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
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.
Margaret River cartographer and surfer Grant Preller on catching waves down the Iberian coast in a 1980 VW bus, spending five years marking promising breaks along 50 miles of Australian coastline (much of it on foot), relating local history with maps, mapping ‘til “the end of [his] days,” and using Google Earth, 1890s coastline maps, 1:50k topos, the local library, an A0 sheet of paper, a pencil and CorelDraw to create an 8-foot map that shows you where to catch a sick barrel 🤙.
Reno cartographer and outdoorsman Aaron Taveras on why he started making his own trail maps, “taking [his] sweet time” to create a hyper-detailed monochrome 4x5’ map of Nevada landforms, beginning a map with the raster data, an inspiring backcountry ski atlas, teaching cartography by disassembling National Park maps, and the beauty of low-amenity public lands.
Redwood City cartographer and artist Jake Coolidge on making maps the hard way with ink, graphite, a metal scribe, copper, wax and ferric chloride, the difference between in silico and in vivo cartographic generalization, creating novel projections with two-point perspective, learning to letter backwards, training the eye before you train your mouse hand, how a mapmaking process will teach you something about the landscape, and his efforts to combine the handmade with the digital.
Olympia cartographer and graphics editor Dan Coe on his journey from Alaska sea kayak guide to geomorphology storyteller, what you learn in an office (and family) full of geologists, getting laid off and traveling the world for a year, how the paths of ancient glaciers shaped his neighborhood, the hidden landscapes revealed by infrared laser pulses, and how a few minutes at work adjusting one color ramp seeded hundreds of beautiful river images.
Nelson artist-cartographer Anton Thomas discusses his travels from Utah to the Himalayas, creating “that mix of serious cartography and serious art,” logging his drawing time with a stopwatch, collecting photo references for 1,500 species, how drawing the little cartouche map-within-a-map can get out of hand, and closing on three years of work to finish his 40x24" map of the world.
Cupertino cartographer, designer and artist Nat Slaughter on using hardcore wildlife survey techniques to count squirrels with Jamie Allen, putting sound installations in shipping containers, the two years of shoe-leather data collection that went into his 5x2’ Central Park map, his desire to walk from Basel to the North Sea, how a one-hour deadline can have (occasionally) sublime results, and an 800-year-old map that feels like it was created yesterday.
Discussed and inspiring:
Penobscot, Maine mapmaker Jane Crosen discusses her 40+ year cartographic career, the sound advice of “when in doubt, leave it out,” creating spoof maps for the nautical market, producing two expanded and rearranged editions of George Colby's 1881 atlases of Downeast Maine counties, becoming “[her] own typesetting machine” with a calligraphy pen, the feeling of looking through an airplane window at the landscape she’s drawn so many times, and her “paste-up” map design process that involves a light table, a proportional scale wheel, a pica ruler, mylar, pencils, a 000 brush and india ink. You won’t be surprised to learn this interview was conducted via landline.
Madrid architect and mapmaker Jug Cerović discusses the transit cartographer’s ability to shape reality, drawing hundreds of bus lines by hand, mapping first and visiting later, installing guerrilla maps in his hometown of Belgrade, organizing a new map conference, helping Apple create a good public transit layer, and how seeing Istakhri’s 1,100-year-old maps will make one feel like a tyro.
Somerset pen-and-ink artist Jeff Murray discusses sketching across the world during his ski bum years, selling his first print off a folding table in New Zealand, drawing in ten-hour chunks, the joy of selling art out of a gazebo, why he works at the continental scale, playing with perspective, his two hand-painted globes, and the choice words people have when his hyper-detailed maps don’t include their particular landmark.
New Jersey cartographer and Wall Street Journal graphics editor Carl Churchill talks his map vocation and EDM avocation, spending two weeks on an elaborate wildflower-detection remote sensing script before an editor (correctly) tossed it, making fantasy maps with GIS tools, what drum loops taught him about radar interferometry, why "get paid to do what you love" will make you fall out of love, and how you can make beautiful maps with a good inspo board, a tolerance for academic papers and a willingness to try.
Cartographers he recommends:
Columbia designer, illustrator and country songwriter Elliot Park on his ten year quest to hydraulically press a good map into good materials. Discussed: the lack of texture in today’s stuff, moving from DEM to CNC to a big beautiful copper/leather map, learning by (expensive) trial, and the challenge of creating lasting art that’s meant to be touched.
Tacoma map artist and chorographer Kirsten Sparenborg discusses her deep catalog of maps in ink and watercolor, her years in architectural illustration, an ill-starred mural commission, making her own pigments out of local rocks, and her next 10-panel 46 sq. ft. project.
Artists she likes:
Lisbon transit cartographer and designer Aurélien Boyer-Moraes talks learning to use a computer at 19, creating his first 3x4 ft. transit map of an imagined Brazilian city after reading Jacques Bertin’s Semiology of Graphics cover-to-cover, preempting Google Street View in Lyon with his 6x6 Seagull camera, ten years of designing transit maps for French cities with Attoma, and his heavily-annotated collection of 2,100 transit and city maps (which he might let you see someday.)
Indented below are Aurélien’s notes on my notes (he is, as you can imagine, a precise man).
Philadelphia cartographer and New York Times graphics editor Bill Marsh describes his 30-year project to map his adopted city, getting the Philadelphia Inquirer to chopper a photographer over the city on his behalf, his collection of hyper-dense axonometric maps, and the bygone days of hand-inked editorial graphics (an early project: mapping the nuclear annihilation of Grand Rapids, Michigan.)
Travis Folk, Green Pond wildlife biologist and map designer for New World Cartography discusses working with artist Tony Waters, radio-tracking northern bobwhites (quail) under the pines of the Conecuh National Forest, memorializing Aldo the Llewellin Setter on a map of game birds, and agreeing to a 9x14-ft project before knowing exactly how to uh, install a 9x14-ft project (it turned out great).
Val Marie independent cartographer Alex McPhee describes teaching himself to make enormous reference maps, his pre-mapping road trips, rural Saskatchewanians’ surprise in finding every train station on his provincial map (they didn’t believe him), how cartographers need to observe people interacting with their maps, and how nothing sells huge paper maps like a radio interview.
Bristol textile artist and mapmaker Kate Tarling talks freehand machine embroidering coastlines onto lampshades, her preference for silk paints (despite the hassle), color inspiration from her garden, and how she does most of her sketching in her head during dog walks.
Fremantle mapmaker, artist and illustrator Sara Drake on her first globe, her two-year wait list, the challenge of photographing her ultra-detailed 3D maps, and adding to a piece until “someone physically wrestles it out of [her] hands.”
Map artists she likes:
British illustrator and cartographer Mike Hall talks early mapping projects of his native Harlow, his favorite map aesthetic, the relaxing practice of coastline-tracing and how he will type and place 1,500 labels but will not make a “Where's Wally?” map.
Oregon cartographic designer, illustrator and production artist Anna Eshelman talks sketching Mt. Rainier while pulling 26-mile days on the Wonderland Trail, why she begins her illustrations with a blunt pencil, and the enormous manual shaded relief she’d finish if she had any time.
Australian cartographer and illustrator Alex Hotchin talks about cycling from Scotland to Cambodia sans GPS and “a career drawing how beautiful the world can be.”
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.