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Aspiring cartographer / map-maker (2012)

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#1
Karl Erdinger

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Hello,
my name is Karl and this is my first posting on CartoTalk. I'm based in London, UK.

After having worked all my life in a variety of jobs (none of which were related to maps except the current one) and studied a variety of subjects at uni (languages, social anthropology), I'd like to investigate possible avenues into the jobs market of cartographer / map-maker. As I don't have a degree in geography or graphic design, and I'm not familiar with GIS, I'd like to get expert advice.

I used to collect maps (esp. of towns) and draw my own maps when I was a boy. My MA dissertation (Social Anthropology) last year discussed the mapping of informal settlements (or "slums") using open-source technology. In other words, I looked at cartography purely from a social science perspective and in the context of development.

At the moment, I'm working in a map shop in London but would like to switch into a job in which I design, edit and make maps myself (or together with others), in sum, a job in which I produce something that is of practical use -- here: maps -- while using my creative side.

My questions are: Where do you to start? What skills (incl. personal) and qualifications are required? What other advice do you have? How did some of you get professionally involved in cartography? What are the market trends in cartography? As I've indicated, I have no technical skills at all (except for Adobe Illustrator but this dates back to the early 1990s), which is something that worries me a bit!

I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Any advice or comment is highly appreciated!

Karl

#2
Dennis McClendon

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Well, presumably you're working at Stanford's in Long Acre as National Map Centre closed last October. That should tell you a great deal about the future of folded paper maps. Even Stanford's is keeping the lights on by selling travel accessories and pots of tea—not topo maps.

So I can't be terribly encouraging about the future of preprinted reference maps. Those will probably dwindle down to the Time Atlas and National Geographic. But new opportunities are arising with online mapping, and there will always be a need for well-designed thematic maps in books.

In very general terms, you need to have the basics of GIS, which means Arc in most places. If you can do a little programming, particularly Python, that will help you massaging big datasets. An eye for design and skills in Illustrator will help you to finish the map as a beautiful composition ready for printing.

The Society of Cartographers annual Summer School is coming up, at UCL in London from the 3-5 September. That will be a good place to meet and talk informally with folks who work in academia and industry in the UK, to find out what they look for when hiring.
Dennis McClendon, Chicago CartoGraphics
chicagocarto.com

#3
David Medeiros

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Dennis has it right,

Printed static maps are dinosaurs at this point. There will be pockets of continued production (thankfully) but it will be a very low growth industry.

GIS, digital cartography (or static for web or digital publication), and dynamic mapping are growing. GIS in particular, though most of that has little current intersection with real cartography IMO. However there is a growing trend towards better production standards in GIS for publication work. If you want to produce publication maps (whether for print or online), having a solid geospatial data background is helpful since most production these days starts with GIS data. They key to its use is understanding when and how to apply cartographic techniques of abstraction, symbolization, simplification etc. in order to translate that raw GIS data into something people want to look at.

Read up on cartographic technique, there are a few threads on this forum already discussing book suggestions. Learn Illustrator and Photoshop and how to manipulate PDF, EPS and AI files. Learn ArcGIS, this may be shunned by the open source community but its the industry standard right now and you won't get far with some experience in it. A GIS certificate or training course would be a good place to start.

Good luck!

GIS Reference and Instruction Specialist, Stanford Geospatial Center.

 

www.mapbliss.com

 


#4
P.Raposo

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Hi Karl,

The above two fellows are quite correct - the growth these days is certainly in digital.

GIS is a much bigger field of industry growth than is cartography. Cartography per se is usually thought of as a sub-field of GIScience (though in my own personal opinion it's ontologically the other way around!). Some knowledge of geography in general is important, as cartography is really a graphical means of describing geography.

One thing I would suggest, if you decide to work in digital cartography or GIS, is to get some (at least) basic coding knowledge, of languages like Python or Java or JavaScript (once you learn one language, others come relatively easily). I know that skill has revolutionized my own work. I think it's important because, while you don't need to know any code to do most things in ArcGIS (or even some open-source packages like QGIS), doing anything interesting with things like mashups, interactivity, or specialized online mapping really does require a programming understanding. The other crucial side of cartography, of course, is the graphic design element.

I wish you all the best!
Paulo

#5
Karl Erdinger

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Thank you Dennis, David and Paulo for your insightful comments! Yes, the printed map has indeed already become a slow- or, should I say, no-growth item.

I'll investigate your suggestions and browse CartoTalk for recommendations.

Many thanks,
Karl




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