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Mapping our world 🗺️

We love a marriage of two seemingly contradictory concepts: map-making, a stereotypically data-driven, fact-based field, with art, subjective to its core. It’s easy to forget that map-making has long been a craft more than a science, and even now, this science is still at the whim of human bias.

Our artists have found ways to make the human eye a more active and obvious component of cartography. Sometimes this is as simple as the use of a human hand (and a pencil). Ancient Courses Mississippi River Meander Belt, a series of geographic illustrations, is some of our more precise renderings. Cartographer and geologist Harold Fisk, working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, drew on data collected from approximately 16,000 borings created to study the layers of soil and sediment deposits from the river's prior courses deep underground. In the jumble of loops and purls, Fisk captured the essence of this river, which has been slowly (yet resolutely) charting its own course for thousands of years.

Stamen Design, a data visualization design studio, partnered with visual artists with the goal of seeking new, fresh ways of presenting cartographic information. Decoding their images requires a slightly different eye: the organic pathways depicted are less precise and more intimate.

 Similarly, prettymaps, a project by Aaron Straup Cope with Stamen Design, are vibrant, dense, text-less images that require some exploration to get your bearings—however the geographical areas are immediately recognizable. Cope writes about these maps: “I'd like to generate map tiles that give you that same dizzy feeling you get when you look down at a city at night, from an airplane. We've spent so long fussing over the relentless details in cartography that we've sort of forgotten what things look like at a distance.” And don’t even get us started on charting the earth from amongst the stars—made possible by science, but with the most magical result.