How to do Map Stuff: A Workshop Proposal

(UPDATE: Here’s a look at the presentations that have been submitted so far; keep checking back to that page for the final schedule and links to presentations as the date approaches)

Friends, many of us are stuck at home during this pandemic, and will be for a while (and we’re the fortunate ones, vs. those whose jobs force them to regularly risk infection). It’s a stressful, anxious, and isolating time.

So here’s the idea I had at 1 am the other night:

“How to do Map Stuff”: A series of live online mapping workshops — Wednesday April 29th, 2020

Many of you know that I do occasional map livestream events (I have one coming up later this month), in which I casually take people through some project of mine, or show off some technique. So, my thought is: let’s just have a bunch of people all do those on the same day. I imagine a daylong event consisting of 30–60 minute live tutorials. Each person hosts their own stream on YouTube, with links offered to the rest of the day’s presenters. And then, once we’re done, those videos reside on YouTube for future folks to find and learn from.

What I ask from you

Consider volunteering to present something. Everyone reading this has something to share. If you’re just starting out, maybe you can take your fellow beginners through some of the basics. For those farther along, think about all the stuff you wish someone had taught you, that you had to figure out the hard way. Walk through your favorite time-saving tricks. Show off a project you’re working on and explain how and why you made the choices you did. Share your favorite data sources. Draw something by hand, label something, color something, process something, code something. People want to see how you work and think, and they’ll learn from it.

These presentations can be fairly casual. You don’t need to obsessively prepare. Imagine a colleague walks up to you and says, “Hey, can you show me how to do (this thing)?” — that’s who you’re talking to, your colleagues in the community who are curious and are prepared to hear an impromptu demo. Obviously, you can prepare more if you feel comfortable doing so, but this shouldn’t be a big burden.

You’ll be in charge of running your own livestream. It’s not too hard to do, but I can offer my small experience as needed, and the Internet is full of advice. Basically, you need software that captures your desktop (like OBS), and then streams it to a YouTube account you’ve set up. It’s all free.

If you’ll be an audience member, consider participating in the chat window that will accompany each video. You can ask questions, say hello to colleagues, and offer your thoughts. You can also share your thoughts on social media or your Slack group. The reason this is live, instead of just a bunch of pre-recorded videos, is because there’s value and comfort in knowing other people are there with you.

I’m thinking that the bulk of the presentations will be slotted from about 10am and 6pm Eastern Time on Apr 29, 2020 — this is early enough that people in Europe/Africa will still be able to watch much of it, and late enough that people in the Pacific will also be able to catch most of it, too. I am operating under the assumption that most of the submissions I get, and the audience, will be in those parts of the world. But, if you want to present at a time better for folks in other parts of the world, feel free! I’m also operating under the assumption that most of the presenters and the audience will speak English, but if you want to conduct your part of the event in another language, go for it!


We could use some community right now. Seeing and chatting with our colleagues, and knowing that many of us will be watching the same presentations, is comforting in anxious times.

It’s also a way to share knowledge as other avenues are starting to close off. Our conferences, Maptime events, and other gatherings have largely been cancelled. The impromptu “hey let me show you this cool trick I figured out in Photoshop” conversations between colleagues at work and at school are missing. But we all still want to learn and to share, so this is a way to do so.

How it Works

If you’re interested in presenting, here’s a form to sign up:

Once I have some folks signed up over the next week or so, I’ll work out a schedule, so that we can try and have a continuous string of presentations and the audience can move from one to the next (this helps with the community feeling). And if this gets really crazy and we have more than one person presenting at once, then I can schedule it so that we don’t have too many tracks going at the same time.

At least one of you is also probably wondering “What about Twitch?” and the answer is mostly that I’m more familiar with YouTube, and it seems like a better final place for the videos to live, where they’ll be more easily found by people who want cartography tutorials. But if you want to use Twitch, or another streaming platform, I don’t see a reason not to. As long as it’s easy for the audience to move from one person’s stream to the next across platforms, I think we’re good.

Anyway, that’s my late-night idea. I always feel a bit vulnerable putting these community-participation ideas out there, since I keep wondering, “Will anyone attend? Will anyone besides me want to present? Will we be doomed by technical problems?” But, the cartographic community is a good group to be vulnerable with, so we’ll see how it goes.

Financial Transparency: 2019 Edition

As is now my annual tradition, it’s time for me to tell everyone how much money I make.

As a freelancer, I often wonder how I am doing financially as compared to my colleagues. Not out of a sense of competition, but just to answer the persistent question: is this normal? Am I earning a “typical” living? Do I get an unusually small or large amount of money from selling prints? Things like that, born of curiosity. I can look at the great work of a colleague and think it’s valuable, but the big question is: does the rest of the world value their skills the way that I do?

I find the financial opacity of the freelance world a bit intimidating, and I suspect that some others do, too—particularly those who are interested in freelancing, but haven’t yet jumped in. So I’d like to do my part to lend transparency by laying out my financial picture for all of you.

Freelance Earnings

I have been freelancing since I took my Master’s degree from UW–Madison in May 2010, but things didn’t really take off until 2012, so let’s start there. My gross earnings from freelance cartography have been:

2012: $12,016.34
2013: $20,352.75
2014: $8,508.58
2015: $10,881.25
2016: $22,795.00
2017: $48,775.38 [$45,000 from one big contract, so it’s a bit atypical].
2018: $17,795.60
2019: $34,310.65

I have also earned money from some other non-mapping freelance work. I do editing and layout for Cartographic Perspectives, and I’ve done some bits of paid writing, other design work, etc. This income isn’t terribly relevant to those who are wondering about the mapmaking business, but I’ll include it here for the sake of completeness:

2012: $1,128.08
2013: $1,528.00
2014: $7,014.00
2015: $10,194.00
2016: $2,000.00
2017: $9,925.00
2018: $7,505.00
2019: $2,325.00

These bits of side work, as well as my teaching (below), have been very helpful in leaner years.


I teach from time to time at UW–Madison, covering the Introductory Cartography course. Again, not too relevant to the subject of freelance earnings, but perhaps interesting if you’re curious about what adjunct teaching pays. My pre-tax pay for one semester of a 40% appointment is $7,182.18 (formerly $6,954.39 from 2010–2015).  This number seems to compare favorably with what I’ve seen posted at other institutions, or heard from colleagues elsewhere.


I do a fair amount of pro bono work, and I’ve been much more shameless about asking for support for my tutorials, Project Linework, and other resources that people seem to draw value from etc.

2012: $37.00
2018: $1,711.08
2019: $1,412.86

Speaking of donations, here are some handy buttons if you want to help empower me to keep sharing cartographic knowledge and resources.

Sales of Prints

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is sales of prints. Instead of making maps for clients, I sometimes (or often) spend time making maps for no one in particular. And then I’ll put them up on Zazzle in case anyone wants to buy them. I’ve also occasionally printed maps locally and sold them through an art store or by word of mouth. But Zazzle is where almost all of my sales happen.

My earnings from sales of prints:

2012: $772.39
2013: $678.68
2014: $270.19
2015: $116.52
2016: $797.54
2017: $342.78
2018: $354.10
2019: $821.63

And, if you’re curious as to what sells and what doesn’t, here’s a breakdown of Zazzle sales:

Fame and exposure are generally free, and often much more plentiful than actual payment. It takes a lot of clicks before someone actually buys—I have also seen this behind the scenes with the Atlas of Design. I often see colleagues whose work gets a lot of attention, and who are offering cool prints, and wonder if they are receiving lots of praise with little money behind it.

Concluding Thoughts

I never really intended to be a freelancer, because I dislike instability, and the numbers above fluctuate wildly. But I fell into it accidentally anyway, and it’s been great, though it’s definitely not a life I would have been able to choose if I had to worry, for example, about dependents.

I hope all this stuff above offers some useful insight as to one freelancer’s life. I’m sure some others earn more, and some others earn less. I’d encourage others who are comfortable doing so to share their own financial information, to make the picture a little broader.