Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

First Geo Flash Conference, The Video

October 17th, 2016


Didn’t make it to the first ever Geo Flash Conference? No problem, we recorded it! In this video of the talks, you’ll hear the latest tips and goings on from four fantastic spatial professionals:


Elliot Hartley of Garsdale Design Limited

Katie Kowalsky of Mapzen

Stephen Smith of MapSmith

Lene Fischer of the University of Copenhagen


Please keep in mind that none of these presenters had more than a few days to put together their presentations and a couple of them had no more than a few minutes. I think it turned out really well and my only wish is that we had more time for discussion. Next time!


Geo Flash Conference Announcement!

October 14th, 2016



The Geo Flash Conference will be held TODAY:

October 14, 2016, at noon MDT

HOW TO JOIN: DM @PetersonGIS on twitter and if you are one of the first 20 to sign up I will send you a meeting link. 

WHAT: Join 20 of your fellow geospatial professionals for a 30 minute discussion including 3 or more short and informal talks.

PLATFORM: GoToMeeting. Supposedly you can now use GoToMeeting in-browser if you’re on Chrome. It used to be that you’d have to download the GoToMeeting software, and you still might, if the in-browser experience doesn’t work for you. Google Hangouts was not allowing enough people to join during my tests, so we had to go with GoToMeeting.

BE PART OF SOMETHING NEW: This is the very first time, to my knowledge that a “flash conference” has been held and for sure the very first time a “geo flash conference” has been held.

PROCEDURE: I will tweet at 11am on October 14 that a Geo Flash Conference is going to be held at noon. That allows one hour for the first 20 people to sign up. We will allow a maximum of 20 attendees but I am hoping that the fact that this is a very short-notice type of thing will keep our numbers small and conducive to conversation.

TODAY’S SPEAKERS: We’ll have Katie Kowalsky, Developer Advocate with Mapzen; Elliot Hartley, GIS Planner and Owner of Garsdale Design; and potentially two other speakers (possibly myself!).

TONE: Informal, spur-of-the-moment, geo learning opportunity. We will encourage conversations around the speaker’s topics. Attendees are not required to speak. If we have time left over we can have one or two speakers who weren’t scheduled.

MODERATOR: Gretchen will be keeping this on schedule and pertinent to geo.

LIMITATIONS: I must actually know you on twitter to join. If you aren’t on twitter and you know my email, you can use that to ask to join as well. If you don’t hear back, that means you weren’t one of the first 20.


Artists make the best maps

October 5th, 2016

When artists do cartography they get it right more often than when GIS people/developers/analysts do cartography.

We say, “but artists don’t know the cartography rules.” Then we are astounded time and again when artists create map masterpieces nonetheless.

The eye for design that artists have seems to be of utmost importance if a great map is desired. This skill CAN be learned!

To learn to be an artist, to have that designer’s eye, you must be immersing yourself in art! You must be experiencing art and practicing art. How many of us do this?

There are still many GIS people/developers/analysts who have made map masterpieces, yes. I have a hunch that those in this group who have been successful have some kind of art background, art knowledge, and/or great appreciation for art of all kinds.

City Maps Review

September 21st, 2016

The Coloring Queen recently reviewed City Maps. The blog-post style review includes nice screenshots of some of the pages and her video review flips through every single page!



Interested in other reviews of City Maps? Here are some:

A Coloring Book for the Map Obsessed, The Atlantic’s CityLab

Quiz: Can you Identify the City from the Blank Street Map?, The Guardian

Map Lovers, this New Coloring Book is Perfect, Curbed

Color Maps to Your Heart’s Content with this City Maps Coloring Book, GIS Lounge

Coloring for the GeoGeek! GIS User

GIS Bookshelf, ArcUser


We recently sent a case of City Maps books to Behind the Book. Other authors and publishers should definitely check this organization out for gifting books for a great cause.


September 14th, 2016

Yesterday’s “Ghost critique” post caused some consternation among readers who worried that I might be critiquing this or that map. Sorry about that. Perhaps a new format for that kind of crit is necessary such that I can use a bad map as a platform for learning but not call it out in any mean-spirited way. If anyone has ideas on that please let me know. In the meantime I’ll continue to at least post the good maps I find.


Not like this

Not like this


Something else that’s on my mind is a book project that I’d like to get started. I’m excited about it but what really matters is if I can get a fantastic agent to get excited about it too since this one has “big publisher” written all over it. Or it will if I/we can get started writing it (it’ll be a collaborative effort, don’t ask me to explain, we’re just trying to figure it out). You think you just want to make maps in this life and then you realize it’s about all kinds of stuff like finding a literary agent, writing blog posts, and retweeting owlish confidence boosters.



Speaking of tweets, I gathered a lot of tips via twitter today on using ArcGIS Online and passed them on in a 2 hour AGOL training session. Some favorites included

  • taking the time to plan a map before getting distracted by all the AGOL functionality
  • keeping in mind that AGOL is an interface for map services, which can be interacted with in other ways too
  • cleaning data before uploading it to AGOL
  • be purposeful about tags so you can find data more easily
  • contribute to the Living Atlas program

I decided that training should jump right into it with live demonstrations on adding data (we imported a shapefile and a csv), making a map and making an app. There were several good questions, like why you would want to make an app instead of a map (so you can add widgets).

And there was one particularly interesting part where a question was asked about the My Organization tab, and in my haste to answer it I clicked quickly on My Organization so I have no idea exactly what happened, but it basically came up with a screen telling us that there was no organization anymore. After my heart attack, I was able to get rid of this bug by logging out and logging back in again whereupon My Organization suddenly appeared again in all its statistical greatness.



Ghost Critique

September 13th, 2016

This week I saw one amazingly bad map that was being heralded as a good map in the media. It prompted the following subtweet:

I’m not going to link to the bad map that I’m talking about even though I know it would be instructive to do so because this post does not constitute a positive review of the map. However, I do think I can use it as a platform for discussing the general errors that were made. Here were the two big ones:

  • Too many things on the map. There were circles of varying size and color, isolines describing another variable, polygons with regular shading and polygons with crosshatch fills, labels, lines of varying pattern and icons.
  • It was a static map that you could zoom in and out of but one of the zoom buttons changed its icon suddenly after a couple of zooms.

When you have to put that many things on one map you also have to spend a few weeks at a minimum getting their symbology, layer order, and palette correct. I’m guessing that’s where this map went wrong.

The map’s central premise, data gathering effort, and analytical effort were all solid, which I am sure are the details that merited the media attention, but it failed in the final graphical display. The map makers should have spent more time on the cartography, much much more time. A hundred hours more time! There is no doubt in my mind that the map’s audience is significantly stifled as a result.


Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration