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Mark

Making a map, part 1

September 2019

The first of a series of articles that I’ll be posting here about how I go about creating a commissioned map.

This request came from Tim, a finisher of the 2019 edition of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB), an ultramarathon that follows a 110 mile route through France, Italy and Switzerland, with over 10,000m of elevation gain.

Before putting pen to paper, it’s always useful to create a simple mockup on the computer first, giving me a chance to play around with different compositions and ideas. I use a tool called Inkscape for this, a vector graphics Linux application. Here I setup a grid that I can work at a scale that makes sense based on the final dimensions of the illustration.



Next up, I need some lines for the route and elevation profile. A GPX or KML file of the route, exported from Strava or downloaded from the event website, gets uploaded to GPS Visualiser, a handy little site that can generate a plethora of different outputs and file types for GPS routes. SVG vector image is my choice, which I then import to Inkscape.
 


For every route I’m asked to map, I try to take a fresh approach based on the scale of the route, the surrounding landscape, and the nature of the journey. For something like the UTMB, in such a mountainous part of the world, hillshading is a technique that has worked well for me before and gives an immediate feel for the terrain and enormity of a challenge like this. A great resource for this is a website called Elastic Terrain. I can tweak the base map colours and shading for any part of the world, and grab a screenshot to use in my mockup.

Then with another graphics application called GIMP, I overlay the route line onto this screenshot and erase everything outside of it.



Then import the resulting image into Inkscape.



Something else I’ve been adding to recent commissions is a painted ink wash landscape illustration. A cracking photo that Tim took from Arête du Mont Favre seems like a fitting image to base this on.



Then a title, Tim’s stats and some key locations and peaks along his journey.



Will likely make some adjustments along the way, but that’s enough for me to make a start on the ink illustration. Check back tomorrow for the best bit ︎





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