka Roads” – One of 15 maps created for the exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Cartographer Chronicles: Hans van der Maarel

Hans van der Maarel has been a passionate cartographer for over 20 years. He works out of Zevenbergen, Netherlands where he operates his company, Red Geographics. To Hans, cartography is a passion that extends beyond the office, becoming more than just a career path. Through this passion, Hans has developed a level of expertise found only in the most dedicated of map-making professionals. As an expert MAPublisher user, Hans has been a frequent contributor to the Avenza Resources Blog. You can see some of his latest work through his Georeferencing Techniques Video tutorials released as part of Avenza’s Mapping Class blog series. To read more about Red Geographics, and see more of Hans’s work, visit redgeographics.com.

From a young age, Hans always had a keen interest in maps. His found himself drawn to old atlasses, spending hours looking at old maps, and geography was always his favourite subject in school. This interest persisted into high school, where at a job fair he found out you could actually study map-making as a career. 

Continuing his studies, Hans pursued a program in Geo-Informatics at Hogeschool Utrecht (a four-year bachelor’s level course offering a mix of geodesy, GIS, and cartography). There he was introduced to various kinds of mapping and surveying, learning the techniques necessary to plan and design meaningful effective maps. During an internship at the National Spatial Planning Agency, he was first introduced to the MAPublisher plug-in for Adobe Illustrator. After graduation he started working for his local Avenza partner, doing tech support, training, consultancy, and commercial map production processes. This is also where he was introduced to Safe Software and their product for data transformation, also known as Feature Manipulation Engine (FME).

Hans developed a niche within the Dutch cartographic community that leveraged FME to prepare raw source data before using MAPublisher to visualize and create the final high-quality map products. This type of workflow, combining a mix of both FME and MAPublisher functionalities is now fully realized by the FME Auto add-on for MAPublisher.

“I was doing my first internship and was tasked to produce a poster-sized map of The Netherlands in Adobe Illustrator, but all the base data was in Shapefiles or ArcInfo coverages. Gathering base data and generalizing it was done in a traditional GIS, but getting that data into Illustrator and making a finished map required MAPublisher.”

In September 2004, Hans decided to continue on his own and founded Red Geographics. Working largely with Avenza products, two years later, he became an official Avenza partner and reseller. As his customer base expanded and more projects came in, Red Geographics developed a reputation of being “the one for the difficult projects”. Reflecting on the early years of Red Geographic’s operation, Hans mentioned some of his more memorable, fun, and eye-catching projects.

“There was the Oolaalaa Globe, a 5 ft diameter “beanbag” globe with beautiful maps printed on spandex. We received several custom orders of the globe map from other clients, including ones for Air France-KLM with the complete route networks of all their partners, and another from National Geographic Benelux and the City of Amsterdam, with a map of the city projected onto the globe.” 

Also eye-catching, but for a completely different reason, were a series of simple basemaps created for Buienradar, the most popular Dutch weather website, and app. Millions of people have seen Hans’s maps when they checked the weather.

In the early years of Red Geographics, Hans became involved with the Cartotalk forum, first as an enthusiastic user, later on as a moderator, and finally an admin. Through Cartotalk, he also got involved with NACIS, the North American Cartographic Information Society. He attended their meeting in Salt Lake City in 2005 and he’s been to every meeting since. When NACIS took over Cartotalk, Hans became an ex-officio board member for several years before being formally elected a board member at large. He still serves on the board to this day and is currently in his 2nd term as secretary. Through NACIS, Hans was able to expand his network of international contacts, allowing him to contribute to several large-scale mapping and atlas projects. He created island maps that can be found in the Millennium House “Earth” atlas and more recently, several full-page maps for the 11th Edition National Geographic World Atlas released in 2019.

Building on the success of his earlier globe projects, Hans then created a new map whose design is displayed prominently on a new product called BalancePlanet, a globe-themed, fully functional yoga-ball that Hans considers a spiritual successor to the Oolaalaa globe bean bag chair.

In 2019, Hans expanded his team, adding two members to become a team of three. With more resources now available, Hans and his team can now tackle larger, more complex (mapping) projects. His team took on the momentous task of producing a nationwide 1:20,000 scale topographic base map of the entire country of Luxembourg. The finished results were used as a cartographic base for tourist maps showing hiking and cycling routes all over the country.

“The Avenza products have been a major factor in my development as a cartographer, as well as the development of my company,” says Hans. Many of his projects use a combination of FME and MAPublisher, and Hans has utilized the interoperability between these two programs to implement significant workflow automation. With a single base dataset, multiple maps can be made with the same style, and automating this process means he can produce a high volume of maps in just seconds, without needing to manually configure shared thematic elements.

“With automating some of the map production processes, I now only have to focus on the parts where my cartographic skills are most needed. MAPublisher allows me to do that. I want to find the right balance between quality and speed when it comes to producing maps, and with automating the data processes I have found just that.”

Aside from the traditional mapping products Hans has become known for, he enjoys working on smaller projects with interesting stories around them. “The maps I get the most joy out of these days are, interestingly enough, not those big ones. Over the past ten years or so I’ve been asked to produce greyscale maps for several academic publications, a lot of them focusing on the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Limited in terms of visual variables and often a need to show a lot of information on a small surface area, these kinds of maps are a very interesting challenge. One thing led to another, word-of-mouth is a great promotion tool, and we now find ourselves in the middle of producing about 30 maps for an upcoming publication by Cambridge University Press, chronicling the state of research in those areas. Wonderfully esoteric subjects which often lead me down a Wikipedia rabbit hole!”

Hans continues to use his cartography skill set to explore new ways of making maps more prominent in everyday life. Hans began introducing his colleague, Inge van Daelen, to the concepts of satellite imagery and Photoshop (using Tom Patterson’s great tutorial on how to process Landsat data). Branching off of this, they founded Blue Geographics, which originally started as a fun side-project but quickly grew into a full-fledged business. Through Blue Geographics, Hans designs and produces a range of sportswear and lifestyle items displaying beautiful satellite images derived from Landsat and Sentinel data.

“Looking ahead, I just want to make beautiful things,” says Hans, “One of my hobbies is photography, specifically cycling and cosplay. A few years ago, when I did a photoshoot with two cosplayers, I saw a sticker with that text in their workshop and it struck a chord with me. I’ve long had ‘doing awesome work for people I like’ as one of my goals and I want to keep on doing that. I also want to keep on challenging myself by trying out new techniques and new ways to map things. There’s still a lot to learn and I am very happy to know a lot of people in the cartographic community who are happy to share their knowledge and experiences.”

Cartographer Chronicles: Steve Spindler

Cartographer Chronicles Steve Spindler Banner

Steve Spindler has cultivated a passion for cartography that has continued for more than 25 years. He operates Steve Spindler Cartography, which develops custom-designed cartographic pieces that can be seen in map products utilized by governments, city planning organizations, and nonprofits from across the country. He also manages wikimapping.com, a public engagement tool that allows city planners to connect and receive input from their community using digital maps. A passionate cartographer at heart, Steve considers map-making both a hobby and career. He strives to share his ideas, techniques, and truly captivating cartographic style with others, either through his previous teaching at Temple University or through his tutorials hosted on his personal website cartographyclass.com

Steve first began designing maps in the early 1990’s while at Temple University for graduate school. Pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban Studies, Steve found that the cartography lab at Temple was his favourite place to be. Before the widespread accessibility of digital maps, Steve recalls spending time at the Philadelphia Library, exploring map catalogues and manually tracing topographic maps before faxing them to his own computer. Later into his graduate studies, Steve joined a mailing list for digital cartography enthusiasts, and this is where he first learned about Avenza and MAPublisher for Adobe Illustrator. He quickly adopted the software into his map-making process, leveraging its suite of cartography tools to easily create maps within a design-focused environment. He continues to use MAPublisher for much of his work, and some examples, such as the Northeastern Pennsylvania trail system map shown below, are even available digitally on the Avenza Map Store for use in the Avenza Maps app.

Steves Spindlers map of NEPA trails

After graduating, Steve combined his passion for cycling with his love of map-making. He started designing maps that promoted bicycle transportation. His list of clients grew, and so too did his reputation in the cartography community. Soon his maps were published and shared over a wide range of platforms across the country.

“It was nice to see my maps posted in public places – in office cubicles, in a Congressional office, being waved around by a US Secretary of Transportation, in a Mac OS X keynote, in the subway, on TV shows, in newspapers – I was using MAPublisher to help create them all.”

After several years of high-paced freelance cartography work, Steve chose to revise his business approach to allow him to be more selective in how he engaged with potential projects. “I created an archetype that I wanted to serve, and put energy into solutions that would help this archetype”. Steve mentioned how he prefers to let a client place a value on what they want, first spending time with the client to conceptualize a problem and then delivering a proposed solution, only sending an invoice once it is appropriate. In his words, this requires a knowledgeable client that really understands what they need.

Steve Spindler's City of Ithaca bike map

Some years later, he returned to Temple University, this time as an instructor. He taught cartography to students within Temple’s Professional Masters of GIS program and stressed the importance of creating a balance between teaching concepts and teaching software. 

“Cartography is really about communicating with an audience, it’s not just about specific software. I think that teaching cartography using a single program (Illustrator with MAPublisher) would allow me to focus more on design concepts and communication. MAPublisher can still access large data sets, and the data is ultimately contained within the Illustrator file.”

His passion for teaching has continued beyond the classroom as well. In the last year, he has taken up a mentorship role for an up-and-coming cartographer. He provides direction and feedback on real-world map projects in what he describes as “learning with purpose”.

Steve Spindlers watercolour style map of rivers

Steve also believes it is important to take learning into one’s own hands. To help him evaluate and improve his mapping processes, he often records his work sessions, carefully documenting and annotating many hours of recorded work such that he can revisit and recall specific mapping steps later on. Many of these sessions are edited down into videos that Steve posts on cartographyclass.com, a personal website for sharing his thoughts, ideas, and techniques on creating maps. He regularly shares maps that he creates for fun in his spare time, drawing inspiration from nature, photography, and artwork to create elegant visually engaging map pieces that exemplify the balance of art and science that is cartography. His recent work has explored the use of graphic styles and MAP Themes to create artistic map pieces that mimic the effect of watercolour paintings. Other posts show his use of the elevation profile tool to create unique maps of recent cycling trips.

Steve Spindler's trail map of Valley forge

Steve Spindler's Valley forge elevation profile

In addition to the many MAPublisher focused tutorials hosted on his personal website, Steve is also an active contributor to the Mapping Class tutorial video series hosted on the Avenza Resource Blog. His contributions demonstrate unique and innovative workflows that leverage a wide range of MAPublisher tools. 

These days Steve continues to take on map-related projects. His approach has allowed him to develop a career that leverages a personal passion and directs it into a successful business. He continues to learn and explore new techniques in cartography in his free time, sharing his thoughts and processes with readers of his blog. After more than 25 years of freelance cartography work, Steve feels his perspective on mapping and business has changed, “Cartography and business are not the same things for me. I want to make maps and don’t need a contract to do this.  It’s just a matter of practicing daily. When the right client comes along, I can help out. I like to be helpful.” 

Steve Spindler's watercolour map of Pennsylvania watershed

Steve Spindler's map of U.S. territories in the Caribbean

Cartographer Chronicles: Mike Boruta

Colorado-based cartographer Mike Boruta knows a thing or two about making maps. In fact, this award-winning cartographer has been designing spectacular maps and trail guides for more than a decade. His work can be seen in the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series, in mountain biking guides released by Fixed Pin Publishing, fly-fishing reference maps curated by Stonefly Press, or most recently in the hiking trails guide for the mountainous town of Ouray, Colorado, where he currently lives. Always fascinated with viewing the world from above, Boruta has dedicated his career to capturing the beauty of mountain landscapes through well-designed maps, and captivating cartographic styles.

Following several years of post-university travel, Boruta found himself living in the tiny tourist-driven town of Ouray. Seeking more opportunities for career advancement, he moved to Arcata, located on the north-western coast of California. He considered returning to school to pursue a computer science degree but realized the subject matter did not entirely excite him. That was when a coworker of his first told him about the excellent Geography and Cartography programs at Humboldt State University nearby. He learned about a subject-stream called Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and although having never heard of GIS before, the concept immediately interested him. His years of travel had given him quite an appreciation for maps, and the GIS and Cartography programs at HSU would allow him to combine this appreciation with an interest in computer technology. 

He quickly developed a passion for cartography and decided to pursue graduate schooling in Athens (OH), where he studied under established cartographer Dr. Margaret Pearce. Forever drawn back to the rugged mountain landscapes where he had lived in the past, Boruta found a particular interest in studying relief representation in cartography, the technique used to create the illusion of 3D-terrain on a 2D map. He fell in love with the work of renowned Austrian cartographer Heinrich Berann, whose painterly style “birdseye” mountain maps continue to inspire him today.

 “Anytime I had to choose a place to use for projects in my cartography or GIS classes I found myself pulled back West, usually to Ouray, Colorado. I grew increasingly interested in mapping mountainous places”

In 2009, Mike Boruta first began using Avenza MAPublisher in his work. He had recently won the Arthur Robinson Award for Best Printed Map, part of the CaGIS Map Design Competition, for his entry “The Million Dollar Highway”, which explored a scenic stretch of road connecting Ouray to Silverton, Colorado. The award included a student license for Avenza MAPublisher software and allowed him to seamlessly integrate its suite of cartography tools into his already Adobe Illustrator-heavy mapping workflows. Shortly after, he began working with the publishing company Fixed Pin to create a mountain-biking guidebook for the entire state of Colorado. The project was extensive and would require the creation of several complete and detailed map sets, each describing a unique part of the state. Recognizing the vast scale of work ahead of him, Boruta sought out mapping solutions that would help him enhance the efficiency of his cartographic workflow. 

 “This was the first time I really got to work with MAPublisher, and it was a joy to learn and to use. I immediately found out how useful it was to set up all my graphic styles and character styles since I was having to create 118 maps with the same look and feel.” 

As Boruta found himself less and less dependent on dedicated GIS software, he opted to focus on completing his projects from start to finish directly in Adobe Illustrator using the many data import and manipulation tools of MAPublisher. This environment, he felt, “lent itself to so much more creativity”. Integrating these mapping tools into his workflow also meant he did not have to continuously replicate shared design features between each map, instead organizing and stylizing his data into a series of 15 “master maps” and using the MAPublisher Vector Crop tool to create separate individual maps for specific regions. 

By 2011, Boruta had begun contract work with National Geographic to help produce maps for the Trails Illustrated line of topographic map products. Incredibly, in 2013 things aligned in such a way that he was able to once again move back to Ouray, the mountain-town he had fallen in love with many years earlier. There, he began meeting with the volunteer-run Ouray Trail Group (OTG) to discuss how he could help them improve their existing trail map, which is a major source of funding for the non-profit group. The first project was getting their map into the Avenza Map Store so that hikers could use the map on their phones and tablets. After that, it was clear that the newly created and extremely popular hiking route called the “Ouray Perimeter Trail” needed its own high-quality map. 

Finding some free time in the summer of 2020, Boruta dedicated himself to fully revising the Ouray Trail Group’s main trail map and also creating an all-new map for the Ouray Perimeter Trail. His vision included a highly-detailed, topographic map showing the entirety of the county’s vast trail system. He set to work collecting datasets and planning the map production, first using dedicated GIS software, before reverting to a more design-focused workflow in Illustrator. 

“I quickly moved things into Illustrator and MAPublisher and never looked back. There are certain tasks I’ve grown used to doing in MAPublisher that I just find so much faster and simpler to do than if I were in ArcGIS or QGIS”. 

As is common with many mapping workflows, working from mixed data sources can be a constant challenge for many cartographers, especially when data from different public agencies do not share the same projection and coordinate systems. Boruta found this to be a common occurrence while working on his OTG trail maps and highlighted his fondness for being able to drag and drop data into different Map Views directly within Illustrator. In this way, he allowed the software to automatically reproject datasets to a shared projection without having to open up any sort of tool or repeatedly configure data parameters. 

Boruta also emphasized how powerful the Vector Crop tools and “spatial filter on import” capabilities were, allowing him to quickly specify or delineate a region of interest and immediately crop all data layers to that area, retaining topology and attribute integrity, all within the Illustrator environment. When handling the reference maps used to guide the creation of the OTG trail maps, he implemented the Georeferencing tools in the Avenza Geographic Imager plug-in for Adobe Photoshop to efficiently georeference and georectify unprojected reference map images before integrating them back into his Illustrator project. After a large chunk of the summer working on the map, he delivered the finished trail map. On completing the project, he noted “It was one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on since I was literally mapping my own beloved backyard.”

The completed Hiking Trails of Ouray County and the Uncompahgre Wilderness map is available in printed form, and users can also purchase digital forms of that map and the new Ouray Perimeter Trail Map in the Avenza Map Store. The digital maps are fully geo-enabled and support offline use for navigation and GPS-location on mobile devices using the Avenza Maps app. 

Mike Boruta still lives in his beloved town of Ouray. He spends his free time enjoying the trails and mountains which he has helped to map. He continues his work for National Geographic and has branched out his interests to include drone photography and videography. He operates the website OuraybyFlight.com, which showcases some of his spectacular drone photography work. His dream is to combine these dramatic landscape panoramas with overlaid symbols and text to create those iconic “birdseye” mountain maps that inspired him years ago. 

“I envision something that would hopefully be more aesthetically pleasing, something that aims to capture the soul of these San Juan Mountains while also illustrating the geography. And just maybe it might also be something pretty enough to hang on the wall.”

Cartographer Chronicles: Robert Simmon

Rob Simmon for Avenza Systems

The visual portrayal of quantitative and qualitative data is a process that requires the right tools. You want your audience to be able to make sense of the data you are sharing and be able to weave that data into a compelling and inspiring story. Here is how Avenza MAPublisher and Geographic Imager assisted Robert Simmon, Senior Data Visualization Engineer at Planet.

Robert isn’t your typical data visualization engineer who had formal training in scientific graphic design or cartography. His passion and interest in computer graphics and a master’s degree in materials science gave him the technical skills to start turning numbers into pictures that eventually helped him communicate with research scientists in his professional career.

Robert’s stepping stone into the fields of cartography, design, and data visualization happened during his work at NASA, where one of his first projects was creating a CD-ROM that would allow students and the interested public to explore a global ozone dataset. During his work there, he began to realize that the graphics published and used by NASA were made more for other scientists than for a broad audience. He also realized that good design was a powerful tool to improve communication. So, he tried to re-create scientific graphics in a more user-friendly form, with mixed success. “It wasn’t until I attended a talk by a popular lecturer on visualization that I learned there was a theory behind good design, and a big lightbulb went off in my head,” says Robert. “I began to read everything I could get my hands on about design, data visualization, and cartography—particularly map projections and the use of colour to encode information, since so much visualization at NASA revolved around satellite remote sensing data, which is quantitative and inherently geospatial.”

Eventually, Robert went on to found the Earth Observatory to share the breadth of NASA’s Earth science research with the interested public. After more than a decade with NASA, he received the chance to join the exciting startup—Planet—and work with an unprecedented, high-resolution, global dataset.

Robert developed a fairly unconventional workflow centred around Adobe design tools rather than GIS or scientific visualization software. This is where the Geographic Imager plugin for Adobe Photoshop and MAPublisher plugin for Adobe Illustrator proved invaluable to bridge the gap between data and visualization.

Map created using MAPublisher and Geographic Imager by Robert Simmon

Today, Robert’s day-to-day work largely revolves around processing visible and near-infrared imagery. Every image he works with gets imported into Photoshop with Geographic Imager. Creating maps in Adobe has proven to be effective and highly efficient as software like Adobe Photoshop possess powerful colour-correction tools, fast previews, layers, high bit-depth support, and undo history options.

This aids highly competent visualizers to work seamlessly and flexibly until an image is made perfect. Robert uses Geographic Imager to merge multiple adjacent image scenes or align a time series to make an animation (even if they’re in different projections), all with a single “import” step. He then exports the file as a GeoTIFF, so the image can later be combined with other, complementary data.

Robert Simmon uses Avenza Plugins

Although Robert enjoys working with imagery, he has had the most fun combining multiple data sources, especially raster and vector. Delving into his design workflow a bit deeper, he involves both Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator together. In Adobe Photoshop/Geographic Imager he works on the initial colour work and crops his desired map extents, then imports it into Illustrator/MAPublisher to overlay with vector data and create masks. “It’s particularly useful to be able to crop the imported vector data to match the area of interest, rather than having to manually select and delete objects that lie outside the Illustrator artboard,” says Robert. After setting up his vector layers, he then exports them as a layered Photoshop file and re-combines them with the original raster imagery, to ensure pixel-perfect accuracy.

Data Visualization with Avenza Systems

Robert’s love for MAPublisher goes back to 2006 when he first used it to make maps with Landsat data. He used MAPublisher to create a water mask with ZIP code data, which was the only data source he could find with high enough resolution to accurately capture the jutting piers of lower Manhattan. Robert also used MAPublisher to create a map of Amazonia (one of his personal favourites from his portfolio) with the help of MAPublisher’s powerful attribute tools, which allowed him to select and merge data vector data of Amazon biome, distinct from the Political Amazon, for which data is readily available. He continued to create variations on this theme at Planet, including a map of the vegetation of Germany. It was derived from a Planet Surface Reflectance Basemap and given context with Natural Earth boundary, urban area, and transportation data.

Robert continues to tweak his colour palette for his vegetation maps since just being ‘good enough’ has never really been his forte.

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In collaboration with Robert Simmon, Senior Data Visualization Engineer at Planet.

Cartographer Chronicles: Kim Beckmann

Cartographer Chronicles - Avenza Systems

Kim Beckmann is a storyteller above all else. As a graphic designer and Associate Professor of Design & Visual Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), Beckmann
uses visual media to do just that. More recently, she dipped her toes into the world of cartography (another story-telling medium) then fell right into the deep waters.

It all started when researchers from the university’s School of Freshwater Science came to her for help with creating supporting materials for a research project. The team’s ambitious project set out to map several miles of the Milwaukee harbor coastline, studying the effects of urban development on the harbor habitats. The research team had already created highly detailed technical maps but reached out to the Peck School of the Arts for a faculty member who could help put together the material in a way that could be more easily digested by the public and told the a story about the impact of people on the habitats that exist in the harbor.

“I also represent a part of the general public who would be interacting with the maps; individuals that want the maps to tell them a story. I recall at the first team meeting where we discussed research findings and what to present on the maps, I had many questions. What type of fish live in the harbor and rivers? What do they eat? Where do they live? Does water temperature effect where and when we might find them? Interestingly, the questions I raised led to incorporating additional habitat information into the maps,” said Beckmann. “What started as a concept for a single map quickly evolved to a set of five maps due to the amount to information we needed to share, the largest being 3 ft by 4 ft!”

Harbor Habitat - MAPublisher

As a graphic designer, Beckmann had made maps before, including simple, vector-based topographic maps, and maps for wayfinding. But this was her first time working on a larger map project and her first time working with raw geospatial data to create bathymetric maps to illustrate water depth. “I am extremely comfortable with Adobe Illustrator so when I discovered that there was a cartography plug-in for it, called MAPublisher, that could be used to manage GIS data to create maps, I knew that it would be faster and easier than learning an independent cartography software tool.”

The School of Freshwater Science research team carried out data collection for the project using side-scan sonar devices. With technical support from the Avenza Systems team, Beckmann was able to get the data into a shapefile format and import it into Adobe Illustrator using MAPublisher. “I registered for a training course offered by Avenza Systems, on how to use MAPublisher with Illustrator,” said Beckmann. “That led to a meeting with Jeff who was able to provide helpful direction on how to transform the raw map data into the maps I wanted to make.”

Data Progression - MAPublisher

Jeff Cable is the Desktop Product QA Lead at Avenza Systems. In addition to his work with the MAPublisher development team, he is also responsible for providing training to new MAPublisher users. “I met Kim in 2016 at one of our in-class training sessions in Chicago,” said Cable. “She had a very clear vision of what she wanted to create, but after some more discussion and reviewing the data, I realized that it would require advanced GIS workflows in order to get the data to an appropriate level before it was ready for mapping.” Seeing the value in the research project, he offered to assist Kim rather than have her seek out a GIS professional on her own. Once the data was prepared, she took what she learned from the MAPublisher training course and was able to apply visualization techniques to her maps. Cable corresponded several times as the project progressed and provided guidance. “Kim would ask if MAPublisher could do this or that, and in most cases, my answer was You bet it can!” he added. In addition to providing tips and best practices, he showed her many of the useful tools in MAPublisher that made her workflow more streamlined such as copying MAP Objects, working with MAP Stylesheets, and creating insets. “When I saw the finished product, I was blown away by what Kim had created. It was also gratifying as a training instructor to see how far she had come since our first meeting.”

Beckmann has since spoken about her work on the Milwaukee Harbor habitat maps project to the American Geographical Society, cartography clubs, and presented an artist talk as part of the Peck School of the Arts Artist Now! Lecture Series. The series of five maps have been printed on canvas and distributed to local and regional schools and turned into metal signage to be installed along the shores of the harbor to help share important research conducted by Janssen Labs with the public.

Fish Maps by Kim Beckmann using MAPublisher

The first of five maps installed at Harbor View Plaza Park.

Two of the maps installed in the active learning classroom as Discovery World.

Disovery World is located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Beckmann’s maps also currently hang in the Avenza Systems offices and we are proud to have them as a reminder of the amazing things visual artists and cartographers can do with the tools we provide.

Learn more about the project and how the maps were made on the UWM website https://uwm.edu/harbormaps/

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In collaboration with Kim Beckmann, Associate Professor of Design & Visual Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

 

Cartographer Chronicles: Tom Patterson

The process of making maps can vary greatly depending on the cartographer and the purpose of the map. Tom Patterson, one of the cartographers behind the public domain data set Natural Earth and the popular website Shaded Relief, regards cartography as a creative process. He sees geospatial data as an artist would see paint on their palette. “They are raw materials from which the map is made,” says Patterson. “For me, the map making process starts with an online scavenger hunt for geospatial data, and ends with a visual depiction of the results of that scavenger hunt, a map.”

Patterson recently retired after 26 years with the U.S. National Park Service at the Harpers Ferry Center, located in West Virginia. Harpers Ferry Center is the media hub for the U.S. National Park Service, where most of the maps, exhibits, and publications for public consumption are produced.

Patterson is well-known for making maps with beautiful shaded relief effects, a technique that he has focused on for his entire career. It’s something he has a passion for and is a feature that he believes makes his maps unique. “When making a shaded relief, I go to great pains to portray the natural world in a beautiful and idealized manner, by combining shaded relief with land cover data, drop shadows, gradients and vignettes, with control and restraint,” says Patterson. “I ultimately want to create a shaded relief that readers will find attractive and which will blend harmoniously with the vector elements above.” Patterson prefers light, luminous colours for depicting terrain, and also tell a story. “A map is more than just a combination of points, lines, polygons, type and pixels. To me, a really good map is one that becomes much more than the sum of these parts,” he says. “Maps are an important form of communication, and they should effectively share the ideas of the cartographer to the map reader.”

When making graphically creative maps, you want to use tools that provide you with the most control. With MAPublisher, you can easily access and manipulate geospatial data using Adobe software. “MAPublisher and Geographic Imager bridge the gulf between graphical and GIS worlds.”

Patterson was an early-adopter of MAPublisher, a plug-in for Adobe Illustrator after learning about it in 1996 at the annual North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) conference. If you’ve ever used the Natural Earth data, you might be interested to know that most of the vector elements were created with MAPublisher and Adobe Illustrator.

He was also integral in the development of Geographic Imager when during a presentation about manipulating Digital Raster Elevation Model (DEM) data he commented that having a MAPublisher-like software for Adobe Photoshop would be useful. “My suggestion was heard by the President of Avenza, Ted Florence, who was in the audience. He put me in touch with the software development team at Avenza to brainstorm ideas about a GIS plug-in for Adobe Photoshop. Geographic Imager was the eventual result of our discussions.”

Along with his many contributions to the cartographic community, Patterson has held some important positions as the former president and current Executive Director of NACIS. Patterson has created accessible, open source data for global use (Natural Earth), he recently contributed to a new map projection that is taking the cartography and GIS world by storm; Equal Earth. “This equal-area pseudo-cylindrical projection has gained traction rapidly—it seems that cartographers and map users alike have had an unfilled need for world maps depicting countries at true size and presented in a pleasing manner,” he quips.

As an accomplished and respected veteran of the field, we asked that what advice Patterson would give to new cartographers, finding their way? “Seek out advice,” he states. “Map design and production is mostly a solitary task, and any map you create will seem easy-to-understand and logical to you since you are the one who made it. But, your readers may not see it that way,” says Patterson. “The easiest way to avoid these potential ‘failures to communicate’ is by showing drafts of your maps to people that are not family and close friends.”

Another tip that Patterson has for fledgeling cartographers, is to give readers a reason to slow down and read your map. “The trick in today’s media-saturated environment is to design a map that will catch your reader’s eye, ignite their curiosity, and draw them in. Give the most emphasis to the information you want them to remember long after they put down your map.”

Cartographer Chronicles: Thorfinn Tait

Cartographer Chronicles Thorfinn Tait

A teacher by day and a cartographer by night, Thorfinn Tait (a native of Scotland) has been teaching high school in Japan for almost 20 years while making maps of fantasy lands in his spare time.

Mapping is a hobby for Tait, and his deep love of atlases, along with fantasy role-playing games (known as RPGs), helped drive him towards creating his own maps of fantasy worlds. He started in 2005, making maps in Adobe Illustrator. His goal was to create an atlas of a fantasy world, that included the same variety of maps that you’d find in any traditional world atlas — topographical, political, thematic — along with all the tables of data typically found in an atlas. He chose to map the world of Mystara, a popular Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) campaign setting from the 80s and 90s.

Tait set out to compile all of the original maps of Mystara (more than 250 of them) into a cohesive whole. “One of my biggest struggles was trying to work out what projection Mystara’s maps used. But there was a fundamental disconnect for me in that Illustrator alone did not have the functions I needed,” says Tait. “For example, to change the projection of a map, I tried to use it in tandem with other GIS software, but it was very troublesome having to constantly import and export elements between programs.”

Map of Caldwen

©2019 Bruce A. Heard. World of Calidar™ Fantasy Setting.

While working on the Atlas of Mystara project, an original Mystara author made a return to the industry, and Tait volunteered to remake his maps in Illustrator. The year after, that same author commissioned Tait to map a new RPG world, the World of Calidar. Determined to avoid the same problems he’d encountered with Mystara, he began establishing dimensions of the new world and creating custom projections based on them. But, working between Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop and GIS software was still very complicated.

World of Calidar

©2018 Bruce A. Heard. World of Calidar™ Fantasy Setting.

I managed to complete the first assignment with just those tools, but as soon as I got my first commission, I invested it right back into my maps by purchasing MAPublisher and Geographic Imager.” With MAPublisher, a plug-in for Adobe Illustrator and Geographic Imager, a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, Tait could work natively in both Illustrator and Photoshop.

“My favourite aspect of MAPublisher is without a doubt the custom coordinate system. It allows me to create resources for fantasy worlds just like they already exist for the real world, and then repurpose them across all of my maps,” says Tait. He also uses MAP Attributes and adds data to the world’s geography. “For example, it’s easy for me to track things like road and river lengths, land areas, dimensions of coastlines and political borders, and so on — MAPublisher calculates all of these things for me automatically.”

MAPublisher has allowed Tait to take his previous work and convert it to the newly established custom coordinate systems, without losing any of the GIS attributes he’d created over previous years. Tait also uses Geographic Imager to create Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) for the World of Calidar. DEMs can help bring maps to life, adding an intricate level of detail and depth.

World of Calidar

©2014 Bruce A. Heard. World of Calidar™ Fantasy Setting.

Tait’s tagline for his freelance business is “Mapping fantastic worlds with real-world accuracy”. “I couldn’t do this without MAPublisher and Geographic Imager,” he says. “The software allows me to create and work with data for a fantasy world just like other people map the real world, the only difference is that I am creating all the data myself!”

“MAPublisher has truly expanded my horizons as a cartographer and has also changed the course of my projects. Without it, my current work would simply not be practical — in fact, probably not possible at all.”

Tait is currently working on georeferencing existing Mystara maps and tagging elements with their original sources. Check out more of his mapping projects on his website!

Cartographer Chronicles: Alison DeGraff Ollivierre

Alison DeGraff Ollivierre caught the geo/carto-bug from an introductory geography course in her first semester at Middlebury College, quickly realizing that the discipline was the perfect combination of her diverse interests in global affairs, conservation, history, and sociology. Now a cartographer at National Geographic Maps, Ollivierre works on the Trails Illustrated topographic outdoor recreation map products from an office in Colorado, making it easy for her to always be planning her next hike or trip to a National Park.

Ollivierre began her professional career as a Geography Intern at National Geographic in 2011, working with NatGeo Live and the Giant Traveling Maps. During her internship, she had the opportunity to make maps for a few NatGeo Explorer lectures and Giant Traveling Map fact cards, but what really stuck with her was how the incredible breadth of geography was used every day at NatGeo (and meeting Sylvia Earle—she thought that was pretty cool!). Since then she has gone on to win multiple awards for her cartography and was recently recognized by xyHt Magazine as a 40 Under 40 Remarkable Geospatial Professional for 2018.

 

As a certified GIS Professional, with a master’s degree in Geoinformatics from the University of the West Indies, Ollivierre knows geospatial data and how to handle it but also understands that—while the data is important—there is more that goes into making a good map than just the data. ‘I believe strongly in the importance of great design.’ explains Ollivierre. ‘It has the power to make geospatial data more engaging, interesting, and accessible to its audience.’

Ollivierre started using MAPublisher—a cartography plug-in for Adobe Illustrator—in 2016 when she returned to work at NatGeo after facilitating a participatory mapping project in the Eastern Caribbean, working as a cartographer and GIS specialist in Maine, and conducting freelance cartographic work for organizations across the globe. ‘I had played briefly around with a trial version of MAPublisher before that and heard a lot of great things about the software, so I was excited to learn how to use it at NatGeo Maps.’ says Ollivierre. ‘We complete 99% of our daily tasks in Illustrator + MAPublisher so its power is clearly evident in our workflow.’

Making quality maps that bring to life complex geospatial data requires a mix of science, art, and specialized tools to get it right. ‘I love the process of turning raw data into a map that clearly (and attractively!) gets its point across.’ says Ollivierre. ‘For me, MAPublisher is the obvious choice to bridge that gap between GIS and cartography.’

Find Alison on LinkedIn

Cartographer Chronicles: Mirian Isabel Say

Cartographer Chronicles - Mirian Isabel Say

Brazilian-based cartographer, Mirian Isabel Say, has two passions: making maps and traveling. Lucky enough to live in a large, diverse, and beautiful country as Brazil, she has extensively traveled through it to gain inspiration for personal growth and to find influences for her map designs. As an idealist, Mirian considers maps as works of art, not merely used to perform a singular function. Especially in a natural resource-rich country like Brazil, she believes that maps can help change the lives of its users, transcending the use of maps from a purely commercial purpose to a purpose that is appreciated and acknowledged.

For Mirian, the map design process is a huge personal journey, and having the right tools can be the difference between a published map and a map left unfinished on the computer. When Mirian began her cartography career in 1992, her choice of existing graphic design software was limited and didn’t include suitable tools specific to mapping. Even as the software improved, it didn’t support any of the commonly used geographic data file formats and she was limited to importing data that was not spatially referenced. For example, to accurately create a map scale by hand is very complicated—as any well-trained cartographer knows—and the functionality to do it digitally wasn’t available. Exporting to other cartography formats was not feasible since maps were not georeferenced. Symbols and labels were placed individually, often taking many hours of labour.

By 2004, graphic design and GIS software had become more advanced. Mirian learned about MAPublisher in-person at a GIS and mapping trade show and immediately liked how the many cartography and GIS tools were seamlessly integrated into Adobe Illustrator. She believed she finally found a cartography product that would be an all-in solution. When she returned home, she continued working in her existing graphic design environment, but continued to experience the many shortfalls of it. After some careful planning, she decided to take the leap and jump in headfirst to acquire MAPublisher and Adobe Illustrator.

Any major changes to a workflow including one that involves new software can be difficult at the beginning. Mirian began to adapt from her older graphic design software and learned the new MAPublisher toolsets through Avenza resources and working with the Avenza Support team directly with questions about workflows and best practices. “My type of work is not very common in Brazil and there are few engineers and cartographers who do it. Many years ago, I received professional critiques that my maps were beautiful but not accurate enough. Today, I’m very glad to say that I can create maps just as beautifully and more importantly keep them accurate.”

Vulnerabilidade      SJDR

Mirian’s style of mapping is an immersive experience. When hired to produce indigenous and environmental maps for the Brazilian state of Acre government, she researched the region’s geography, read about its natural resources, and made a trip to visit to explore the culture, people, and food. She says she hopes that others can also see the human side of geographic space as she portrays it in her maps and that maps can provide not just information, but social change. She believes that her connection to and experiences of places make her a better cartographer. When she created the official tourism map for the City of Rio de Janeiro, her home city, she wanted to be “in the present” and decided to explore areas of the city intimately by foot to visit museums, beaches, and landmarks. The City also helped her understand the scale of the area by helicopter – a definite highlight in her career. The result was an appreciation of the city’s colour palette expressed on her map. “The sea was light blue, the green forests were intense, and the rock formations were magnificent. Rio de Janeiro is a very sunny and cheerful city so I used cheerful yellowish-green colors.”

 

Mirian continues to produce maps for many clients and has had her maps featured in several publications. She has also taught several post-graduate cartography courses at universities and lectures on cartography techniques and the importance of using the best cartography tools available.