Wednesday 11 July 2012

Hand-drawn orienteering maps

I've had this thing about using black and white maps (hand drawn or digitally drawn) for the school environment, especially where detail is missing and students can get into mapping by drawing in the detail themselves. I've also had a leaning towards people learning to map by producing hand-drawn maps and then later digitising them. Hand drawn is certainly much faster than digital where the hours disappear faster than a pint of Guinness in an Irish pub...

I've been 'trying' to map my local park for years. I first gave it a shot about five years ago and then got distracted and never completed the map. The thing is that it is sooooo easy to get bogged down in detail.

In Ireland I met a chap (Ted Lucey) when I spotted an orienteering control. An older guy, he's an experienced mapper, retired draughtsman and the event he held that evening was on a hand-drawn map. As he said to me, it took him an hour to make the hand-drawn map and it would have taken a day on computer. I was immediately smitten by his map. This is it...

I'm using myself as a guinea pig to develop a basic map-making workshop and format - to get more orienteers mapping. It is far more daunting to great a 'perfect' orienteering map on OCAD than it is to produce a hand-drawn sketch. Maps are, afterall, representative - not photographic.

I've just finished my map. The hardest part has been to try to get away from wanting to achieve perfection. It is really difficult to do this! So, while I know that my map is not perfect, a beginner orienteer wouldn't even notice and an experienced orienteer will have enough savy to navigate successfully using the features that I have indicated based on what I think is significant in the terrain. And that's what counts.

Wanna see my map?

A few things I've learned:

  • In striving for accuracy I've been bogged down with carbon paper, tracing paper etc. I need to let go a little more and go more freehand.
  • Carbon paper can be rubbed out - mostly - if there is no colour over it. I can see some of my carbon paper tracings on to the paper and it is niggling me.
  • Why didn't I use two or three layers of my tracing paper in my initial survey? I knew this but I forgot it... So, I ended up with too much detail on my original trace and in-the-field survey. Anyhoo...
  • The right felt-tipped pens and fineliners are key. I need a better green fineliner for my next attempt at this map.
  • It works well to create the outline of the park area and to put in other man-made detail (black) like paths and man-made features first. Then scan and then print and then colour-in. You can't use felt-tipped pents over the fineliner because it smudges the fineliner and taints the felt-tipped pens. But, you can colour-in over laser printed outlines. 
  • After the black man-made features are done and printed out then it is time for colour. Nice thing with this is that if you make a mistake you just print another and try again, without losing the general layout.
  • Runnability of the terrain has to go in first because of needing to put fineliner for detail (trees, ditches etc) on top of the felt-tipped pen and not the other way around. Took me days to get the guts to put pen to paper - literally - because once that ink is on the page there's no taking it off, unlike on computer where you can adjust endlessly.
  • Systematically adding layers in these hand-drawn maps is a great lesson for methodology of layering for drawing digital maps. Yes, the layer structure is pre-programmed (river goes on top of open ground) but should hopefully create better clarity when creating shapes of terrain - neater if someone else edits the map later.
  • Trees, trees, trees. This park has lots of trees and it is really tough, especially in winter, to decide on which ones are sufficiently significant, which are more scattered and which would be classified as forest (connecting canopies and runnable underneath). There are not a lot of features in this park so trees become features to use for placing controls. The key is consistency - if I map something as forest I have to map everything similar as forest. Mapping every tree in this little park is possible but it would be information overload, especially to a novice orienteer. The other thing I've considered is where I would place controls and thus these features need to be easily distinguishable. I think I may have too much detail in places... I need to take this map with me to the park and to look at it with fresh eyes.
  • It probably took me five hours in total, including walking in the park and excluding thinking about what and how, to make this map. Faster than it would have been on computer.
  • If I want to digitise it would be fairly simple to scan in this map and use it as a base map. Features, vegetation etc are all in already.
I'm going to try this map again - maybe over the weekend - as I've got some adjustments that I want to make but I'm fairly happy with this first attempt.

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