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Mapping the GIS Adventure: Finally, Illustrator – I’ve Entered Fantasy Land

So, my time in undergraduate consisted of two GIS classes and a thematic cartography class. I consider only my final project map from the thematic cartography course as worthy of showing to the internet, so I will post that later on. However, currently in my first semester of coursework in my graduate program, I chose to take another course on cartography, particularly because the course is focused specifically on teaching us Illustrator, which I have only learned how to use on my own time. What I’ve also enjoyed is that the maps are only assigned by “type” but I decide the data to use, which has been really fun and helpful.

But first, we were assigned the topic of “fantasy” and provided with fake data, on the two countries of Hopescape and Amberville. These were the basic requirements for the map:

  1. Use color
  2. Have a fantastical feel to it
  3. Use three different point symbols, three different line symbols, and three different area symbols
  4. Fit the standards set out by National Geographic
  5. Be a full page

So, I’ll admit right off, I believe I have a much less fantastical feel to my map than most fantasy maps, and that’s because I just couldn’t bring myself to use a font that was Serif and over the top. Ah well. But I definitely loved using color in this case, especially since I was armed with the wonderful colorbrewer.com – I highly recommend it whenever working on map color. This was especially important, given all the color I had going on. As for the three different symbols for points, lines, and areas, a table:

Area 1: Biomes
Area 2: Lakes
Area 3: Background Countries
Point 1: Country Capitals
Point 2: State Capitals
Point 3: Border Checkpoint
Line 1: Political borders between states and countries
Line 2: Rivers
Line 3: Roads

I had a lot of fun with the rivers particularly, primarily because I was using the pencil tool and dragging it around in Illustrator really made for interesting results. For example, the double river in the top right corner? Pure accident. But I kept it, because it looked pretty cool. There are other elements of this map that I had to hand-draw, such as the mountains and sand dunes, and of course, the “Amber Waves.” My professor is actively trying to get us to work in Illustrator and in this case, added incentive by expecting us to add “fantastical” details to the landscape. Hence, things like the “Pit of Despair”, my “Dusty Hope Dunes” and other things. I wanted to add some kind of creature to the pit but I honestly don’t quite yet have the Illustrator chops. The fun of this map was not really caring about accuracy, as in, if I wanted a lake to exist, but I didn’t want to have to worry about it’s name fitting inside of it, all I had to do was expand the lake. This map was just what I made of it, and I tried to really enjoy the artistic side of cartography that such a freedom warranted me.

As for skills I learned/honed on this map, they were primarily in Illustrator – I learned how to create the drop shadow (shout out to geographer Rachel Passer at “GIS & Mapping Tidbits” who helped me figure that out). I also learned how to create a dashed line, the true value of organizing your elements through Illustrator’s own “Layers” catalog, the proper use of their pen and pencil tools, and how to create a gradient. The best part is that while these are pretty basic, the fact that I learned them gives me hope, and should give anyone else hope – it isn’t that hard. I’ve assembled some basic reasons and suggestions to help you see the value of learning the aforementioned skills too (unless of course, you already have).

  • Drop shadow – it’s great because it looks cool, and it draws the eye to the focus of your map. As for completing the task, I followed the tip of a classmate – “select the layer/object you want, go to the “effects” menu at the top, go to “stylize”, and then choose drop shadow” but still had problems with getting the drop shadow to go around the entire polygon, which Rachel noted was because I wasn’t using a polygon that had a fill, just an outline. Change that, and your problems will likely disappear!
  • Dashed lines are fairly easy, but add such detail to your map. Draw your line, check out the “Stroke” tab, check that Dashed Line tab and mess around with the dash and gap spaces to created the desired effect.
  • As noted by a helpful Illustrator tutorial I took, the pen tool is great for straight lines, the pencil for not so straight lines. Mix and match as necessary.
  • Okay, it’s not that I didn’t know how to create a gradient, it’s that I didn’t know how to add colors to it. Using the most updated Illustrator gradient tool, double-click your sliders on the Illustrator tool and select your colors for either end. Have fun!

As for the final map:


Let me know what you think!