Cartography For Adults

Written By

Sia Mitra

Maps are fascinating-03 Loading

Maps are fascinating. You can read one like a book that divulges the many secrets of the place to you.

I remember myself as a wide-eyed Mumbaikar who had landed in Delhi. My new husband got very worried when his fiercely independent wife insisted on traipsing the streets of Delhi — for business as well as pleasure — unaccompanied. It was fun, trying to familiarize myself with a new city, although I kept getting lost. This was of course before Google maps and GIS-enabled devices.

So every time I set out on an unfamiliar route, my husband would draft a map for me. They were really cute and declared his love more than any piece of romantic poetry or epistle could.

maps1(resized)-01The hand drawn maps had a starting point — usually the bus stop near our home. (Again this was before Metro and Uber, when DTC and the auto rickshaw, on rich days, were the standard mode of communication.) From that vantage point, the route meandered depending on my destination.  It had street names, peppered with landmarks I recognized, along with bus routes factored in. Those maps were the lifeline which guided me around an unfamiliar city with affection and care. None of the oh-so-accurate GIS-enabled maps can compete because they are not personalized to my point of view, not made with me exclusively in mind.

That was when I discovered the fascinating things maps were.  Later I had a big fat atlas that detailed all the countries, with short notes on each area depicted. It was like armchair travel. I spent many hours poring over it on my own, then later  with my daughter for company.  It was during one of these sessions where I got the idea of making a map. It was a holiday activity for my daughter and her friends. We had a ball!


Map making is an easy and interesting leisure activity, perhaps even a slightly off-the-beaten-track hobby.  To give a very basic idea, pick a small locality for depiction.  Say it looks like this:-

Now, to convert this to a map, you replace the pictorial representation of objects occurring on the map with design symbols. The map will look something like this:-map-pic-3




Once you get the hang of it, more complexities like distance, scale, direction etc. can be incorporated.

The different varieties of maps that can be created are as follows:-

  • Political: – It shows the city and state boundaries with capitals and major cities marked in.
  • Relief: – It will contour the geographical structure of the area, irrespective of the political boundaries.
  • Roads: –  This is self-explanatory — it can have highways and streets. You can also have a metro map depicting the routes.
  • Produce: – This type of map is used to show the various products coming out of the region. It could be of natural produce (crops or minerals) or industrially manufactured goods. Quirky ones may be cuisine based too.

With the advent of technology, this hobby can be indulged in more efficiently. To start with you can use the map of any region readily available on the internet as a base. On these the places of interest, streets and other landmarks can be depicted. Use advanced software like Adobe Photoshop to add pictures and sketches, and make the map more interesting.

For a more serious undertaking, there is special cartographic software that enables the creation of authentic and accurate maps.


The other day I saw a City Maps Coloring book for adults created by renowned map design and GIS consultant Gretchen Peterson. It has aerial city maps with varying detail that can be colored in as per choice. This isn’t an activity for kids but  adults. Looked like a lot of fun.

Map making is a fascinating activity. There are many variances to it. A historian can create a map of an era past — say Delhi city under Shah Jahan. Start with the current map; then dig up historical evidence to mark the changes in the landmarks.


Here are some very creative and interesting cartographical representations that could inspire and excite map aficionados.  An innovative map Le Tour de Fromage by illustrator Elly Walton  depicts the route of the famous Tour De France in cheese.


Another charming representation of fascinating cartography is a map of Tresco Island by Livi Gosling.

These maps start with the outline map of any region and build up on that. Being quirky and imaginative, they are a delight to see.

So with a little initiative, cartography can emerge as a fun-filled hobby. It’s a wonderful combination of art, geography and general knowledge that is sure to take you places!

Try it, and do let me know how it turned out!




Sia Mitra is a blogger, painter, needlework artist, mother – a woman with fingers in many pies. A Content Crafter by day and avid reader by night, find her blog at

See all Siya Writers



Let great stories find you.

Write for Siya

If you can write, you should do so on SiyaWoman.
Send us a note on