Off the Map

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Highland Fever a la Ciao Domenica

April 9th 2012

Sunday Taylor has once again featured a map of mine in Ciao Domenica, her exquisite blog about literature, travel, gardens, and the beauty of life.  Sunday used my recent Scottish Highlands map (you’ve seen it!) as a departure for a lovely and literary commentary on travel and the associations certain place names evoke. She included four photos taken by Meg Moulton, my fellow hiker and sister-in-law. This photo shows a beautiful scene just north of Loch Lomond. For this post and others, visit

Civil War Map Exhibit, NYC

April 9th 2012

Torn in Two: 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Ronald Grim–Curator of Maps for the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library–has created an exhibit of remarkable maps through which you can glean the history of the conflict. The exhibit opened in Boston last fall, but now has arrived at the Grolier Club in New York City: it will be there through April 28th, 2012. At 2:30 pm on Saturday, April 14th, join the New York Map Society for a (FREE!) tour of the exhibit led by Ronald Grim–note the particulars on the Map Society’s “Meetings” page.  The exhibit is great, and so is the Grolier Club: read its history here.

A Map by Hazel Jarvis

April 4th 2012

Enough of my maps–here’s a wonderful map by Hazel Jarvis, who attended one of my round map workshops last spring. Wow, I’m a phenomenal teacher, right? Alright, full disclosure: Hazel Jarvis is an accomplished and inventive painter in her own right–visit her website,The Art of Hazel Jarvis. Furthermore, she teaches painting at her lovely home studio and at The Garden Education Center of Greenwich; if I lived in Fairfield County, I’d be tempted. While I can’t claim to have taught her a thing about painting, I did provide the pointers  she needed to create this map, which is, by the way, 16″ in diameter, acrylic on canvas. But you don’t have to be an artist of Hazel’s caliber to make a great map–if you attended one of my workshops, and want to share your work, speak up!

Highland Fling: Another Map on Paper

March 30th 2012

Last September, Duncan and I hiked Scotland’s famous West Highland Way with our hiking pal Sydney and with Duncan’s sister Margaret: seven days, 95 miles, heather, mist, driving rain  (but just one day), sheep, Highland cattle, Loch Lomond, gorgeous and often wild landscapes, B & B’s, 18th century inns, salmon, scotch, scones, sticky toffee pudding, and wonderful camaraderie–among ourselves, and with other hikers. (We did this, by the way, through the Scottish travel outfitter Macs Adventure–they provided great maps,  arranged our lodgings, and conveyed our bags from point to point). The perfect occasion for a little commemorative map and as souvenirs for our beloved fellow travelers: I had copies scanned for Sydney and Margaret. Note that the route is long and vertical, but that didn’t stop me from popping it into a circle. I can’t help myself! The circle actually provided me with the “dead space” I needed for the title cartouche, designed to look like a bit of drapery; a written explanation of our week; a little key; and, on the left of the mapped route, a compass thistle (instead of a rose). I fashioned a border, but it’s as simple as can be. Like my Daily Rounds map, this is a 10″ circle within a 12″ square; unlike that map, this one isn’t a circumpunct–in other words, the map doesn’t radiate from a central point. Next up: maps by some of my workshop attendees.

Daily Rounds: A Little Map on Paper

March 25th 2012

I’ve made a practice, lately, of creating little round maps, spending an hour each day as a break from commissions. There’s a practical reason: I want to provide good, simple models for my workshop attendees (one–the subject of my last post–late next month at the C Gallery in the Santa Barbara wine country, and a couple of autumn workshops in my Connecticut studio). Beyond this  initial reason, however, I’ve really enjoyed these projects–it’s rejuvenating to try new stuff! I’m reminded of  my first (unpaid, of course) cartographic efforts, years ago, when everything was new and I was screwing up right and left. I’d forgotten the carefree fun of making mistakes, then learning from them–in my professional work, of course, I wisely avoid mistakes. All my commissioned maps are painted on big canvases (like 3 x 4′), but these little experiments are drawn in ink on beautiful colored Canson art paper, a 10″ circle within a 12″ square, perfect for popping into an inexpensive, ready-made 12″ frame.  I love this tobacco shade, but others await me–violet, chamois, amber, terracotta. You know how much I love round maps, and especially radial maps built around a central point. The central point here is our house, a 19th century school building my architect husband, Duncan Milne, recycled for us to live in. We moved here because we loved the house, the historic nature of the town, and the prospect of walking to local destinations. Note our town seal, which I’ve used instead of a compass rose–here’s to you, Durham, CT, and your agricultural heritage!

Map Workshop in the Santa Barbara Wine Country!

March 8th 2012

Wouldn’t you like to spend a weekend of April 27-29th at a workshop retreat making a beautiful little map under my tutelage? Here’s the hook: the setting is the gorgeous wine country outside of Santa Barbara, California–if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes, you’ve seen it on the screen in the movie Sideways. Our host is gallery owner Connie Rohde of the C Gallery in Los Alamosand here’s what she’s arranged: you’ll stay in at a secluded vineyard estate, taste wines, sample local (fabulous) cuisine, and visit the magnificent Rancho San Lorenzo for Sunday morning’s final session. For details, see Connie Rohde’s website description.

THE WORKSHOP ITSELF: You’ll create a round map showing a special place in your life, your daily life, a special event, a journey (real or spiritual), or a memory map of your childhood home. Or maybe you’d like to make a birthday map for somebody you love–maps make wonderful gifts. The circle, symbol of the world, infinity, Mother Earth, and sacred space, is the perfect shape for a personal, hand-executed map. Furthermore, the round map–especially one with a central, important location–easily lends itself to composition, a help for beginners. Working in pen or colored pencil on white or colored watercolor paper, you’ll make  a 10″ circular map within a 12″ square, perfect for popping into a ready made 12″ square frame.  I’ll give you all the techniques you need to finish this map and start new maps when you go home. You’ll get hooked!

Here’s a round map I made a couple of years ago as a gift for my son Andrew and his fiancee Andrea–they used it as the cover of their wedding invitation. The circle’s central point is WeatherLea Farm in northern Virginia, where the wedding took place (great place for a celebration: check it out). Because Andrew and Andrea live in DC, DC became the outer point of the radius, thus dictating the breadth of the map’s geography. With arrows pointing towards the farm, I indicated where family members were traveling from. There’s also an arrow indicating the direction from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where the A’s met as Peace Corps volunteers. A simple map, but charged with meaning, and executed with love by this mapmaker.  As for the sheep, I couldn’t resist them–they positively bleated for artistic rendering!  

Happy 500th Birthday, Gerard Mercator

March 5th 2012

Mercator is aging well, or at least his maps are. He was a most remarkable and famous map and globe maker, known for his world atlases (in fact, he coined the word “atlas”), his piety, and his global projection–hey, Google uses it, so Mercator’s still the man! If you want background information, visit everybody’s go-to site or read Nicholas Crane’s great biography, Mercator: The Man Who Mapped the Planet (NY: Henry Holt, 2003).

Or, if you’re in the NYC vicinity, attend some birthday parties. The first is the New York Map Society’s monthly lecture (FREE!), this coming Saturday, March 11, at 2:30 pm, 6th floor of the Mid-Manhattan Library.  Our speaker is renowned map scholar Mark Monmonier, talking about the problems inherent in map projections, starting with Mercator’s. (In case you don’t know, here’s the problem: the earth is round, maps are flat). After the meeting, we’ll cross 5th Ave. to the Schwartzman Building,  the main library with the lions in front, where Geospatial Librarian Matt Knutzen will show us original Mercator atlases. Aside from his importance as a mapmaker, Mercator’s maps are incredibly beautiful–beautiful digitally, but more beautiful in person.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! There will also be an exhibit of Mercator maps and globes in Room 117–the splendid map room–from March 13th to September 29th. FREE! Libraries are FREE!

Gel Conference Map Workshop

May 23rd 2011

At the end of last month, I teamed up with Wendy Brawer, founder and director of Green Map System, to give a map-making workshop at her studio in the East Village as part of the annual Gel (Good Experience Live) Conference. Gel is a great event; as a featured speaker in 2010, I attended the whole conference and came away inspired. Like last year, Gel 2011 inspired me–not just the speakers and activities, but the interactions and energy among attendees.  The workshop Wendy and I gave this year was a city mouse/country mouse, tech mapping/manuscript mapping kind of thing: let’s just say I was the homemade map country mouse, as opposed to downtown Wendy, who infuses technological mapping with local and very human sustainability patterns. However different we are in approach, our aims–to deliver meaningful maps–are identical, and we loved the idea of giving a workshop together. Here was the challenge: we had 2 hours to provide a tasting menu of our respective map-making practices, and to demonstrate how we dovetail. Luckily, our attendees–young, creative, savvy, curious (typical Gel conference profile)–were quick studies, and moved back and forth between Wendy’s activities and mine. Despite the time constraints, many of our guests managed to create clever hand-drawn maps. For more details and photos, see Wendy’s blog entry on the workshop.


A Cloud in the Firmament

May 12th 2011

No, this is not a bad weather report. Cartographic historian John Cloud is traveling north from DC to give a free talk at the New York Public Library at 2:30 this Saturday (April 14th 2011) sponsored by the New York Map Society, on whose board I sit (have I said that I’m in charge of programming? Recommend a speaker if you know a good one; I aim to please).  John’s one of the best map speakers I’ve ever heard; furthermore, HE’S A ROPER, a little something he learned growing up in West Texas, which makes him–aside from his great oratorical skills–the coolest cartographic historian ever.  Below are particulars:

John Cloud holds a PhD. in geography from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he wrote a dissertation on the geographic applications of the declassified CORONA reconnaissance satellite system. He is now the NOAA historian of the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, the oldest element of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which makes NOAA the oldest scientific agency in the US government.  The agency began in 1807 as the Survey of the Coast, under a plan devised by the Swiss emigrant Ferdinand Hassler and accepted by President Thomas Jefferson. From the beginning, Hassler’s Survey was centered in, on, and around “New York Bay and Harbor and the Environs.” as Hassler termed it. Therefore, it is appropriate for NOAA people to return now and again to the ancestral homeland of the agency, here in “the Environs” of New York Bay and Harbor.

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