Chain of Lakes

Early in 2017 I was put in touch with IndieWalls, a two sided marketplace for visual artists and art buyers (for residential, commercial and hospitality). They had an opportunity to design a custom wallpaper for a new hotel in Minneapolis. They wanted a stylized topographic map of the surrounding area, known as The Chain of Lakes.  I’ve always loved maps, and while i’d never designed one (or wallpaper for that matter) I said yes. I knew it was possible to get elevation data from USGS, make it into a depth map (a rasterization of elevation data where the lowest point is pure black and the highest is white) and then use photoshop and illustrator to create a topo map from that.

This was the area they wanted mapped.

Of course it wasn’t as easy as I thought, but I learned a ton. I ended up calling the USGS and was able to speak to an actual cartographer who helped me find the right data format for what I was doing. Once I got over the novelty of being able to DIAL-A-CARTOGRAPHER, I took my elevation data into QGIS (an open source cartography app) and exported a depth map. From there the process was much more familiar as I adjusted levels in photoshop, posterized and traced contours, then vectorized and styled the lines in Illustrator.

This was the raw elevation data, shaded with a direct light source
Depth map. It's pretty dark, because it's relatively flat.
Depth map after being adjusted and posterized in Photoshop.
Unstyled vectors.
The final design, approved by the client
Test room with the wallpaper installed.