• 365 Days of Great Ideas for your Map Business

    My mother, the ultimate hustler, grossed like ~$2m selling small business advice. Her small business: selling small business advice. Very meta. I discovered this 22-year-old unopened idea-a-day desk calendar and it inspired me to conjure tips about my kind of business. If I hit 365 I’ll be impressed with myself.

    1. Tasting room maps for vineyards; wine is all about terroir, terrain. An oversized varnished wooden CNC’d topo map perhaps? The drunks will love touching it.
    2. Pick a patch of land you care about. Spend a few hours per month creating a luscious, baroque map of same. It’s important for the cartographer to have show-pieces that reflect your taste and talents.
    3. Fabricate and rent out a map dancefloor; you take metal 3x3ft trays, lay LEDs in the bottom, then the map layer, then a top layer of thick safety glass. What wedding could resist?
    4. Make high-throughput maps for academic publishers; $300 a pop, sort em out fast (talk to the art director first), the PhDs will recommend you to their colleagues.
    5. Make high-throughput looks-okay maps for powerpoint presentations; big companies love these. You just gotta get their point fast and keep it simple and readable.
    6. Map kitchen table; glazed super tight and hose-downable, bamboo/cellulosic barrier between the plastic and your potables.
    7. Map alarm clock; face is a nice glowy map. maybe 7×9″, takes up a nightstand but looks nice
    8. Map bookshelf; individual sealed plates to swap out, tough scratch-resistant lucite or celluloid
    9. Map lamp; adhere to a lampshade, maybe sandwich between fabric. Would be a great nightlight.
    10. Map escritoire; our deluxe model features a 190k x 250k E-ink display, hand-stained walnut encased in the toughest varnish, backlit by our user-serviceable fault-tolerant lighting core. It’s your map.
    11. Local map booth: print vintage maps of your local area, add to thrifted frames, sell for $20 each at your local farmer’s market or craft fair.
    12. Classroom map: you know those big rolled pull-down maps of the continents? You could update those.
    13. Map baton: 6 sided, what tarmac gate guys wave or smaller, laminate micron-scale map into interior of fine glass, two knobs scrolls thru hues + intensity.
    14. Map nightlight: 4×3″ micron-scale backlit map: an imagined place, the kingdom of sleeping 9 hours like a rock
    15. Multimaterial map: the USA is CNC’d gold depicting real terrain, Mexico is hand-beaten copper depicting real terrain, Guatemala is a knot of ruby depicting real terrain, pacific ocean a foot of glass smothering ridges ground out of sandstone
    16. Emboridered map: start stitching, make it a yard long like clara bowe, you can’t beat threads for texture
    17. map lava lamp: start with a blacked-out lamp, etch out map, illuminates nicely, shifting colors….whats bad
    18. Map tunnel: Lightboxes on all surfaces, mount polyester or film maps or monochrome LCD screens, great for expensive transition zones in commercial real estate, events.
    19. Stamped copper map: columbiapressworks.com beat you but hey try your hand
    20. Maps on coasters: hope they’re at least as good as https://www.etsy.com/shop/allmappedout
    21. Glowing map + recipes of the area; copy em down and try em in the kitchen
    22. Map ziggurat: mound up Getty-style marble, leaving a square shaft in the middle. You hit the top and you’re walking atop water-clear fused quartz; look down 20 feet, maps interleaved with more glass. Lit from below with low-presh sodium-style light. 90-deg mirrored telescopes on casters to peer down. What’s buried in there…..
    23. land/garden map: find a rich landowner or estate, make a beautiful bird’s-eye, top-down, or oblique of their land, stuff with illos like https://freight.cargo.site/w/1200/i/9be2e54a1e4cb74ea60824ff14bb558aa030cfe2bb65370bce55b1777a96f03e/Neil-Gower_Naumkeag.jpg
    24. Map tutorials: sell a series of .AI files with a complete, labeled, pretty 10×10″ map on the right, unstyled QGIS output on the left, “make left look like right”
  • Illuminated maps, low-pressure sodium style

    To me the low-pressure sodium bulb, a monochromatic 589nm emitter, means an inviting L.A. gloom…a sidewalk paver held at 40deg by a fig root…january mist tumbling through a magnolia tree…when you’ve stood on that still-hot asphalt on a cool night and felt the breeze under those humming lamps, you’ll get it.

    I bought a retired Escondido, CA low-pressure sodium streetlamp off ebay, replaced the bulb, removed the solar sensor, and four years after I started: I have the correct glow for my illuminated maps.

    Escondido used these lamps out of consideration for the 200″ Hale Reflecting Telescope on nearby Mt. Palomar. Narrowband emitters are much easier to filter out of your astronomical observations than a broad-spectrum source (e.g. the LED lamp that replaced this fixture).

    Here’s how I wired it, ymmv (I don’t advise using my particular power source, a cheap extension cord with the receptacle end ripped off).
    When you first plug it in the lamp glows shocking pink; the sodium on the electrodes hasn’t yet reached vaporization temp, so all flux is coming from the ionized neon in the tube.
    Now we’re cookin: 90 seconds later the sodium has vaporized, we’re glowin at 589nm. A sickly yellow or a great yellow, depends on who you ask.
    Monochromaticity (sic.) demo: narrow-spectrum low-pressure sodium vs. a wide-spectrum 1800k LED meant to replace it. Notice how the green of the cutting mat is only visible under the LED.
    Using the lamp to backlight a chunk of my 3×5′ world map.

    I first experimented with backlit maps in 2019 when I lived in Silver Lake; the color range of the LPS lamp, hot pink and yellow, cover most of what you’ll see of SoCal emissions.

    I’d ride my brother-in-law’s too-creaky-to-steal bike around L.A.’s buckled streets, wheel under pink and yellow pools, thinking “these are my kinda emissions.” I wanted to recreate that glow, that feeling, with backlit maps.

    I tried to get that low-pressure sodium flux with gels, inkjet-polyester film, tunable RGB LEDs. But there’s nothing like the real thing, baby. I think once the last LPS bulb breaks, that’s the end, no one’s manufacturing any more. But I’ll enjoy my time with my favorite glow while it lasts :^)

  • Protected: Cartographic quaternary education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2014-2017

    This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

  • Absurdly baroque map projects

    • Call the same quarry The Getty used. Mound up the blocks into ziggurat, empty middle. The top is a sheet of water-clear fused quartz. More 40 feet down: quartz, film map, repeat. Low-presh-sodium-style lighting shines from the bottom. 90-deg mirrored telescopes on casters; roll them around to peer into the depths.
    • One of the private squares in the UT/NV/CO/AZ PLSS checkerboard. Find a 20ft slot canyon. Fill with glass.
    • Map garden: pick a well-drained two-acre site. Hire a local gray ponytail to plant it for you, real thick. Anchor in glowing maps, stone maps, milled-brass maps, stamped copper maps. Wait 5 years for the landscaping to eat the edges of your maps, for tiny plants to fill the gaps between the flagstones.
  • The mapmaker’s terrible hand

    Effacing features is a rush. The “critical cartographers” have one good point they bury in recondite academese: the mapmaker has absurd power.

    Nice town or flyspeck island community you got there. Where everyone you’ve ever cared about weaves a rich tapestry of comity and care. Just seeing the tiny smudge of roads on the map surfaces memories…the creaky springs on the dry goods shop door….the proprietor’s old dog splayed in the doorway, indifferent to traffic……

    All that important stuff? All those lives lived in that patch of ink? All those long driveways hazed by bonfire smoke? The feel of the cold bottle in your hand as you head around back?

    Occludes a label I need, so: annihilated. Gone. Never existed. You’ve been generalized.

    What you care about is not on the map? Guess you gotta make your own

  • The best maps lie ahead

    Read more: The best maps lie ahead

    Luckily we just need millions of dollars and thousands of hours.


    I want to see another Turgot map before I die. I want my grandkids to cherish a map made in the 2030s. I want some of the most beautiful examples of western material culture to live on. I can’t do it alone.

    Would anyone want this on their wall 50 years from now?

    In 1910 you could buy a 5 cent rail route pamphlet that looks better than any map you can buy today. This sucks, but it could not be otherwise; consider who makes today’s maps:

    • Atlas cartographers: mostly gone, those who remain can’t pick colors
    • GIS managers: their job is to manage the sewer pipe/streetlamp database and make maps for 8.5×11″ PDFs, can’t design or don’t have time
    • Editorial/news cartographers: under tight deadlines, editors don’t care, art directors don’t discourage nice maps but they also don’t know how to shape or commission them
    • Government cartographers, from muni cadastral to fedgov: almost all GIS managers, the maps just gotta reflect the database, nobody cares how they look
    • Nonprofit cartographers: too busy with GIS tasks, boss doesn’t care about nice maps
    • Big tech cartographers: Google/Apple’s maps are database outputs, too constrained by people poking at the map to make them look nice
    • Academic/critical cartographers: not rewarded for making nice maps, rewarded for writing recondite PDFs about maps
    • Capital A Artists: too into deconstruction to make a sincere attempt
    • Biz intelligence cartographers: who’s gonna cherish a bunch of hex bins?

    There are exceptions within those categories, but I’m being appropriately strict: “Would anyone want to hang this on their wall 50 years from now?

    The only good cartographers are illustrators; in their maps gestalt and composition come first. And they don’t just affirm the software’s idea of how a map should look.

    This is not permanent.

    Every beautiful high-production-value map you’ll see in a repository: it can be made today, maybe better. They had “time, strength, cash, patience,” but while attenuated, those things are still around; some patron could pay an illustrator to walk around a city for years and draw every building he saw, like the Prévôt des Marchands of Paris did in 1734.

    The bad news is there is no living memory of this stuff, no old hands to teach how the past’s rich maps were constructed. We start from scratch. The good news is we know exactly what to aim for.

    What is to be done?

    There’s no building you can walk into where someone will grab you by both ears and teach you how to make a beautiful map. Formal cartography education does not exist in the US; I have a (free) MS in cartography and most of the looks-nice mapmaking I did was extracurricular.

    Today’s talented anglophone mapmakers, and there are many, taught themselves. They are the only ones taking this seriously; the autodidacts are my favorite. I just wish you didn’t have to be a five-star autodidact to make nice maps.

    This is solved with ~$15 million, property, and professional instruction: make more map makers by apprenticeship. I learned mapmaking by close-range apprenticeship; so, a school with a 1:1 instructor ratio.