Creative mapping: paper towns, trap streets, cartographic treasure-hunts


Q. Why was longitude boiling mad?

A. Because it was 360 degrees.

Cartographers are/were often seen as pretty dour characters. Not so long ago, maps were hand-drawn, and hanging over a a drawing table, the meticulous of drawing contours seems rather nerdy. But, as programmers put easter-eggs in code, cartographers do the same.

Map makers sometimes put phantom streets, parks, ponds and such in their maps, so as to trap others that copy their work. Copyright infringements will be unmasked by these fictional, deliberate trap streets, and this has been going on for hundreds of years.

The term paper street and trap street are often confused, but they can be interpreted as different things: Paper towns/street can be planned constructions that are never created, trap streets are included to trap other cartographers.

Agloe_OriginalOne of the more hilarious examples, are the creation of the town Agloe in New York state. “Agloe” being a mashup of the initials of Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers of the General Drafting Company. Their map was – according to them – then copied by a competitor a few years later. Digging into the matter, it turned out that in that once empty spot, a shop was built, now sporting the name Agloe General Store. It now exists, and you can look it up in Google maps.

Apparently, according to a spokesperson for the London A-Z, their maps include about 100 trap streets, and a fictional mountain peak went undetected in the US for two years.


Owen Massey McKnight,  clearly a map enthusiast, found a trap street in Oxford called Goy Close. He went to the scene, and found it to be a backstreet of a backstreet.

As for the easter eggs; in a British army map from the 20ties, a sweaty cartographer added an elephant outside the Gold Coast:

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 15.04.36
There is some potential for entertainment in trap streets. As mobile apps starts showing you layouts of shopping centres (where to find a tin of tuna?), trap rooms or trap doors (haha) could be introduced. This would make for urban exploration, a kind of cartographic treasure-hunts. It might unnerve some people, but there is a long history for these sort of things in all sorts of contexts.

There are other examples of fictional entries in other works such as lists of names, magazines, dictionaries, medical books, a fictional mammalian order, a fictional star system and others. Not to mention Google maps. I will get back to this in another post, it is too funny to let lie.


It is curiously difficult to find information and examples of cartographic easter eggs and trap streets, any pointers you might have will be greatly appreciated.

Personally, I live in a street that on many maps does not exist. It is real, but many gps systems and paper maps have not caught up yet.

Nothing in this world is for certain.


Control room – custom drawing

As mentioned in the post Mechanical owls – custom drawing, I am not the most efficient at xmas presents. So this is the custom drawing my brother got, a good few weeks after christmas. It is simply called the control room, for obvious reasons. There are some personal hints to my brother, but overall, it is just my imagination going wild. Enjoy.   IMG_2352aW2


Piet Hein: astro-gymnastics


Go on a starlit night, stand on your head,
leave your feet dangling outwards into space,
and let the starry firmament you tread
be, for the moment, your elected base.

Feel Earth’s colossal weight of ice and granite,
of molten magma, water, iron, and lead;
and briefly hold this strangely solid planet
balanced upon your strangely solid head.

The translation really is a bit miserable. Here is the danish original:

Screen shot 2014-03-14 at 22.59.33


Piet Hein: the paradox of life

A bit beyond perception’s reach
I sometimes believe I see
that Life is two locked boxes, each
containing the other’s key.

– Piet Hein

(scientist, mathematician, inventor, designer, author, and poet extraordinare)

Mechanical owls – custom drawing

I am not the quickest with xmas presents. On the other hand, people will get a custom piece of art. I have just finished this for a friend, and his general guidelines was “mechanical owls”. The rest is just me in free flight.


It is a large-ish drawing (21x58cm), and working my way from left to right I get a little bored of repeating branches and owls, and I need to add some different details. Preferably absurd. Not that mechanical owls is not absurd.

These drawings of mine are well suited as toilet art, and I am not the least offended if people hang them in the bog. It is a unique place where people can do their business and dream themselves into the image and create stories. Preferably not connected to the physical things going on in the bog, but who am I to tell your brain what to do with my art?

It is of course not about the realistic, but I like the juxtaposition of absolute nonsense and something fairly realistic. The butterfly, the birch tree, the frogs and some of the plants and flowers are fairly realistic. To take something like a bird house and make it absurdly ordinary and weirdly mechanical simultaneously makes me happy.

Probably the trickiest thing in this case, was the conifer. I have never really drawn cones before, and I really had to conjure up images of birch trees in my head.

People tend to ask how long it takes to draw something like this. It is an impossible thing to answer for two reasons: One, I forget time when I am working. It is in a sense meditation, time does not exist. Two, a lot of the time I sit at my drawing table staring out into space. My mind wanders and some conscious and unconscious level are looking for inspiration. Maybe there is a 50/50 of scribbling and letting my mind wander wildly.

Things I would have liked to incorporate in this image but did not. The reason being that I could have done it, but it would have been forced. It would not become a part of the drawing really. It would feel too constructed:

  • pacman
  • emacs/terminal screen
  • piano
  • keypad

Some of my drawings might be available as prints. You can ask, but I promise nothing.


Here are the two others.



Guerrilla communication, street talk


Guerrilla communication is a form of streetart, or simply a sense of humour that uses objects around us and makes us see a little differently. Here are some examples I have collected over the years. You might have to look close to see it…

Certain forms of graffiti and scribbling on walls have been described as the purest form of communication. I will be back with a lot more on streetart, graffiti and toilet communication.