Saturday, September 12, 2009

Maps and Edward Tufte

I seem to be off on a map-making tangent. It all started with a few pieces of old wallpaper that I pulled off the wall in my front hall. I've been trying to collage with it, but the printed pattern is flaking off and covering it with acrylic medium only makes it flake off faster. So I decided to scan the best remaining pieces and work with printed reproductions.

In the process of doing this I have learned a lot more about Photoshop. I wasted about a half a day trying to figure out how to get a dashed line (so easy in Pagemaker), learned some useful selecting and masking tricks, and finally settled on a dotted line instead. I used my new Photoshop skills to create a digital map of a fictitious state, the first in a series called States of Mind.

Eventually my favorites will be translated into traditional cut-and-paste collages. But I am enjoying making digital creations as an aid to experimenting with design. I want the maps to be somewhat surreal, mysterious and beautiful in the way that old maps are beautiful. So I have been looking for examples in my clipping files and old books.

As part of this process I have been re-acquainting myself with a wonderful book by Edward R. Tufte titled Envisioning Information. In the introduction, Tufte states: "To envision information--and what bright and splendid visions can result-- is to work at the intersection of image, word, number, art. The instruments are those of writing and typography, of. . . line and layout and color. And the standards of quality are those derived from visual principles that tell us how to put the right mark in the right place."

He later states: "Confusion and clutter are failures of design. . . And so the point is to find design strategies that reveal detail and complexity. . ."

The whole mind-set of layers reinforced by Photoshop helps in the appreciation of his next statement: "Among the most powerful devices for reducing noise and enriching the content of displays is the technique of layering and separation, visually stratifying various aspects of the data."

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