karla_sanders_national_park_map

Why I Create Artsy Maps

[drop_cap] As a little girl I ate my cereal on top of a laminated National Geographic world map. This placemat was an introduction to cartography, and whenever milk or cheerios spilled I felt privileged to name the new geographic formation. I dreamed of these lands. Maybe that’s why I eventually started my career as a cartographer, always drawn to the storytelling potential of maps. We can make a change with stories, and this thought led me to discovering my passion for illustrating national park maps.[/drop_cap]

From painting, to stream sampling, to mapping.

Detail of the last painting I created before focusing on map and design, 2009
Detail of the last painting I created before focusing on map and design, my parents in Red River Gorge, 2010

Although my journey began as a painter, I never lost an admiration for maps, so much so that I studied cartography in college. A whole new world opened up through a geography degree, introducing me to concepts of place-based storytelling and writers like Aldo Leopold, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and of course, John Muir. After four years in this stimulating environment, I sought out a way to close the books and get my boots muddy.

Exploring Leading Creek as part of monitoring efforts in 2009
Sampling in Leading Creek Watershed, 2009

In 2009 I was an AmeriCorps volunteer in a southern Ohio watershed where I worked with residents and learned about their experiences with a landscape recovering from coal mines. There, I encountered people who loved their land and worked to revive it. Their efforts paid off. It was a valuable year of collecting stream samples, talking with residents about their history, and teaching kids how to pull critters out of creeks.

Energized by this experience, I went on to earn a Master of Science in Environmental Studies degree by creating a detailed map of Raccoon Creek in Ohio. I partnered with a nonprofit watershed group that established a water trail along the 122-mile river, allowing people to discover the waterway through recreation. This project of creating maps to encourage interaction with our natural world turned my attention to developing this craft.

raccon_creek_watershed_map2
Detail from the Raccoon Creek Watershed map, 2011 / 2012
karla_sanders_andres_quintero_national_park_quest
One of the first maps Andres and I illustrated, celebrating the year we got engaged.

Back to Art

Carrying the dreams of an artist, my way forward was not the technical map. After seven years in southeast Ohio, wanderlust took me to Italy for a Master’s graphic design program. There I met Andres and we began to explore the countryside while making illustrated travel maps together. Our passion for the outdoors and maps turned into a vocation centered on the National Parks idea. We wanted to create artistic maps that commemorate places where folks connect with the land, with places like the national parks.

This came about while living near Cuyahoga Valley National Park for two years, where we frequented its humble forests and fell in love with the work of the park service.

“The park service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”

A Passion for the Parks Idea

Thanks to the park service and its mission, everyone can foster a connection with the non-human world. This society really needs that for our sanity and health of the future.

You see, people fall in love with forests and mountains. We are drawn to the peace and spirituality provided by this Earth. National parks are a gift shared by all people and wildlife, providing the space for us to develop a sense of place in the world. I learned as an AmeriCorps volunteer and Raccoon Creek cartographer that if you offer the opportunity for positive interaction with a place, many people become protective of that place.

great_smoky_mountains_map_1024x1024

Illustrated Park Maps to Inspire

Could I spend my time sampling in a watershed or at a design job? Sure, but that’s not what makes me come truly alive. My passion is with the land, with the places I can visit thanks to the park service, and with designing artistic maps and prints that hopefully make you go “Wow, I really want to go there too!” And who knows what might come out of your visit. Maybe a little spark of something that will lead to a positive change.

Every little handcrafted mark and each illustration tells a story about habitats worth protecting. Together with Andres, we are embarking to not only tell these stories through maps, but to discover what motivates other artists as well.

59_national_parks_map_details_why_i_make_artsy_maps

I’m dreamy as a result of fairytales my mother read to me. Growing up hiking in the ancient forests of Germany and misty mountains of the Smokies made me dreamy too. And that’s why the realist in me makes maps, because I see value in documenting these places, our natural heritage, but doing so in a nostalgic way that satisfies my dreamy side, and perhaps yours as well.

We hope to inspire you, to find your passion, and maybe your park too.

2 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *