MapCarte 339/365: Abstract maps by Jazzberry Blue, 2013

MapCarte339_jazzberryThe shape and form of the various geographies around us make for interesting canvases for a wide range of artistic interpretation. Rendering the familiar in challenging alternative colour palettes can bring a new aesthetic to the landscape and perhaps challenge our notions of what works in a cartographic sense in representing geography.

Artist Jazzberry Blue tends towards the creation of abstract works that centre on geometrical shapes and patterns. Maps have also provided a focus for many pieces of work as colour is used in an imaginative way to re-style the cities. Here, the shape of Amsterdam is clear with roads and canals cutting through a patchwork of bold colour whose palette is in perfect balance. While a traditional map prtrays the structure of a city it’s conventional use as a product to aid navigation, wayfinding or other spatial requirement dictates its style supports those functions. Artwork doesn’t have the same requirement and with the shackles thrown off, it gives us a wholly different way to view space and place.

These are no doubt maps but they are maps as an art form rather than for conventional purposes. You’d not be able to use them for wandering round a city…but they will likely look terrific hanging from a wall.

You can see many more examples of maps by Jazzberry Blue at the Jazzberry Blue web site here.



MapCarte 338/365: Drucksland – Physical and Social by Michael Drucks, 1974

MapCarte338_druckslandUsing maps as a way of expression is common and fertile ground for artists and a wide range of social commentators. Here, Philip Drucks uses the shape of his own head to provide a narrative and a metaphor for his own existence. The image simply uses the three-dimensional head with symbology used to represent different distances from the viewing plane. It’s effectively a hypsometrically tinted relief map though, of course, a large slice of artistic license has been applied with the colour in particular.

The area around Right Drucks shows the side elevations that mimic a fairly standard tint pallete but the front of the face takes on a startling range of red hues. It’s not the sort of elevation tinting you’d ordinarily find on a map but then this isn’t an ordinary map.

Place names locate family and friends around the map and clever use of other map symbology helps explain the line of the closed mouth (a river) and the empty holes for the eyes. Drucks is not the only one to have mapped the human face or form in this way but it provides a strong image and a powerful way of mapping map symbology onto alternative forms to give them some sense of spatiality.



MapCarte 332/365: Flight patterns by Aaron Koblin, 2006

MapCarte332_koblin1Making maps from digital data has become a key outcome of the democratization of data and the use of the internet to store and share. Ad to that the availability of a wide range of digital mapping tools from full-scale professional GIS, through high-end illustration packages to open source offerings and new players offering ways to build maps through coded solutions. Each to their own but there’s a rich suite of products to suit tastes and abilities. A number of people have played with flight data from but here, Aaron Koblin goes that extra mile to create a range of different products.

He used the Processing language to convert origins and destinations to geodectic curves to show all commercial flights routes between paired airports. His products are relatively simple…perhaps more data art than map but certainly their end appearance is map-like and they portray spatial relationships. He has created a number of alternatives that show all routes or which classify them by colour based on make or model of aircraft. He’s extracting the detail in the data and working with them in map form.

MapCarte332_koblin2His maps aren’t just static though. There are zoomable slippy maps that show the work in greater detail, overcoming one of the limitations of digital map design that means we have a constrained format. The ability to use multiple scales means we can design across a range of scales despite the dimensions of the viewing mechanism being relatively constrictive.

MapCarte332_koblin3Finally, he turns the relatively easily understood linear representations into animations and more artistic forms such as the blobular version. Of course, this perhaps ventures a little far from a form that allows people to interpret the data but it’s bringing new approaches to the cartographic aesthetic. Experimentation with form is useful. It perhaps doesn’t always carry a function other than to look appealing but beautiful data art is pleasing cartography all the same.

You can see more of Koblin’s flight patterns here and here.

MapCarte 331/365: In peace by Brigitte Williams, 2007

MapCarte331_williams1Taking world shapes, maps, outlines or other map-related content gives artists a palette to work from that immediately creates recognition in the audience. People are instantly able to recognise the shapes of countries so the barrier to seeing and becoming interested in a piece of abstract art is perhaps lessened. Brigitte Williams has created numerous works that follow this principle and in so doing she organises her work in some sense of structure to provide a commentary on the relationship between the patterns she makes and out understanding of the world.

In Peace is a stark, circular image that is predominantly white space yet has the shapes of countries form a circle. A circle of peace perhaps? The white emptiness in the middle perhaps also suggestive of a lack of communication or maybe some other visual metaphor? It’s a strong aesthetic.

MapCarte331_williams2A second piece, called Dislocation, shatters the perfect circle and positions the countries in an apparent random order. They are actually placed quite deliberately and seem to have perfect borders and an amount of white space dissecting them.

MapCarte331_williams3Finally, she also uses colour and splashes the countries shapes with flags which seep into a series of concentric rings to create an almost hypnotic pattern. This work is called United.

Williams is simply borrowing shapes from the world of mapping and repurposing them but creating new works that make us reflect on the structure of our world and place within is no bad thing. Sometimes the very familiar shape and structure of our world on a standard globe becomes rather unremarkable and it’s important to stand back and reflect on different perspectives once in a while.

You can see more of Willaims’ work here.

MapCarte 302/365: The 2002 Australian Total Solar Eclipse by Fred Bruenjes, 2002

MapCarte302_eclipseThe normal way to set about making a map is to obtain some data that represents the shapes and features of the place you’re mapping and then to generalize, classify and symbolize it to suit your map. You then might overlay some thematic detail…again with heavy doses of processing to capture the essence of your message. You may add some textual components and all sorts of marginalia. WHat happens when you throw all of that out the window and approach the making of your map a different way. That’s exactly what Fre Breunjes did in this map of the 2002 Australian Total Solar Eclipse.

There’s no topographic detail, no thematic detail and no typography. There isn’t even a title! All of this accentuates the map rather than detract from it. Breunjes collected images of the solar eclipse at its maximum taken from various parts of Australia and mosaiced them into a grid of small multiples. A total solar eclipse will be observed as the Moon’s orbit passes between Earth and the Sun and if you are located somewhere near the middle of the shadow. Consequently, as the orbits move, a total solar eclipse will occur along a linear path. Either side of this path you’ll see a partial solar eclipse with less shadow the further away you are.

This beautiful map, then, doesn’t even map anything terrestrial, it maps an astronomical view from that location. The small multiples convey the amount of eclipse seen at each location and the grid of small multiples creates a quite spectacular pattern. Concentrating on the area near total eclipse you can see a variety of patterns that occur during the different phases of contact including the so-called Baily’s Beads and diamond ring effects.

You’d probably not teach a student of cartography to remove every conceivable element of a map in order to make a map yet this example proves that it’s possible. There’s absolutely no need for any other component (except perhaps a title but that’s part of the context in which Breunjes describes the map so it’s not totally absent).

You can see more detail of the maps and a version of the same approach for Africa at Breunjes web site here.

MapCarte 294/365: NYC Street Maps by Andy Warhol, 1949 & 1954


Mapping is not just for cartographers. Many of the very best maps have been made by people that have little formal education in cartography or, even, many examples to their name. What they achieve is the ability to bring a fresh perspective to a specific theme and a perfect storm provides the conditions in which their map is produced. Of course, this is the exception rather than the rule and a cartographer will likely hit the mark more often than a non-cartographer. If we’re looking for design ideas and cues in mapping that helps us see the world in a different way then perhaps looking at purely artistic endeavor is one way we can imbue a more artistic temperament in our work. We explored one example in MapCarte 3 with ‘Map’ by Jasper Johns.

Here, we show perhaps pop art’s greatest exponent experimenting with the map. Andy Warhol, perhaps best known for his self portraits, bananas, Campbell’s soup cans and pictures of celebrities turned his attention to the map in these two works, both of Central Park, New York in 1949 and 1954. Like most art, it’s really up to the viewer to interpret them as he or she wishes. In many ways they are whimsical, almost incidental works that might have taken very little time to draw and paint. But their beauty lies in their simplicity.

MapCarte294_warhol2While slightly different in style and method, both maps contain simple shared characteristics. Both focus on Central Park. Both contain a clarification of east and west, one as labels across the map, one as a compass rose. Both contain simple representations of some streets; stylized buildings simply to represent existence rather than form; and the rivers are symbolized to border Manhattan island. They each contain the very basics of what a map is…scale, orientation, context, symbols and a focus.

The more you study these examples the more you see…the lack of a line to represent the coast, the use of colour to demarcate land, the systematic tree symbols, the orientation of some of the buildings in aspect to align with the road, and the isometric buildings in the later example.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the work, there are many cues Warhol has taken from more traditional maps. He’s woven them into art that represents the map but which allows us to see how the map itself can be deconstructed.


MapCarte 283/365: NYC Noise complaints by Karl Sluis, 2013


Abstract looking maps are very often some of those that have the most immediate impact because they look less like maps than, well…maps. They intrigue and reel us in because of their design; their approach; and their graphic aesthetic. These aspects may very well be difficult to define or even describe for a particular map but nevertheless they exist and they go a long way to helping us frame why a map is engaging.

This map (or set of maps within the overall layout) by Karl Sluis depicts the collection and concentration of 311 calls in New York City in 2012. On one hand it’s a graphic art project with minimal but impactful colour, strong shapes that relay the noise concentrations and small multiples that reveal smaller stories within the overall picture.

Yet it remains a map that deconstructs the data in a meaningful way to show us an overall picture using graphics that conotate echoes or pulsing noise waves and then unravels it further to tell micro-stories.


Sluis takes a series of interesting subsets of the data and shows us how they play out across space using individual maps. Here, loud party noise shows concentrations in the Upper East Side as well as parts of lower Manhattan. Other maps reveal interesting pictures of noise associated with construction, buses and noisy dogs. They have a purpose in that they show the complex interplay of noise in an urban setting.

Graphically, the maps are clean, sparse and strong in a visual sense. They naturally attract attention and without recourse to any other urban form (roads etc) they clearly show us the gridded structure of the city. The data give us a sense of the city without needing any other forms. They show us how the character of the city changes across time representing residential, commercial and industrial foci at different times. There’s a rhythm that the maps depict, well represented using the visual metaphor of sound waves

You can see more of the map at Sluis web page here and it’s also one of the maps included in the NACIS Atlas of Design II.

MapCarte 277/365: British Isles Button Map by Hello Geronimo, 2010


Purely a piece of art. The sort of item one only comes across in a small independent store and often unique. This fantastic piece of work by Hello Geronimo takes the map and makes something bespoke by making a collage of badges. Of course, anyone could do this but as with most art…not everyone does. Someone does. And what makes this work just that little bit more nuanced and interesting is the attention to detail. While the badges may appear to be a random collection, they are very carefully placed even though each piece is made to order and will be different.

In this example, for instance, there’s a life guard badge for Cornish beaches, a curry badge for Birmingham (the curry capital of England) and the inevitable shamrock, Guinness and wet weather symbology for parts of Ireland…and yes, the Guinness badge is located on Dublin. Take a look at a different map and we see a London Underground map in London, a Beatles badge in Liverpool and an “I caught crabs in Cromer”.MapCarte277_buttons_detailSimple idea. Elegant and considered execution. Wonderful piece of map art.

MapCarte 275/365: The population and the state capitals by Carlos Lemos, 2010


Click image above to go to web map

The word infographic has become a part of the lexicon used to describe information delivered using graphics. Maps have always been information graphics and although this example is described as an infographic it’s actually a map; an abstract, interactive web map, but a map nevertheless. It deals with spatial information and organises it in a manner that assists the communication of the message the author wishes to impart.

Lemos shows the distribution of the population of municipalities in relation to the capital of each Brazilian state. It illustrates the urban hierarchy too in a clean, efficient graphical manner. It’s a cartogram that dispenses with the real geography in favour of a version that ignores everything except the crucial aspects…population sizes illustrated as proportional symbols, organised in a linear fashion, by state.

The map’s use is supported by a simple yet elegant functionality including data display returned via a hover rather than a click. You can zoom to disentangle the symbols giving clarity to each spoke of the map. Transparency is well used and gives a sense of density.

Simple. Effective. Enthralling and informative. Maps do not need to be graphically complex to impart their information but they do need to be engaging.

MapCarte 268/365: Day and Night by M. C. Escher, 1938


Our modern digital tools make manipulation of data fairly straightforward and it’s relatively simple to apply some abstract thinking and techniques in order to create something interesting. If we cast our minds back 100 years,┬áthe method of print production was based on mechanical techniques and though invented much earlier, the woodcut process saw a renaissance for fine art printing. With woodcut there wasn’t much room for error and it took a particularly skilled craftsmen to create cartographic products or, for that matter, any products. Prints made from woodcut that are based on geometrical patterns…and those with a positive and negative display are perhaps even rarer.

Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher is well known for his mathematically inspired woodcuts and lithographs. They often feature architecture or explorations of infinity and tesselations. Here, we show his Day and Night produced when he was age 40. It’s a woodcut in black and grey printed from two blocks and measuring some 68cm wide. It was one of his first prints to show the tesselated tile approach that incorporated an abstract positive and negative image. It lends itself perfectly to the display of a map image that represents the illuminated landscape in day and night in mirrored fashion. The white flock of birds flying above the ground merge with the daylight sky on the left and to the right, the black flock blends to create the night sky. The illusion also works top to bottom as the patchwork of agricultural fields morphs into the birds in the sky.

It’s a wonderful illustration not only of technique but also mastery of design and thought. The care required to get the illusion correct is of the very highest order. In some senses it also illustrates how one might have gone about creating thematic maps where different shades of monochrome were required (e.g. in a choropleth) since the patterns and differences between shades are perfectly balanced and easily distinguishable which is in part why his work is so well formed.

You can see much more of Escher’s work at the official site here. Well worth a look!