Owner / Publisher Sue Hodgson Chats with Ben Arril, Co-Creator of Far Sky Map Works
Your family has been making maps since the 1700s. Give us a glimpse into your family history and the connections and traditions that are instrumental for your passion in what you do today.
I just love maps. Maps spark memories and nostalgia, and give you a real sense of where you’ve come from and where you’ve been in the world. I’ve been surrounded by art and maps my entire life. I come from a long line of cartographers (map makers) and artists. Among others, my family history includes my great grandfather C.W. Jefferys, a famous Canadian artist and historian who was instrumental in the creation of Canada’s Group of Seven, and Thomas Jefferys, geographer to King George III in the 1700s.
I believe that map making is both a science and an art; while the discipline changes over the years, there is also a lot that stays the same. As a science, map making has evolved, and we can now use high resolution satellite and aerial imagery to discern geographic features that may have at one time been hidden or inaccessible using traditional survey methods. This advancement in technology has allowed me to create incredibly accurate maps. As an art, however, the cartographic elements that define map making have remained the same. Maps have always had artistic elements to them.
I received a Master’s Degree in Geography from the University of Victoria several years ago and I like to take my scientific background specializing in mapping and satellite and aerial imagery (Remote Sensing) and apply it to our maps. This gives me the opportunity to increase the detail and accuracy and create a map that is not only artistically pleasing but also geographically correct.
The Victoria typographic map consists of the 13 municipal divisions, defined by a mix of coastal natural features and municipal boundaries. As a professional cartographer, what is involved in the process to make one of these beautiful, colourful typographic maps?
Well, Victoria is a beautiful place. I’ve travelled coast to coast and it’s hard not to be inspired by the beauty of the West Coast. Victoria was our first Far Sky map. I created it for my wife to remind us of our home, of where we fell in love.
I have years of training and education in Cartography but each Far Sky map presents its own unique set of challenges, depending on the geography. Research takes months. It’s really important to me to maintain temporal and spatial accuracy when creating a map. I want it to be as precise and up-to-date as possible. I always try to contact the city or local government to inquire about planning initiatives to aid in the research process.
All of our maps are uniquely created. I draw all boundaries, coastlines and linear footprint (roads, trails, etc.) information using detailed survey plans and high resolution satellite and aerial imagery to remain as geographically accurate as possible. I tend to use seasonal imagery when the sea levels are at their lowest so I can maintain a larger land base for typographic maps.
Map projection is very important to me. When we take a round earth or rather an ellipsoid and put it on a flat map, we lose certain qualities such as area, direction, shape, bearing and distance. I want to choose the system that maintains these qualities as best as possible while still creating an artistically pleasing map. I then place each letter individually and size it accordingly – it’s like a very complex puzzle. I try to employ a combination of kerning (the space between letters) and alignment depending on the area.
Each map depicts the geographical borders and names of Canadian provinces and cities. What is it about personal connections and memories that make these so unique?
I only map the locations I’ve been to, so each map is based on an experience of mine. I believe that having a personal connection with each location gives me the passion to make a better map by considering the experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met, and the beauty of each landscape. I try to paint a picture of what that place means to me. For example, the Victoria map reminds me of home—the smell of saltwater in the air, the taste of fresh produce from a local farm, the joy of searching for crabs on the beach with my boys, and listening to the rain on a chilly winter night.
Tell us about Far Sky Canada 150 Drop! Where did this idea come from?
Our annual Canada Day Far Sky Drop is a lot of fun! We love finding ways to give back to our community and this beautiful country, so we decided to drop free maps all over Canada on Canada Day for people to find. For the last several years, we have organized a group of volunteers from across Canada and named them the Far Sky Drop Enforcement Squad. This squad drops Far Sky Canada maps in cities across Canada for people to find all in one day to celebrate Canada Day. We then post the locations and pictures on social media for our followers (@FarSkyMapWorks). It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt. It’s a project that takes a lot of planning and coordination but it’s exciting to see who posts that they found a map.
Where can we find your maps, and what’s new and upcoming for the company?
We really love the local market scene. We frequent the Sidney Street Market and the Bastion Square Market in the summers and several local craft shows during the holiday season. This year you can find us at the Out of Hand Artisan Fair in Victoria, A Touch of Salt Spring here on the Peninsula and Make It in Vancouver. Markets and shows provide a great opportunity to connect with people and share with them a little about the creative process. We are in a few stores across the country and sell our maps online at www.FarSky.ca and on Etsy.
We are always looking to improve and grow our business, and I really enjoy creating new pieces and exploring new mediums. We have recently explored silk-screening some of our maps on T-shirts, and are inspired to continue down the path of exploring new innovative techniques, so stay tuned!
This issue celebrates local small business entrepreneurs. What is the most important advice you could give these hardworking professionals?
Connect with your maker community. The local handmade maker community is a great resource to learn how to perfect your product or service. You will meet some of the most interesting people at markets and shows – people who have faced entrepreneurial challenges, and know the journey that is starting and running a small business. There is a wealth of knowledge within the maker community, and the wisdom and support is immeasurable.