Meeting Map Geeks

This is one of my favourite times of the year, when map geeks from around North America descend on a city and geek out (as geeks are wont to do) over maps. We look at maps and coo over them (ooh, aah, nice!), talk about making maps, and at the end of the conference compete to see who is the biggest geography nerd. It’s so much fun!

The group of map geeks is NACIS (North American Cartographic Information Society) and this year we are in Colorado Springs. It’s so inspiring to be around people who love maps and enthusiastically share their knowledge. I attend the pre-conference Practical Cartography Day, with presentations all day about different methods and tools used for making maps, and learn so many new ideas and techniques. Can’t wait to try them out!

This is my third conference. The first one I attended was in Pittsburgh, and I went because it was only a few hours to drive from my home. I wanted to reach out and meet other cartographers and looked at a few conferences and organizations, but most of them concentrated on GIS programming and interactive mapping. I like making print maps for tourists and academics, so when I saw recent NACIS conference programs and saw sessions on cartographic art, typography, relief shading, and even the history of cartography, I knew this was the group for me. After the first conference I was hooked.

It’s important to me to attend this conference to keep motivated and energized. Motivation for freelancers working from home is difficult. I find myself following blogs and twitter feeds of other cartographers, some of whom are also freelancers, to see what they are doing and read about their challenges. Many of the people I follow are members of NACIS and are presenters at the conference. I leave the conference inspired and eager to try some of the new techniques I’ve learned. It’s also great to talk to other freelancers about their process and what software they use, how they attract clients, how they manage the ups and downs of a freelance business.

One of the blogs I enjoy belongs to Daniel Huffman (somethingaboutmaps.wordpress.com) who gave a fantastic presentation yesterday on styling terrain in Photoshop with dozens of layers). His talk mentioned how much other cartographers can influence us and how this community of mappers is very open and welcoming and eager to share. Tom Patterson of the US National Park Service demonstrated the new Natural Scene Designer software (that software is on my wish list!). I had a chance to chat with him on Tuesday evening at the meet & greet and picked his brain about the different software tools he and his team use to create those beautiful national park maps. Both Tom and Daniel have created excellent tutorials on using Photoshop  to create beautiful terrain maps.

Daniel Huffman NACIS presentation - terrain in Photoshop

Daniel Huffman presenting Terrain in Photoshop

I also learned some new methods for importing OpenStreetMap layers into Illustrator and some creative workflows using InDesign and Photoshop. I’ve got to rush off now for the first session of the day. I will spent the next two days hopping from session to session, taking notes and letting the map geekiness inspire me!

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