Why do I make maps?

I love beautiful maps. I love useful maps. Some maps are both. Maps have always caught my eye but I never thought of making them until I was laid off from an IT job at a large company and realized I didn’t want to do that kind of work anymore – I wanted to do something creative.

So I went back to school to get a post-graduate GIS Specialist Certificate. The program had two streams: programming and graphic design. We could tell after the first term if we had picked the right stream by what kind of work we enjoyed.

I can spend hours playing with anchor points and adjusting labels and deciding on fonts and colours, so I knew the cartography stream was for me. I wasn’t too interested in the programming aspect so by mid-program I knew I wanted to “make pretty maps”. I had fallen in love with cartography.

There is nothing quite so satisfying as starting off with a blank artboard, some unstyled data layers, and working away at it until it becomes a finished map. For my own portfolio projects I often lose track of time and don’t remember to take a break until everything looks blurry from staring at the computer so long.

This is my third career, after archaeology and IT. I don’t miss working in a large IT department, but I do sometimes miss being an archaeologist. I satisfy that interest by visiting museums and archaeological sites when travelling.

During a trip to Paris in 2016 I practically had my face pressed up to the window of a shop selling old maps. Unfortunately I had to stay outside the store because I only travel with carry-on luggage and the maps wouldn’t fit. I had to make do with a photo of the store window. Perhaps one day I’ll go back to that store and indulge my curiosity.

old maps in a Paris shop window

Note: A version of this post was originally published in October 2016 on my old website.

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