Map as Art

Caitlin Dempsey


There are many amazing examples of artists who turn to cartography and geography for inspiration. Whether through the lens of a camera, paint, or sculpture, these artists have turned to creative ways to express themselves through maps.

World Map as Seen Through a Drop of Water

Markus Reugels is a German photographer who specializes in capturing the art of water droplets.  The resulting images are so fantastic one might think that Photoshop or some other image manipulation software had a hand in creating them.  The home page of Reugels’ site notes that the images are not manipulated and only noise around the droplet such as small droplets are removed.  Instead, Reugels photos are achieved through weeks and up to 500 shots to achieve the one or two images that meet his standards.

Reugels bio on his site explains that he started photography after the birth of his son and soon developed a preference for macro photography.  In an interview with Daily News, he further explained that he was inspired to work with water art after seeing a German photography site that display water droplet pictures.

Parallel Worlds by Markus Reugels, 2012
Parallel Worlds by Markus Reugels, 2012

Reugels has photographed water droplet patterns in a variety of settings.  From a geonerd perspective, his photography of world maps is particularly fascinating.   The process takes 2D maps and recreates them as globes.

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Reugels has created his own setup for capturing the images, “My pictures of the water drops are all taken with my self made setup rig – all handmade out of wood. I fix all my valves and flashes to the contraption, and can put the image I want to project behind the dripping water.

Markus Reugels' set up for capturing his water photography.
Markus Reugels' set up for capturing his water photography.
Via @TinaCary

Hand Cut Map Art

Artist Karen O’Leary creates hand cut maps of various cities.  The pieces of each city are show the intricate road network on heavy white bond paper.  All other areas are cut away, leaving only the web of transportation routes.  The Charlotte, North Carolina-based artist has been experimenting with stripping down city maps on with other techniques.    She also creates graphic interpretations of cities with vertical strokes of her pen filling in all but the street networks.  In an interview on The JailBreak, O’Leary explains her motivation for her map art:

I love the idea of a completely familiar object made new and even more beautiful.  I was tired of seeing the Manhattan subway map and decided to create a new image.  I’m not really creating a map, it’s more of a graphic image borrowed from a map.

O’Leary sells her map art through Etsy on her Studio KMO page.  All of the artwork can be seen on O’Leary’s Flickr page.

Map cut of Baltimore by Karen O'Leary
Map cut of Baltimore by Karen O'Leary.

Google Maps as Muse

Bill Guffey, an artist based in Burkesville, Kentucky, has spent many hours painting street scenes of cities from around the world.  While he has cast his artistic eye over many street scenes, he hasn’t been to 99% of the places that he has painted.  Guffey has found a muse in Google Maps, which he uses to find interesting locales to paint.

“I live in a very rural area,” Guffey, a graphic artist for the Cumberland County News, told ABC News. “Here, I can go out and I can paint cows all day, barns all day … With Street View, I can find things I normally wouldn’t see here.”

Each month, Guffey also hosts a virtual paintout on his blog, The Virtual Paintout .  A city is chosen each month and other painters submit their sketches, drawings and paintings for display.

Watercolor of  Castillo de Torre Baro, Barcelona, Spain by Al Woodford.
Watercolor of a Google Street View image of Castillo de Torre Baro, Barcelona, Spain by Al Woodford.

City Centers, Google Maps Style

Where is the center of a city?  One might say, “where Google Maps” says it is.  German artist Aram Bartholl has been temporarily placing six meter tall wooden sculptures around cities marking the location Google Maps declares is that city’s center.

The intent?  Bartholl explains, “Transferred to physical space the map marker questions the relation of the digital information space to every day life public city space. The perception of the city is increasingly influenced by geolocation services.”  Between 2006 and 2010, the installation, called “Map” has traveled to cities such as Taipei, Berlin, and Szczecin.

In an interview with Rhizome, Bartholl elaborated:

The Google map marker piece should make people think about tech-society-privacy relations. ‘Map’ in a way symbolizes the massive position of Google’s gate to local filtered information and its influence on our perception of the city.

Visit: Aram Bartholl – “Map” Installation

Making and erecting the Map installation in Taipai.  Source: Aram Bartholl.
Making and erecting the Map installation in Taipai. Source: Aram Bartholl.
Map installation in Taipai.  Source: Aram Bartholl.
Map installation in Taipai. Source: Aram Bartholl.
Map Installation in Szczecin, Poland 2009.  Source: Aram Bartholl.
Map Installation in Szczecin, Poland 2009. Source: Aram Bartholl.

Butterfly Art from Maps

Samantha Baldwin from explains how to repurpose your old maps to making interesting butterfly wall art.  Her inspiration comes from which makes butterfly wall art from laser-cut vintage maps.

Butterfly Maps.
Butterfly Maps.

Earth as Art

Happy Earth Day!

The USGS and NASA jointly maintain the “Earth as Art” website which brings to the public stunning images of the Earth taken by the Landsat-7 satellite and the Terra Satellite’s Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER). The site was originally created in 2002 by the USGS National Center for EROS in order to publicize the Landsat program. The images on the web site were selected for aesthetic purposes rather than for the scientific value that they offerr.

Visitors can browse the images by continent or alphabetically to access high resolution JPEGs.

Image of the Shetland Islands
Image of the Shetland Islands

Big Iron Map Project

Artist Alisa Toninato is creating a sculpture project made of cast iron skillets shaped in each of the fifty shapes.  Toninato has 28 states left to create in order to submit this work as an entry in ArtPrize this September in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The finished piece will measure 10′ x 7′.

Toninato needs support to pay for the costs of finishing the piece which includes the purchase of two tons of foundry sand, 400 lbs of iron metal, and $1,000 in foundry expenses.  Contributors to this project will receive tokens of appreciation ranging from signed postcards of the finished piece for as little as a $1 donation to a state shaped skillet of the donors choice for the top tier donation of $500 or more.

Visit the Made in American Kickstarter page to make your donation. Watch the video at the end of this post for more information about the project and the artist.  (Via reader Molly S.)

Made in America by Alisa Toninato (progress shot). Media: cast iron, birch plywood, Poplar wood frame.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.