My journey from Markov to Canvas2D. From “Joy Division” to generative solar systems.

Folks that follow me for cool map things have probably been disappointed for the past few weeks. I used my vacation downtime (aka when the kids are sleeping) to fiddle with javascript-based generative art, and I tweeted about it incessantly.

For cartography, I love the intersection of data, software, and art. I’ve had occasional cause to dabble with code+cartography, but it has never quite been enough.

For generative art, it’s all code+art. It’s a great mix for me, and I’m always thrilled to be coding.

I’ve been excited by generative art for the past few years inspired by folks like…

Delight instead of Dollars

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

As a spatial professional of nearly 10 years, I’m keenly aware of the pay delta between Spatial and other similar fields like development or design. Every time I read a thinkpiece or snarky tweet about it, I sigh and look at my pay stub wistfully, imagining what could be.

But shortly thereafter, I move on. I don’t ever wallow in self-pity or pitch my boss for more money. I get back to work and don’t pay (heh) it much mind.

That’s an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance, isn’t it? On the one hand, having data to suggest that adding “Spatial”…

My personal best practices for better map design

For the Vermont Center for Geographic Information “GeoEnlightenment” series, I was asked to share my personal cartography tips and tricks. To highlight my approach to designing maps, I decided to take the audience through a bad-to-better evolution of a new map.

In this post, we’ll focus on making a useful election results map for Vermont. I’ll post direct links to data sources as I go through the process.


  1. These are my best practices, not necessarily the only best practices.
  2. I used ArcGIS Pro and Excel, but the design tips are software agnostic.
  3. I did not conclude with the best…

Cartography from 2058

I was casting about for map design idea one night, and my wife had a good suggestion.

You’re always replicating old maps. Why not make the map from the future?

Never one to turn down a challenge, I set my imagination into motion to try to picture what a map might look like 50 years in the future.

One obvious direction would be to look to movies, video games, and television for inspiration.

These examples are pretty cool looking, but that’s not the vision I had for the future.

I think future digital displays will be more mundane.

If fancy…

An Original Map by Cafe Imports

A few months ago, my buddy Ian (who roasts amazing coffee) tweeted a link to a global specialty coffee map created by Cafe Imports.

This map caught my attention for several reasons. First, it aces the “squinty eye test”, which is the rapid heuristic I use to judge a map’s appearance in a few seconds.

I was browsing Pinterest for map inspiration (Pinspiration?) and got the idea to do a worldwide map layout showing the four hemispheres.

I hopped into Mike Bostock’s bl.ocks and found an example of the d3.orthographic projection.

I forked the gist and started tweaking the translation settings to get snapshots of the four hemispheres. Using this Projection Explorer was a big help there.

While I was tweaking the code in Atom, I used atom-live-server to watch the changes render live in Firefox. When I was satisfied with the settings, I took a screenshot.

I took those screenshots into Affinity Designer and nested them into some circles. Then I moved the circles around to create a really quick layout to see what it would look like.

And that’s how I explore a map idea on my lunch break.

I love the freedom of expression that comes from eschewing the typical data-driven approach to cartography, and mixing in additional disciplines like illustration, abstract art, or architectural design to a map.

Below are a few fun finds from across the internet, stumbled upon via Pinterest.


I’m good at maps

A client asked me for a line on a map, so I made it for them.

It’s the Arctic circle at an oblique angle in an orthographic projection.

I can also do it nadir.

My attempt to summarize the proceedings, plus my own thoughts, questions, and musings.

Warning — No Lifeguard on Duty

A lovely place to craft carto-thoughts

It’s frightening to say things on the internet. We all have thoughts, opinions, and viewpoints, and we love talking about them. But when we do, we run the risk of running afoul of someone else’s thoughts, opinions, and viewpoints. When that happens, there’s no lifeguard on duty to save you.

I was reminded of this when I was having some technical issue or another a few weeks ago. I turned to my friends and colleagues in The Spatial Community for help.

Stephen R. Smith

⚡Striking⚡ Cartography

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