Back to the Rivers

Friends, a few months ago I finally published An Atlas of North American Rivers, a series of maps showing the connectivity of major stream systems across the continent, done up in a style reminiscent of transit maps. It was a project that I’d left fallow for many years and finally, due to the pandemic lockdown, finally wrapped up after nearly a decade of letting it sit on the shelf.

I was very relieved to have it off my plate after so many years. But, there was one loose thread dangling: I’d long intended to also put together a final piece that combined a lot of the atlas’s content into one single poster. So, a few weeks ago, I finally got around to doing just that.

Feel free to click that image to see a larger version. There are over 800 labels, so there’s plenty of browsing to be done.

I’m also pleased to announce that, if you like this map, the Transit Maps store is now offering prints! Most prints of my work presently sell via Zazzle, one of the big print-on-demand companies. But I’m excited to partner with Cameron Booth, who runs the Transit Maps store (which has plenty of other neat stuff you should look at), to make this piece available.

So, if the above photos entice you, head on over and grab a high-quality copy!

This map represents a major revision of the design language I used in my original atlas. As I said in that blog post few months ago, while talking about how I’d established the style when I was a more novice designer, “I would quite likely do the whole project differently now (though I’m not sure how).” Well, I figured out some of the “how.”

  • I’ve changed the typeface over to Mostra Nuova, which you’ve probably seen in a lot of my work (because I’m going to squeeze every bit of use I can out of that $80).
  • The river names now match the river colors, and are angled to follow the lines.
  • I’ve given a subtle inner glow to the states/provinces, to help separate them better.
  • I’ve used different color schemes for different countries.
  • The colors have been “rationalized.” The various greens of the US states, for example, are now simply tints of the same base color, instead of four ad-hoc creations. The river colors also now exist on an even gradient between two colors, and now use only 3 inks instead of 4.
  • International boundaries are now distinguished with a white line.
  • I have been much more willing to simplify the geometry of the rivers (and therefore distort the underlying states/provinces).

For reference, here’s a snippet from the old atlas.

Some of these changes I’d pondered years ago, but was oddly resistant to, like angling the river names or adding glows to the states. But now I’m glad I made the changes. I think the end result looks a lot better.

I decided to keep the map somewhat more sparse than some of the atlas pages. For the atlas, I was often trying to capture every single city and village along the route. Which made it pretty busy at times:

For this poster, I’ve spread things out a bit more. I think there’s a fair density of settlements, but everything still has breathing space.

Finally, I did think about making the poster of all of North America, but there would have been much more ocean on that map, and far fewer rivers. I decided to go with the continental US, plus a fair chunk of Canada and Mexico, which allowed me to fill the space pretty well. Perhaps, another time, there will be another one covering more of the continent. Or perhaps someone else out there will do it.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this (final?) piece in my river maps saga. And if you’d like to put one on your wall, head on over to the Transit Maps store!