I love Obi Kaufmann’s atlas, The California Field Atlas. The cover text caught my eye while I was in the Stanford Book Store on Friday. The font seems to be similar to IM Fell, recreated digitally by Igino Marini.
I tried to recreate it so that I’d better understand it. It’s like a transitional serif. The leg of the R curves. The right spur of the A is truncated. The S seems rotated a few degrees. The serifs of the T’s go straight down rather than angle out. So, this may just be some other font that kind of looks like IM Fell. Or maybe it is a personalized variant of IM Fell English. I don’t know.
Looking at this font just made me happy. I really like it.
The Atlas of Pennsylvania has more formal type on the cover. It seems like a Garamond, but the eye of the “e” is too large to be a variant of Adobe Garamond.
It is very difficult for me to figure out which fonts are being used on either of these atlases. The type on the PA atlas is compelling too.
Kaufmann’s book is about 500 pages and is 5.5″x7.5″ in size. It’s cover conveys intimacy of a personal narrative, including illustrations and hand crafted icons. The maps are done in watercolor, and maybe some photoshop, since the icons tend to be identical from page to page. None of the maps are larger than a page, although some watercolor illustrations cover two pages. The book is very thick and has a soft, durable cover.
The Pennsylvania Atlas, by David Cuff and others, is heavy. At 14″x16″, it has several two page maps. I feel like the type on the cover, with it’s contrast and size and almost formal font, states “Authority.” As does the weight. But this book is not so accessible away from a huge table. You’re not going to carry it around.
I admire both books, but 20 years from now, I think I would feel compelled to pick up the smaller book and only reluctantly open the big heavy book. They were written in a different age. One is early an example of early digital mapping and laborious data collection. The research is largely institutional. The other is made through time spent outside trying to understand place combined with incredible access to information via the web.
Either way, there’s a culling and portrayal of information. Kaufmann’s authority is that of “I’ve been there and observed.” Cuff’s authority is more like, “I’ve researched and have concepts to convey.”
Maybe it’s not really fair to compare the two books. Cuff’s book deals a lot more with people and the temporal environment. Kaufmann’s deals with millenia and a personal engagement. And when it comes down to it, I would like to sit by the fireplace and read it page after page.
After about page 325, Kaufmann’s book focuses on counties. I just skipped to counties I know – Sonoma, Stanislaus, and looked at some other counties. There’s a consistent structure, where you can learn something special about nature as it relates to each county. If you gravitate towards natural beauty, these county maps point you in a direction. Really, I feel like it is calling people to speak about the nature of their area.
I have thought about making an atlas of Pennsylvania. And talking with Jim Meacham at the University of Oregon, it seems that doing a themed atlas can be a lot more manageable. I was reading through the atlas of Migration in Wyoming that he worked on. And more and more, I want a book that I can read as a series of short stories.
Right now, I am focused on the tech side of things, using Mapbox GL to help people navigate the Genesee Valley Greenway. Below is just a rough export from QGIS.
But I’m playing with a single map, thinking about relationships that are more along the lines of David Cuff but wanting to convey places more along the lines of Kaufmann. For example, I’m looking at environmental advisory committees relative to pipelines. This is all in GIS at the moment.
EAC’s – Source: conservationtools.org
Gas facilities – wikimapping.com/gas.html
If I were to make an atlas, it could not be like either of the two atlases I looked at this morning. I would be more likely start by making a few postcards or posters than a giant book. So what is the value of thinking about the typography on these atlases? We each have our own font, our own voice, our own questions to ask, and an audience we want to connect with. Even though people are reading maps less these days, much of the value is in creating the map or atlas in the first place.
But it would be interesting to see the GIS maps illustrated in digital watercolor even if I’d do it in Photoshop.