I’m a fan of the NBC television show Parks and Recreation. I’m also a fan of park maps because they try to graphically synthesize fun stuff, like playgrounds and softball fields.
Park maps are a microcosm of illustrative techniques. They can push Adobe Illustrator and a computer’s CPU and GPU to the redline.
In this map of a sports complex, we used gradient mesh, transparency, and a patterned fill to soften the hard edges and uniform color fills of Illustrator shapes. Our goal was to precisely map features like soccer fields, portray them in recognizable forms, and keep the illustration visually alive and interesting.
We started in Google Earth, outlining features like fields and courts, parking lots and roads. After exporting as a .kmz file, we imported the features into Illustrator using Avenza’s MAPublisher plugin. That’s when the fun began.
We decided to use the gradient mesh tool to break up the uniformity of the park’s green background. The mesh was a page-sized rectangle whose points we colored in different shades of green. We also drew a rectangle above the mesh and filled it with a Film Grain (Effect > Artistic > Film Grain). We finished by masking the mesh and the film grain rectangle with the shape of the park.
For the lake, we used the lake’s path to create a gradient mesh and produced a smooth look for the water to contrast with the textured land of the park.
The film grain effect came in handy in creating the parking lots. We began with a parking lot shape that had been imported from Google Earth. We filled it with color sampled from a screenshot of the satellite imagery from Google Earth. Then, in the Appearance panel, we clicked the Add New Effect icon and selected Artistic > Film Grain from the Effects menu. Lastly, we created a new style in the Graphic Styles panel to use to quickly paint the other park shapes with the appearance we had created.
To better illustrate the parking lots, we made parking lines with the Path tool. We began by drawing a curving path. In the Appearance panel, we clicked on Stroke to bring up the Stroke panel. We selected Dashed Line. Then we entered values in the dash and gap fields to specify the thickness of each parking line and it’s spacing. We used the Weight field to specify the length of each parking line.
For the paths defining the white markings of the soccer fields, we created compound shapes and gave them a 70% transparency. (If we hadn’t created the compound shape, then overlaps of semi-transparent paths, such as at mid-field, would have combined transparency at the intersections and created a whiter point.)
The last technique we used was to plant tree symbols using the Symbol Sprayer tool. After placing one of four tree symbols we had created for another map, we clicked randomly across the map to place tree symbols. The result was a “symbol set” of instances of that tree sprayed throughout the map. We returned with the Symbol Sizer tool to vary tree sizes. By holding down the Opt/Alt key, the Symbol Sizer tool non-uniformly shrank the symbols in a set. (We experimented clicking on a symbol in the set and in a location outside of the set and noticed differences in how the tree symbols shrank as a set.)
If you have any illustrative map techniques, don’t hesitate to comment!