The Meet Britannica blog series takes you behind the scenes to Britannica’s colleagues who have made significant impacts on how we create and deliver products for all ages. Our last Meet Britannica blog featured Henry Bolzon, our very own head librarian, who has seen library work change dramatically with the transformation and pervasiveness of the Internet. This month, we’re diving into the artistic side of Britannica with our in-house cartographer of 8+ years, Kenny Chmielewski.
What’s “cartography,” you ask? It’s the art and science of drawing maps and charts. Cartography is allied with geography in its concern with the broader aspects of the Earth and its life. In early times, cartographic efforts were more artistic than scientific and factual. Nowadays, cartography is mostly done on computers using design and mapping software.
What kind of background gets you a career in cartography? Well, my bachelor’s degree is actually in meteorology, and I have undergraduate and graduate certificates in geographic information systems – a system designed to analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographical data. I also have a graphic design background, and I use a few different programs to design maps, like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.
Tell us briefly about a Day in the Life of a Britannica Cartographer… On any given day I’m revising maps or researching and creating new maps for online and print. I also create interactive maps and infographics. I’ve really enjoyed creating infographics lately. Taking an article and representing it in a visual form – with charts, graphs, illustrations, and maps – is really fun.
What do you find the most challenging as a cartographer? The most challenging aspect is probably researching a lesser known topic that may not have a map, or taking on a topic that has too many sources and trying to weed out the unreliable ones.
How many maps and charts have you created in your career at Britannica? Oh goodness, I’ve lost count! I’ve created or revised thousands and thousands of maps and infographics for various online and print products.
The beauty of the creative process is that the art sometimes takes on a mind of its own.
What is your favorite map that you have created for Britannica… and why? My favorite project is actually my most recent one – an infographic on the Great Chicago Fire (pictured). I just came in to work one morning and the creative juices started flowing…and I went with it. This one turned out differently than I’d planned, and I love the end result. Our illustrator Patrick Riley helped on this one too (Thanks, Pat)! Since Britannica’s headquarters are based in Chicago, this was an interesting local topic, too. In terms of maps, I’m not sure if I have a favorite single map, but instead I love some of the collections I’ve designed. I end up creating a lot of maps for natural disasters – things like earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. My favorites are the earthquake ones, in terms of design and the amount of useful information being shared.
If you didn’t become a cartographer, what would you have done instead? I’m sure I’d be in something else artistically inclined, maybe graphic design. Or photography is another passion of mine when I’m not making maps. My camera is probably my most prized possession.
If you could have dinner with one person (dead or alive) who would it be? Oh, that’s a tough one. Can I pick two? I’d love to sit down with Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. The stories those two could tell, combined with the passion they have for baseball (and the Cubs, of course), would just be magical. Do we have to have dinner though? Sitting with them and watching a Cubs game would be amazing – especially seeing their faces when the Cubs finally won the World Series! Priceless!
We hope you have enjoyed meeting Kenny! If there are other members of the Britannica team that you would like to hear from, please reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter using #meetblearn. Also, check back often as I will be introducing other key Britannica editors and team members.