MEDFORD, Ore. — A whale's eye view of Hawaii, a spy plane's view of the Rockies and a vivid contour map of Montana: They all come from Raven Maps & Images, where the idea is that maps can be art.
"We produce a lot of good maps in this country," said Stuart Allan, Raven's cartographer. "But they often are over-detailed. From a graphics point of view, you get an overload.
"What we are trying to do here is make a map as handsome as a painting and as accurate as the engineering-based materials."
Headquartered in a loft in downtown Medford, Raven Maps & Images was formed by Allan and Michael Beard of Medford, along with Scott McLeod of Pikes Peak Lithography in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The company produces vivid wall-sized maps of 11 Western states, as well as a series of computer-generated landscapes.
The wall maps are made from U. S. Geological Survey plates but edited to get rid of the clutter.
"U. S. G. S. maps are full of information, but they are ugly," Allan said.
Allan and his staff have used gradations of color to denote 500-foot changes in elevation, rather than relying on contour lines for topography and color to denote vegetation.
"There's a traditional color scheme worked out at the turn of the century," Allan said. "Low elevations are green, because they are supposed to be lush, and the highest are snow-covered or ice-covered, so they are white.
"It makes sense in the coastal states. But in the Arizona desert, it doesn't make any sense at all."
Up to 50 Plates
Each map requires as many as 50 plates to lay down roads, lakes, rivers, cities, elevation changes and two-tone shading.
"By using a combination of elevation tints and shading, we've given them a real three-dimensional look," Allan said.
The maps are printed with seven inks on two runs through a four-color press by Pikes Peak Lithography. So far, only maps of Western states, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, are available.
The computer-generated perspective landscapes grew out of promotional calendars produced by Dynamic Graphics of Berkeley and Allan's company, Allan Cartography, which shares Raven's loft in Medford. Dynamic Graphics produced the computer drawings and Allan came up with the color scheme and layout.
The first calendar, in 1982, was an image of Mount St. Helens before and after the southwest Washington volcano erupted, as well as views from eight directions. The next year's calendar was a view of San Francisco Bay.
Maps as Art
"Along about that time, I came along and said, 'You ought to be selling these as art, because that's what they are,' " Beard said.
"At first, there was a technically oriented market," he said. "They would buy a poster from us and take it to a frame shop and the framer would call me and want to know where he could get one. Now, we find we are selling these to the average guy who likes to hunt and fish."
Since then they have produced, among others, an aerial view of the Hawaiian Islands, a view of California, Nevada and the Pacific Ocean floor.
The map-posters sell for between $15 and $35.
"We call this the SR-71 view," said Beard, holding up Raven's biggest seller: the Rockies, the High Plains and the Intermountain West. "This is what you would see if you were actually banking at 90,000 feet over Amarillo and looked out the cockpit for a split second."
The computer drawings are made with U. S. G. S. digitalized data and special software Dynamics Graphics uses for mapping such things as underground geologic formations for oil companies.
The SR-71 view was made from more than 850,000 data points, each of which has about 50 bits of information to plot latitude, longitude and elevation precisely.
Ridge lines and a square grid that rises and falls with the land give the image a three-dimensional look. Elevations are exaggerated to make mountains easier to see.
Looking northwest over 13 states, the image was projected on a sphere to hide the edge of the data and simulate the curvature of the Earth.
"We literally calculated hundreds of views and that was the view we liked best," said Jeffrey Schwalm, marketing director for Dynamic Graphics.