Illuminated Contours

In lieu of the publication – which is still not ready – I created an exhibition ‘Companion’ which I’ve seen quite a few library visitors reading (by the way, the Library is closed this Saturday so the last opportunity to visit the exhibition is Friday). Within the ‘Companion’ is a short piece by David Fairbairn from the School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University. For those unable to visit I have added it here:

As is evident from Karen Rann’s Great Lines project, a pattern of contour lines can be used to quantitatively model a rigorous framework for terrain, but can also be applied more impressionistically to convey a sense of the shape and variations of the earth’s surface.

Mapmakers have no control over the location of the contour lines which represent reality, but their graphical appearance can be modified to give particular effects.  For example, the colour of a contour line on a standard topographic map can be used to reflect the nature of the surface: blue contour lines over ice, black contour lines over rock, brown contour lines over soil:D FairbairnOther characteristics of lines, such as form (dashed lines, continuous lines) and thickness, can be used to modify the appearance of the contour pattern.  An effective combination, varying colour/shade and thickness, is that proposed by Japanese cartographer Kitiro Tanaka in the 1950s.  Sometimes called ‘illuminated contours’, this method of rendering the contour lines shows them lighter if they are on a terrain slope facing towards the north-west, and darker on slopes facing south-east.  In addition, the lines are made slightly thicker if they face directly north-west or south-east, and thinner otherwise.  The example here shows this method applied to the contours of Schiehallion: the result is a pseudo-three-dimensional portrayal of the terrain surface, helping with the interpretation of the contour pattern.D Fairbairn 2I particularly wanted to include his piece as this image ties in so nicely with my models which are also examples of ‘illuminated contours’.

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