Designing landscape maps for CONVIVA, part 2 – Map-making

How do you go about designing landscape maps for the CONVIVA project’s diverse research locations? Anne Leroy, Master’s student in landscape studies, shares part 2 of her memorable adventure focusing on the map-making process (see part 1 introducing her work and fieldwork in Finland here).

Map-making process for the Finnish illustration

“Fieldwork made me understand by experience that an area is much more than a spatial representation, and I wanted to ensure that users looking at the map would feel the same excitement, curiosity and amazement I felt in Lieksa. It means adding colourful details, but also choosing an angle, a scale, and topics to unpack. What I like is that the maps have a potential for different uses. They are meant to give any outsider a sense of the place, as well as serving as a medium for discussion during research.

Lieksa, Finland

Here is the map designed for the region of Lieksa, Finland. The forest is of course a key feature, as well as the hydrological network, and the landscape types they create host various protected areas. The angle I chose, on a West-East axis, emphasizes Pielinen Lake, which I identified as a major landmark. Between the lake and the border, the population is spread like in any typical Finnish rural area.

Nice to read you’ll say, but what about the exact design process?

Map-making process for CONVIVA in Tanzania, Brazil and California

Each research location of the CONVIVA Project is illustrated by a map. While I had the chance to visit Finland myself, I had to find other ways to travel mentally to Tanzania, Brazil and California. Support by Wilhelm Kiwango, Laila Sandroni and Alex McInturff for each country respectively was of great help.

Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

It starts with some background research. The two main categories of data are the physical aspects of the landscape and the local meanings associated with it. Apart from libraries, a huge amount is accessible via the Internet.

Official cartography websites for the physical part: hydrological network, population repartition, geology, etc. And for the more subjective part: pictures, videos, stories, news and other media of expression. Photographs help to travel mentally too.

Parque Estadual Carlos Botelho, Brazil

Thanks to the support of each local team, we narrowed down the areas of interest, the focus of the illustrations, not to forget their own impressions and points of view. Four to five key themes were chosen to describe each location more precisely.

  • The main vegetation type, e.g. Tanzania’s miombo woodlands,
  • The local population’s livelihoods and regional economy, e.g. Finnish bioeconomy based on forest products,
  • The connectivity and infrastructures, e.g. Carlos Botelho’s parkway in Brazil,
  • Ecological and political influence of the key predators, e.g. the famous California grizzly bear, and
  • The local and global implications of official agendas on socio-environmental justice, e.g. the California water wars.

We reviewed back and forth several drafts. From my own background research, I would narrow my questions to what I understood was possible to represent, and my colleagues demonstrated trust and patience in working with me towards maps for each research location.

From the drafts, I painted the maps by hand to give it an aerial-like look and later added details digitally.

Sierra Nevada, California, USA

They all have different scales. The Ruaha-Rungwa landscape region in Tanzania is so big compared to the remnants of Atlantic forest in Brazil! The choice of the scale is determined by the limits of the fieldwork area, but also the need to contextualise it in the bigger picture. That is why Carlos Botelho State Park map, for example, is not limited to the park, but also includes the communities living around.

From a flat map to the map in perspective thanks to a grid

The trick to give it a twisted aspect is to use a perspective grid. It allows the observer to focus on the zone of interest of the area, placed in the foreground of the illustration. We chose natural entities like the Great Ruaha River and its communities in the famous park, or the Owens Valley on the eastern fringe of the Sierra Nevada in California, as well as political focuses like the southern boundary of Carlos Botelho State Park. Although it looks disproportionate, I could also fit a greater area on the paper than would have been possible with a flat map.

The photo-editing and desktop publishing softwares are great tools to add details like a texture or shadows and get a clearer result. Another benefit of going digital is that it allows you to work with layers of information: one for rivers, another one for the cities’ and villages’ names, or another representing the administrative boundaries. Enabling or hiding them before printing allows a vast number of combinations and more versatility.

Therefore, these maps are not meant to be used as a precise tool to measure and locate objects. At the end of the day, they are essentially artist’s impressions of undoubtedly a more complex and rich area.

Enjoy exploring them!”

You can contact Anne Leroy at aleroy<dot>paysage<at>gmail<dot>com. Please read part one of her blog on fieldwork in Lieksa, Finland, here.