Map Mosaic | Mosaic Map

My mosaic work is about nature —water— with some obvious maps. Whether it is the Fuller Map, the John Muir Woods Map, or the Ansel Adams Wilderness Topographical Map, mermaids reading books, houses, maps and water run through my work.

After discussing the idea of participating in this collaboration with one of my muses, I write and ponder my work.

How did you decide to map what you did for Water: An Atlas? 

Specifically, this piece was created as part of a larger work in which most of the artists were young students in school learning to do mosaic. Schools around the world tend to teach young students with a map that places north to the top, and the country the school is from in the center of the world. The Fuller Map puts the land mass of the Earth in the center, surrounded by water. North and south are only subtly referenced with longitudinal lines, and the concept of North being up or down becomes nonsensical. 

It occurred to me that this map was a good lesson for the students, people of the city, and visitors from everywhere who might walk by it. I realized in making the map that my personal work was at times north-centric; I live in North America. I further decided to make the land mass white, emphasizing the unity of all the earth, but make the water colored according to the temperature map at the time the original version was created. With global climate change, this was already incorrect by the time the mosaic was made. When the invitation from Guerrilla Cartography came, transforming this physical mosaic map into an electronic map for the book came quickly to mind.

What was your mapmaking process for this map? 

The process for making the original mosaic was to transfer the original map as a sketch onto sheets of cement backer board, then creating a mosaic in the traditional, direct method using found, used, donated tiles and snapping them to exactly fit accounting for grout lines. 

The creation of the electronic map involved taking many pictures and using software to subtract surrounding art, which is not the map.

Generally, I roll many ideas or concepts in my head, and then into words, and then out loud so the folks that inspire my work can give me their thoughts and ideas. And then I look for the strands that carry me to my concept. This process lead to the map.

For me this is a wonderful part of making my art, whether I am collaborating (I’m always collaborating) with David Kardatzke, the Maynes brothers Cyrus and Emery, or Peter Chartrand of Bisbee Clay on a current work in progress, titled, “Tres sirenas con libros en la desierta” or working with GC or with myself in my studio, I love hearing what others are thinking about how I might convey my message and their message also.

I consider these folks an integral part of my work, they are my muses. Accomplished people and artists, scientists/geographers, thinkers and ‘understanders’ of the Importance of the Earth. These are the people who understand me in their own way, they influence my work. 

What surprised you during the map-making process for this map?

How hard the computer/electronic manipulation process was, compared to the apparently more difficult physical process of snapping tile and fitting together a large physical mosaic.

How do you hope this map might affect people, or how might they use it?

I hope they might see that they are part of a single world; they are in it together with the other humans, animals, plants, oceans, etc.; and they recognize that some of us humans are choosing to change the world in a very dramatic and destructive way that is not benefiting others or even ourselves in the not-so-very-long run.

It may take a bit of sleuthing to understand my work. Part of my message to the observer is to look at art, really sit and ponder it. I do not really believe radical change occurs with only a surface understanding.

I consider all of my mosaic work to be various kinds of maps with a message from the artist, even if the work is a butterfly or mermaid. When my work is considered as a whole, the meaning becomes clearer that my work is about mapping our environment. 

What does it mean to you to be a “guerrilla cartographer?”

Being a guerrilla implies engaging in irregular, unconventional, radical, assertive actions. To me, a guerrilla never acts without purpose, To be a guerrilla, a person has thought about things and decided the usual approach will not work — something else must be done. This means there is a purpose, something to be achieved, a radical transformation to reach. A Guerrilla Cartographer is trying to use mapping in a new way, to effect an understanding that triggers this radical transformation of the world. One of the best parts of participating in this project was reviewing and commenting on the other maps and experiencing the radical transformation that they inspired. GC in my mind is a form of irregular cartography because it  includes artists, cartographers, and geographers, encouraging discourse from around the world. It seeks a revolutionary change in a person’s mind, I consider myself a Guerrilla Cartographer and GC is a muse with many voices. I am influenced by the conversation GC creates, which includes art as important maps, and maps as important art.

GC puts out an idea, inviting participation in a collaboration, and I am compelled to participate!

GC grows my understanding of my personal message.

— Sarah Dorrance

The Art of Expedition: a series of maps by an architect-artist

How did you decide to map what you mapped for Water: An Atlas?

“Water has a habit of finding me. If I am not long-boarding in cold Atlantic water, swimming in lochs or encouraging kids to jump in, I am sitting in proximity to it, letting it speak. Let’s face it, it is life and the thing that unites us with all other life forms.

Key to the Environmental Arts Festival in Scotland (EAFS) was expedition into unknown territory in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. Explanation of context and clarity in way-finding were critical. I was asked to help unfamiliar people navigate a huge landscape with a makeshift biannual and changing festival site at its central point. Radiating out from the site there was one constant – water – and I immediately jumped to that as the navigation tool.

I leaned on a local artist and festival organiser, Matt Baker, for where to place emphasis and for focussing of mapping toward the realities of intense human interaction. I walked in the landscape with Berlin artist, Andreas Templin, who encouraged acceptance of abstract process.

What was your mapmaking process for this map?

Working as an architect through the medium of deep context, I am used to searching for what I call buried landscape narrative. I commonly start what will become a futuristic project imbedded in the possibilities in place and climate, by visiting libraries to look at old maps. I do this as far back through time as possible until I have its sense, then I acknowledge the present and then vision the future.

In the case of EAFS, I requested all the old ordnance surveys, reviewed them and started to trace the contours that clearly illustrated the glacial scars and cuts made by water over time – water that had passed over soft and hard geology. That provided a guide to where water was falling from, its route and tributaries, and commonly highlighted where man’s interventions had changed its course. The sources all ended up from one outer extreme or watershed leading to the EAFS 2015 central site and the hive of festival activity.

Scotland has a lot of water, the Southern Uplands follows Scotland’s trend and water coursing was easy to draw by hand over old maps as tracings. Equally general tendencies to divert it, exclude it and make it go away were simple to map and in the end everything joined up. The maps enabled people to set out from the site on 20 km round trips and easily way-find with flowing water in their view or the sense of where once it had flowed.

What surprised you during the map-making process for this map?

I was struck by how the effects of geology –  glacial scrape 10,000 years ago and the continued presence of water coursing down decreasing contours toward valley floor level – had been used historically toward navigation. Quite commonly, the route to high ground and pathways across whole regions used for centuries were a parallel act to the coursing of water. A few meters above high-water mark and making gentle use of the contours, our forefathers had created paths.

By tracing the water or the ghost of it, I was giving the navigator something tangibly perceptible.

Water was the navigator and the cartographer itself. I was just the Guerrilla, hijacking what nature and sentient humans had done already. As cartographer, I was only giving what was there some graphite emphasis.

How do you hope this map might affect people or how might they use it?

I hoped that no one was lost in the Southern Uplands at Festival time, and no one was.

The process highlighted for me that water knows no bounds, it navigates by gravity seaward. With our ice caps melting we all need to take cognisance of our needs to prevent sea-level rise and to play our part in the delicate balance of our planet’s mantle.

I hope people looking at the maps see that we are all linked in one atmospheric condition, in one earth-wide pull and push. Modern physics gives us a sense that the minuscule movement of one butterfly wing on one side of the earth is related to a tsunami somewhere else on the other side of the earth.

I hope that the EAFS mapping contributes in a tiny way to greater understanding that our resources are finite and precious, and that abuse affects someone else further down the contours.

What does it mean to you to be a “Guerrilla Cartographer?”

To be a Guerrilla Cartographer is to be able to select your own content, to map what you see to be the potential in landscape and not to accept commonly upheld or promoted narratives on people, place and environment, which are commonly 99.9 % lies and misconception due to distortion.

For me, it reaffirms that there is a lot left to map, that our planet is precious, that I am lucky it provides trees and paper, that I must harness a little more time to be cognisant, and yes, it gives me license to burn a little graphite. It may even lead to my ten-year-old daughter picking up a pencil amidst her generation’s realignment of humanity with nature.

Mapping sea level rise in the Eastern Caribbean is personal

My career has been a diverse mix of my two professional passions, cartography and participatory mapping. Cartography is about the place; it’s top-down; it’s authoritative, it’s scientific, and (as you shift from GIS to cartography) it’s artistic. Participatory mapping is about the people; it’s bottom-up, it’s representative, and it’s a form of intimate cartographic collaboration. The balance of these two decidedly distinct types of mapping is where I see myself fit as a guerrilla cartographer.

For my map for “Water: An Atlas”, I wanted to address sea level rise (SLR) in the Eastern Caribbean small island developing states (SIDS) of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and Grenada, where I’ve lived and worked since 2011. The geospatial data that I chose to use on my map was created through analyses by The Nature Conservancy which, in turn, was used by the local community on Union Island, SVG (partnering with local and international organizations) alongside a participatory three-dimensional model (P3DM) to dramatically demonstrate how as little as a one meter and two meter SLR could impact these tiny islands. I have also experimented with this powerful SLR dataset on my own in the past to look at the damage that could be caused to major villages, visualizing the homes, government offices, businesses, churches, cemeteries, museums, marine ports, and airports that could be flooded should we experience SLR at these levels.

When I saw the call for “water” themed maps, I knew this was the data that I needed to use. It is rare to have quality data for this part of the world. Usually analyses aren’t done at the scale required to visualize how these islands could be affected. You look at the Caribbean and you see the flat, low-lying coralline islands (e.g. the Bahamas, Barbados) are underwater and the more mountainous volcanic islands (e.g. Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Grenada) appear largely unscathed. However, this broad analysis completely misses the mark. Roughly 70% of the population of the Caribbean resides near the coast, in the narrow strip of land right next to the ocean. There is an extreme coastal concentration of the population, transportation and trade networks, political centers, and emergency services which puts significant pressure on the coastal zone, and often the mountainous terrain doesn’t allow for people to (easily) retreat further inland.

As I note on my atlas page: while, at a global scale, the effects of SLR on SIDS are very small, the relative impacts for islands in the Caribbean are high. The world’s countries have agreed to attempting to limit global temperature increases to 2°C above pre-industrialization levels, however global SIDS came together to launch a climate justice campaign arguing that 2°C would have catastrophic impacts on SIDS and that we should instead aim for no higher than 1.5°C above pre-industrialization levels. While that half-degree may seem minor, coastal areas could see an extra 0.1 meter (10 cm) in SLR between those two temperatures, and research has shown that significant changes will be seen in essential areas of the coastal zone following as little as a 0.5–1 meter rise in sea level. Caribbean islands have contributed to less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, however SIDS will almost certainly be the first countries exposed to the effects of climate change. (If you want to learn more, check out the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways:

(Artwork Credit: Jonathan Gladding)

I made the cartographic decision to show terrain, roads, and buildings on these maps because I wanted to ensure that these points were made about SLR in the Caribbean. More importantly though, I pulled out inset maps that zoom in on essential hubs on a few of the larger islands. To give you a deeper examination of the capital of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, I’ve added additional detail to my inset map for Kingstown, with a few important services highlighted that would be impacted by SLR.

My hope for my map in “Water: An Atlas” was to drive a conversation on climate change and sea level rise on small islands, using the specific example of two Eastern Caribbean countries. SIDS are disproportionately vulnerable to climatic events affecting their populations and gross domestic product in comparison to other places in the world, and—alongside disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation—global education on this subject is important!

Special thanks to The Nature Conservancy for making this incredible dataset publicly available (explore it here: as well as to my graduate school professor, Dr. Michelle Mycoo, at the University of the West Indies for her course on Planning in the Coastal Zone which allowed me to dive further into my thesis research on climate change in SIDS.

The story behind the “Defending Sacred Water” map

In the middle of 2016, the Water Protectors defending the health of the Missouri River (and the land of the Oceti Sakowin [Great Sioux] tribe) from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline captivated the attention of people around the world who wanted help the Protectors at Standing Rock Reservation in the ways they could. Universities gathered students and faculty to address how they could harness their skills and resources to also offer assistance. The Native American Studies Department at the University of California, Davis, set up such a gathering and what came out of it was a number of task forces focused on specific needs. One of the needs identified was a map that clearly explained the main issues at Standing Rock: what is currently happening on the ground, and what is the historical context of the land and tribes on the land. No one had yet seen such a map.

Professor Liza Grandia, Lakota tribal member Jessa Rae Growing Thunder, and doctoral student Cinthya Ammerman, coordinated the project that would become the “Defending Sacred Water” map that would later be included in Guerrilla Cartography’s Water: An Atlas. They acted as liaisons between leaders at Standing Rock, historians at UC Davis, and me (Molly Roy, M. Roy Cartography), so that we could gather all the data needed to put together a map detailing historical and contemporary events that would inform a general audience what was happening on the ground. The map was never meant to show all the important historical moments, nor all of what was happening presently—that would be impossible. The map was meant to be a snapshot in time, but a snapshot that shows more depth and richness than the maps people were currently being exposed to.

After our team completed a draft of the map, we shared it on social media and it spread like wildfire. Teachers were asking for print-out versions for them to share with their students, and those who were not aware of the historical background thanked us for helping them understand the situation a little bit better. But now the year is 2019, and we don’t hear of Standing Rock in the news. The tribe is still fighting against the pipeline, but there are not millions of eyes to watch or hands to help. The map we created is as we intended—a snapshot in time—and because of this, it does not reflect the dynamic, ongoing struggles of the people involved. As a cartographer, there is a constant question of how to show time, movement, and dynamism in an unmoving form such as a static map, and how to responsibly fill a role of communicating information about an unfolding story. This instance of mapping the story of Standing Rock was an experiment that was both a success (according to the original intention) and a lesson in how to engage more deeply with those questions of dynamism.

The making of Atlantis

Guerrilla Cartography is kicking off a monthly blog with this first installment from Melissa Brooks, the cartographer and designer of Locating Atlantis, published in our latest volume, Water: An Atlas.

Locating Atlantis, page  1 of 2
Locating Atlantis, page  2 of 2

How did you decide to map what you mapped for Water: An Atlas?

I was lucky enough find this project on the internet just as the first call for maps came out. I put my hand up to do both the research and cartography for one of the map topics up for grabs. I figured being in New Zealand, I would be in a different time-zone from most of the other volunteers. One of the projects I was sent back to choose from was Atlantis. Just a small stub of an idea with the preface that I could take this idea in any direction I wanted and run with it. I had always found Greek mythology fascinating and this topic had me immediately looking around the internet for more information.


What was your mapmaking process for this map?

The story of Atlantis was born out of historic texts, the documented conversations took me back in time as I read them. I had an idea in my head that I felt the need to sketch out in pencil first. This sketch, which included notes about my intended colour scheme and content, became the first of many iterations of the Atlantis map. From here, I began using a digital art tablet to trace the sketched design.

The first part of the project is always about collating information. I approached various people and sources of information, obtaining permission where needed. I also scouted the internet for free stock photos for the paper textures and fonts. I ensured the usage permitted me to alter the images (something to look out for).

The main layer in my map, the points, were derived from a table of information I received from the owner of a website I approached. I had to put a fair bit of time aside for data quality checks and then running some simple geoprocessing tools to provide me with the layers I needed to begin building my map.

The map itself was designed in QGIS, this included the layers, labels, legend, etc. The illustrative overlays I made in GIMP were added into QGIS as an overlay at the end.

This was a truly iterative, trial and error process. I made an animated gif (see the following link) to show just how the Atlantis map evolved over time, refining and altering the map until I felt it was finished.

I’ve described the making of the Atlantis map in much more detail over on my blog, here:


What surprised you during the map making process for this map?

I initially began this project thinking I would be making a map about where Atlantis was, everyone *knows* it was in the Atlantic Ocean right? There were two things that caught me be surprise. The earliest record of Atlantis being mentioned is from Plato’s texts. When the context of where, when, and why Plato transcribed the conversations are taken into account, the various other proposed sites for the lost city of Atlantis seem equally as viable.

But the main thing that I didn’t realise would overwhelm me came at the end of the map making project when it hit me that the map wasn’t only about Atlantis. This project was about all lost civilisations, it was about remembering those we have found that we thought were only stories: Troy, Pompeii, Machu Picchu. What if even one or two of the dots on my map were a city we had once lost? It surprised me that this map, at least for me, became a way to cheer on the maritime archeology teams out on the ocean forever endeavoring to find Atlantis.


How do you hope this map might affect people or how might they use it?

I want people to think “What if?” What if there was a population of people at war with Greece around 9,000 BCE who succumbed to some sort of tragedy. On the other hand, what if the whole thing was a political ploy to control the population using, what may have been the equivalent of an Aesop fable. But, what if instead of Atlantis someone finds a lost or fictional civilisation we had not even known to look for?

I want this map to spark a little light with someone, whether you always loved listening to Greek mythology as a kid like me, or you’re an educated anthropologist, or somewhere else on the scale bar. I want to get people talking, get them looking at things from a different angle, the same way good art does.


What does it mean to you to be a “Guerrilla Cartographer”?

I think being a Guerrilla Cartographer is about reconnecting with the map making process, in an industry where most roads lead to data entry/analysis/data cleansing, followed by quick and nasty maps, it was a joy to be able to push myself and showcase some of the amazing things that can be achieved when we marry the art of cartography with the science of GIS. The map is both an art AND a science. To me, you cannot have one without the other.

As a Guerrilla cartographer, I’ve been able to limitlessly extend myself cartographically. Another key point to the Guerrilla Cartography ethos is sharing. The collaboration and open sharing is a huge part of it. The three blog posts I made on my site to accompany the Atlantis map are a testimony to the nature of the work the team does; the whole time I was making the Atlantis map, I created screenshots of my progress because I already knew there would be a how-to.

The team gave us the platform to create. No strings attached. I’m over the moon to have my work in print. Thanks to everyone on the Guerrilla Cartography team!

Visit our new poster store to purchase Locating Atlantis as a poster.
The water atlas is available in hardcover or softcover or as a free pdf download at The Atlases page.

Links to Melissa’s blog posts: