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.
Anyone I should talk to? Let me know below or via veryexpensivemaps at gmail dot com
Arlington “reformed architect” and pictorial cartographer Jamshid Kooros on his 30-year catalogue of maps based on photographs, sketching and “walking, walking, walking,” the end of the drop-in pitch, doing his own paper engineering for a pop-up map of Washington D.C., creating an ad for Disney World, turning three-week hikes into maps of French cities and castles, spending nine months illustrating a map of Santa Fe (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.”)
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.”
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.”
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.
Atlanta visual artist, sculptor and “topophiliac” Gregor Turk on walking 250 miles of the U.S./Canada border, creating landscapes with clay, wood and recycled inner tubes, turning Landsat imagery into hundreds of hand-painted ceramic tiles, making 1:1 scale maps, chasing phantom streets, fighting real estate developers’ efforts to erase Blandtown, confusing Beltline tourists with “misinformation” wayfinding maps, and “pushing the idea of what a map can be.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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 conveyed 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.
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.”
Toronto architect and artist Gabriel Camus discusses the 20" wide, 20 ft. long imagined cityscape he’s been drawing since 2018, a 100 ft. (!) illustration he's never seen the whole of for want of space to roll it out, the modern city as utopia/dystopia, how saying you study architecture can deflect rude questions about your street photography, the pleasures and hassles of walking in anti-pedestrian zones, extending his own roadscapes off the edge of atlas pages, and quitting his job to begin a 3 month trans-Canadian road trip to finally see some “true wilderness.”
Königs Wusterhausen mapmaker Simon Polster discusses falling into his first topo mapping project after hitchhiking from Iran to Berlin, using Soviet topographic maps as a starting point to map Armenian hiking trails, donating data to OpenStreetMap, the eternal method of “play around with it ‘til it looks okay,” completing most of his map layouts in QGIS, spending hours in the map shop inspecting good topos, and turning order fulfillment into a geography lesson for his kid.
East Yorkshire artist-cartographer Kevin Sheehan discusses picking a fight with fellow history PhDs by drawing a 19x29” calfskin portolan chart of the Mediterranean, spending 2 months stippling the lunar surface with a dip pen, acquiring a novel accent after 20 years in England, heated conversations with flat earthers over his map of the moon, how to make your own 1400s-style transfer paper with candle soot, and how “there’s something good about using, or at least trying, old ways of doing things.”
Vancouver “accidental cartographer” Jeff Clark discusses his 100-layer 18-month project to map the Salish Sea bioregion, the importance of testing your waterproof trail map paper, getting a big boost from the local press, the eternal hassle of bathymetric data, consulting North America’s best reference mapmakers, and when to call a map finished (never.)
Lisbon cartographer and artist Anthony Despalins on using the visual language of French 1:50k topos to create imagined landscapes, a toolkit of pencils, poems, markers, memories and ink, drawing inspiration from the Gironde estuary and Matthew 6:9, sketching entire layouts in reverse on tracing paper, chasing altered states while creating worlds, and “living in every inch of the maps” he draws.
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.