Raven Maps

I’ve spoken before of my love of Raven Maps.  Shoutout to Professor McHugh for putting me onto them.

Recently I had some correspondence with them.  With their permission I share it with you.

Name: Steve Hely
Their Questions or Comments: Hi! Big fan of your maps, have bought several. I was interested in learning some cartography basics so I can make a topo map of a small (five square miles) area of the world I inhabit and love. Do you have or know of any resources for learning these skills! Thanks!

(That’s what I wrote, on their form).

Raven Maps replies:

Steve Hely,

Well, that’s a good question. The old techniques have long-since been reduced to algorithms and interred in software. All maps are now produced digitally, but I assume you want to just enjoy learning your area in the way that mapping it allows? You don’t need to become a GIS / Cartography tech for that.
My suggestion: get the printed USGS 1:24,000 scale 1:7.5′ map of your area (perversely, an area you are interested in often turns out to be at the edge of two, or at the corners of two or three, in that case get all the sheets you need), or print them out from an on-line digital source); get tracing paper (or polyester drafting film), and start tracing the features you are particularly interested in– and just keep at it. Many iterations, probably many dozens. That’s OK, tracing paper is cheap. Colored pencils cost more but you won’t need all that many. Remember that every completed map has a great many more layers and classes of features than you probably care about, and probably does not show the ones you DO care about– and that’s where the fun starts, as you figure out what to leave off, how heavy / what color the lines are, how to identify the features you care about, and so on.
For an area of 5 miles on a side, differences in projection (among various source maps, which you will probably start consulting) will be only a very minor problem, you can probably ignore. Scale differences can be corrected at your local FedEx copy shop.
And always, keep on hand some sample map you especially like, so that you can see how that map handled the particular issue you are wondering how to solve. (There’s a reason you see aspiring painters closely studying the classics in museums– first, learn how THEY did it.)
Hope this helps,
Stuart Allan
Raven Maps
What a beautiful, civilized response.
A letter like that could inspire a lifetime passion for cartography.

I mean the USGS website is sick. What a beautiful thing we the taxpayers have made.


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