I’ve always geeked out over maps.
I love them. On family vacations in the ’80s—armed with a yellow highlighter—I’d volunteer to navigate just so I could commandeer the AAA TripTik highway maps. I thumb-tacked a local Exxon street map to my bedroom wall in high school and have encouraged my own kids to do the same to learn their local highways and byways.
Earlier, when I was a really little kid, my favorite Six Flags Over Texas souvenir was the hand-drawn cartoon map, and much later in the mid-1990s I got to illustrate the second edition cartoon map for the Fiesta Texas theme park in San Antonio. Maps figure heavily in my personal artwork and I draw imaginary maps from time to time as well.
So in 2013, when Gate Davis approached me about creating a redesigned hiking map for what is now The H. E. Butt Family Foundation, I jumped at the chance. And now, in 2016, I have been tasked with updating it, and the work is bringing me great joy as well.
What follows is a glimpse into the creative process. I’ll talk about the original map-making along with the new additions in order to give you an overview.
First, I collected reference maps, including Google Earth maps, United States Department of the Interior Geographic Survey (USGS) topographic maps, and as many previous foundation maps of the Canyon as I could lay my hands upon.
This 2016 Google satellite image is very similar to the 2013 Google Earth image inspected (©2016 Google):
This is a detail of the 1964 topo map—perhaps the most helpful of all the reference maps (©1927—1964 U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Dept. of Interior):
I love all of the old marginalia in the 1964 USGS topo map:
Previous hiking and driving maps of the Canyon.
After reviewing details from the 1:24,000 scale topo maps from 1964, 2010, and 2013—as well as 1:100,000 scale maps from 1985, and 1: 250,000 scale maps from 1954—I made a few watercolor underpaintings for the map, to approximate both the topography and vegetation in the Canyon.
In the end, I created four different watercolors, scanned all four, and layered them on top of each other in Adobe Photoshop to create the final underpainting:
Here’s a tighter detail:
Adding in Map Details
Next, the painstaking process of aligning all the reference materials in Adobe Photoshop: the topo maps, the satellite imagery, the old foundation maps’ labels, and the 4-layer watercolor base. The resultant layered digital file was in excess of 1GB. Here’s a detail with several of those reference layers aligned:
Next, the trails and roads were drawn using vector lines in Adobe Illustrator, and imported as editable Smart Objects. This extra step keeps these lines editable, fluid, and scalable to larger sizes:
In 2013, we opted for a hand-written look, so we used Neutraface Drafting Capitals for the map lettering:
(Compare with the 2016 “on-brand” typefaces used below.)
We had numerous requests when the map came up for edit this month. In addition to brand-compliant typefaces, we’re varying the hierarchy of the lettering, differentiating ranch roads from single-track trails, and adding emergency MedEvac helicopter landing zones with GPS coordinates for each major campsite:
The map design is still in progress (you can see in this first draft that the new mountain bike loop is roughed in while we await confirmation of their exact location), but the image below gives you an idea of how this project is progressing so far: