Very Expensive Maps: a podcast by Evan Applegate

Excuse me?

You get what you pay for: Very Expensive Maps is a podcast by cartographer Evan Applegate in which he interviews better cartographers. Listen to the best living mapmakers describe how they create worlds in ink, pixels, graphite, threads, paint, ceramic, wood and metal.

Remember: you can, and should, make your own maps.

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Anyone I should talk to? Let me know below or via veryexpensivemaps at gmail dot com

Episode 46: Hap Wilson

Hap Wilson's maps

Ontario explorer, mapmaker, and conservationist Hap Wilson on drawing 400 guide maps across 50 years, traveling more than 40,000 miles of Canadian wilderness by canoe, the one digital tool he likes (it’s Google Earth), saving lives by creating a map that, unlike the one it replaced, did not send tourists over a waterfall, retracing thousand-year-old trails to prevent their effacement by dams and clearcuts, what you discover after 200 trips down the same river, learning from the mapmakers of 1700 and the indigenous of 700, and why if a portage on his map doesn’t match the territory it’s likely a force majeure situation (“I don’t control the beavers.”)

Episode 45: Erick Ingraham

Stephen Walter's maps

Colorado painter, illustrator and mapmaker Erick Ingraham on solving art directors’ problems, making it interesting for himself (“I’m known to make things more complicated than they might need to be”), spending eight years painting the Rockies’ western slope, working from his own photographs, taking inspiration from the past, getting into the culture of what he’s mapping, drawing coastlines, and some advice for developing artists: “Be a good draftsman.”

Episode 44: Stephen Walter

Stephen Walter's maps

London artist and mapmaker Stephen Walter on two decades of drawing and painting “the semiotic residues of humankind,” an invitation to map an Ivorian national park (and why you should wait for the dry season before attempting this), approaching six years of work on an NYC map, interpreting Michael Drayton’s 17th c. topographical poem Poly-Olbion into a 6x5 ft. folkloric tour of England and Wales, walking the territory, the origins of “north up,” the souls of places, a half-day's research to place a single label, and his vision of Utopia.

Episode 43: John Tauranac

John Tauranac's maps

Manhattan writer and cartographer John Tauranac on his first maps of Midtown’s pedestrian passages, a public debate with Massimo Vignelli (“His geography was egregious”), working at a very different MTA (they used to have an aesthetics committee?), the “no improvements” made to the official subway map since he chaired the 1979 MTA map committee, guiding Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s helicopter photo surveys of Manhattan, walking every block and learning Illustrator to create his acclaimed 176-page Manhattan tourist map, how to make a usable bus map, New York’s vanished map stores, and a longitudinal view of the business: “plus ça change, plus c'est la même bull████.”

Episode 42: Andrew Middleton

Andrew Middleton runs "The Map Center" in Pawtucket, RI

In early 2023 GIS analyst and cartographer Andrew Middleton saw a tweet about Andy Nosal’s search for someone to take over The Map Center, Nosal’s map shop in Pawtucket, RI; six months later Middleton left California to move into one of the last map retail stores in the U.S. We discuss his goal of turning the shop into an inviting retail space and field trip destination, inciting new maps of New England with cartographic challenges, making space for local and expressive maps, and summing it all up with “This is a thing I get to do with my life; how amazing is that?” Bonus: former owner Andy Nosal joins us to drop pearls of retail wisdom and confirm that Andrew has the “irrational drive in the right direction” needed for this biz.

Episode 41: Lionel Portier

Lionel Portier's maps

Lyonnais illustrator and designer Lionel Portier on a mapmaking career that spans 30 years and five continents, accepting any map challenge an art director might conceive, a travel magazine gig that led to an Australian passport, painting 100 birds for a wetland park, his favorite territory to illustrate, spending three months on a 3x4-ft. map of Bruges, why he never carries a sketchbook on a walk, and conveying with his maps the “pleasure of seeing beautiful things.”

Episode 40: Isaac Dushku

Isaac Dushku's maps

Utah artist Isaac Dushku on how a map has to evoke either a sense of adventure or a sense of home, the best- and worst-selling states in his catalog (he drew all 50), taking his business Lord of Maps from being ghosted on Facebook Marketplace to supporting his family, creating a board book of America’s highest peaks with a “ridiculously complicated” printing process, why your choice of labels will always upset someone, somewhere, and how if someone enjoys mountains these maps will “fit nicely into their heart.”

Episode 39: Sam Usle

Sam Usle's maps

Urbanist and illustrator ⁠Sam Usle⁠ on designing human-scale communities and rendering them in watercolors, why theme parks reflect a yearning for human-scale towns, redesigning part of his high school campus before graduation, why you can thank Le Corbusier for hideous Revit-default cities, the axonometric map that sold Disneyland, storytelling with facades, the history of Rome’s urban fabric, why master planning begins with the negative space, and how “you'd be hard-pressed to find an ugly city before 1930.”

Episode 38: Naomi Rosenberg

Maps made by the Media and Accessible Design Lab at San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind:

Naomi Rosenberg, assistant director of the Media and Accessible Design Lab at San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind, discusses the art of making fingertip-readable maps: why clutter is the enemy of good tactile maps, the quest for an affordable embosser, being locked to 24 pt. type, creating large-scale accessible maps for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the OSM-filtering behind their Tactile Maps Automated Production software, why 3D-printed maps are (literally) painful for users, the barriers to high-res tactile displays, and how a good tactile designer needs to “forget about their eyes.”

Episode 37: Matthew Dean Shaffer

Matthew Dean Shaffer's maps

New Haven architectural designer and artist Matthew Dean Shaffer on balancing accuracy with art, taking a break from straight lines to draw birds, software-driven homogeneity in American architecture (“Straight-out-of-Revit, as we say”), why he draws the vegetation last, how anything’s better for the urban fabric than a surface parking lot, and sacrificing for one’s maps (he went cross-eyed for a day after a marathon drawing session).

Episode 36: Jamshid Kooros

Kooros Cartography

Arlington “reformed architect” and pictorial cartographer Jamshid Kooros discusses his 30 years of mapmaking based on photographs, sketching and “walking, walking, walking,” the end of the drop-in pitch, turning three-week hikes into maps of French cities and castles, doing his own paper engineering for a pop-up map of Washington D.C., spending nine months on his Santa Fe map (which irked some locals), and being warned away from Civil War battlefield maps (“The buffs know every rock and tree and they will find a mistake.”)

Episode 35: David Kulbeth

Columbus Cartography

Stafford cartographer and entrepreneur ⁠David Kulbeth ⁠on reviving old map aesthetics with his digital-to-copperplate-to-print-to-watercolor technique, the (costly) difference between copperplate etching and engraving, finding a custom papermaker, keeping his art affordable, finding style inspiration in 12 moving boxes of cartography books, and making high-craft maps of “modern places in an antique style.”

Episode 34: Sophie Parr

Sophia Parr's maps

Fish Creek artist and gallery owner Sophie Parr on creating more than one hundred 0.5"-to-the-mile maps using aerial imagery and a 0.2mm-nib pen, why she only accepts 2x2" commissions (while working on her own 2x3 ft. map of Chicago), representing a variety of landscapes within the constraints of black ink, when returning a client’s deposit feels so good, why she won’t work in color, how discipline will get you farther than enthusiasm, curating other artists’ work to exhibit in her Door County gallery, and how often she hears “I have never seen anyone do something like this.”

Episode 33: Lee France

Lee France's maps

Sandpoint cartographer Lee France discusses making his first topos in Chile, spending months on a single map for National Geographic Trails Illustrated, the challenge of making an attractive interactive map that includes every scale from hilltop to hemisphere, how an up-to-date cadastral layer can make or break your hunting map, how his team of technical cartographers at OnX maintain three discrete map products, and the high-stoke activities his users get up to.

Episode 31: Tom Patterson

Tom Patterson's Maps

Leesburg cartographer Tom Patterson on his decades creating visitor maps for the National Park Service (there’s a good chance his work is crumpled in your glovebox), learning to draw terrain by corresponding with an artist in Scotland, why he doesn’t lament the passing of 70s-era production techniques, how to map a piedmont glacier using satellite imagery, convincing the Park Service to give away their map files (then making it happen himself during a rained-out vacation), why he releases his designs into the public domain, how “pretty map” used to be an insult, preferring modern maps over antiques, and how “right now is the golden age of cartography.”

Episode 30: Melinda Clarke & Deborah Young Monk

The Melbourne Map

St Leonards map producer/founder Melinda Clarke and Melbourne illustrator Deborah Young Monk discuss their collaborations across more than three decades, how to tell an artist they need to redraw three months of work, scouting territory by car, helicopter and hot air balloon, a week spent editing a 4x3 ft. map with a scalpel, selling maps door-to-door out of a suitcase, a very profitable shipping container full of puzzles, Melinda’s break from the map business to run a fish farm, getting the next generation to make maps, and how “the beauty of the whole project is that we had no idea what we were doing.”

Episode 29: Neil Gower

Neil Gower’s maps

Lewes/Berlin graphic artist and “exuberant mapmaker” Neil Gower on painting an estate plan when the grounds are unfinished, the work that gives him a “hum in the pelvis,” what Frank Zappa has in common with high-effort fake maps, an abandoned 5x5 ft. map of Venice that was more enjoyable to ground-truth than to draw, combining lunar toponymy with 1600s Italian map style, a trip to Barcelona on Conde Nast’s dime, and emphatically not illustrating his memoir about starting in a Welsh coal town and ending up in the chalk country of Lewes.

Episode 28: Andrew Lynch

Andrew Lynch’s maps

New York City cartographer and QueensLink chief design officer Andrew Lynch on using library archives, train-mounted GoPro footage and his own two feet to plot every track in the New York City subway system, a brush with cubicle-based urban planning at the Port Authority, testy-yet-productive correspondence with railfans, the unshakable authority conferred by the Google Maps style, how your cartographic project should answer a question, and learning that the obstacle to building a subway extension is not money (“What’s four billion dollars?”) but belief that it can be done. 

Episode 27: Danielle Currie

Danielle Currie's embroidery

New Brunswick embroidery artist Danielle Currie discusses her fans among NASA’s Ocean Processing Group, spending more than 400 hours to render an Icelandic river in straight stitches, her hoops being mistaken for paintings, how you really have to enjoy the colors of a piece you’ll hold in your lap for months, pricing herself out of her own art, and not accepting commissions because “they’ll get it when they’re 80.”

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Interviews recorded with Cleanfeed or Ennui Castr or, if I need to use an actual phone call, Google Voice/WhatsApp + Audio Hijack (vidcalls delenda est), edited with Audacity, hosted with Spotify for Podcasters, audio sometimes cleaned up with Adobe Podcast, I do not recommend this mic. Site designed with Dorik which I like because it’s fast.


you hadda understand: life is so good

Evan Applegate, I’ve mapped for twelve years, you’ll see my work in National Geographic, Manhattan lobbies, at the fête next to the funnel cake. Anyone can make a map and everyone should try their hand.

Some meta-talk about maps for S2 E32 of the Unpacked podcast: