Project Two – Final Post – The Sturgeon Maps

Lower Fraser River White Sturgeon Info Map

My intent with the first Sturgeon Map, the Lower Fraser River Sturgeon Info Map (LFRSIM), was to show the Fraser river from the bias that a sturgeon might have. Important areas for burrowing, feeding, and overwintering are indicated on the map, and the landforms are not labeled. I distorted the river itself to give more space to areas that were known for winter habitats, using scale to indicate possible significance. As a hypothetical experiment, the map is to show that there could be seen to be a river city for fish, with different areas being used for different reasons, almost like our own neighbourhoods.  This sturgeon city exists alongside all the cities of BC’s Lower Mainland.

Both maps are based on data from a paper published by BCIT students (downloadable from that worked on tagging sturgeons and then tracking them over two years.

Fraser River White Sturgeon: Detection of Acoustic-tagged Salmon

The second map is titled Fraser River White Sturgeon (FRWS). For FRWS, I created an inset map above a large illustration of a sturgeon. The map indicates where the acoustic sensors are along the Lower Fraser, and two of the overwintering locations discovered by tracking the sturgeons. 101 sturgeons were tagged in 2009 for this study. Originally I thought that I would include four point of view drawings of the river, from the fish’s perspective but I felt I would be straying too far from map making, and I discarded that direction.

These pieces are focused on map-making, not on further charts or graphs. This is a detour from my first project of the term, which charted weather-related tweets and temperatures over a few days. I was intrigued by my experiments with QGIS, the open-source mapping application, and my difficulties with rendering shape files. The mistakes looked better than the maps that worked, and that encouraged me to introduce a more human element to my pieces. Part of this project also relates to how statistics and data can support bias, and how maps can re-inforce those biases. By choosing to work with maps, my explorations are on how to have a map serve a non-human population, define non-human spaces. I used brush strokes and hatch marks to mimic mottled, engraved map surfaces on the LFRSIM, as I was inspired by the engravings and drawn quality of early map in my research.

Hatch marks and stippled wax

These two pieces sit on the edge of art and maps. They use a visual language from each, the softness of the wax with maps carved into the surface and facts about the sturgeon alongside. The combination of encaustic and data visualization, specifically mapping, was an interesting combination of media. Encaustic is warm but low-resolution, it can take cleaner, digital forms like transfers and printed materials and soften them. This could make it more appealing or engaging to an audience, but at the same time, it could also make it less real, less factual.

Close up of jump rings in map

Close up of source text

Primarily my intent is to show these as an educational tool, something that could be used to engage people and encourage conservation of habitat. My first map relies on a little whimsy to engage a viewer (the line “Sturgeons, like most bottom feeders, mumble and are known for being poor conversationalists.” ), but since the map itself is a hypothetical fiction based on a few facts, perhaps my potential audience would overlook a more blatantly untrue statement.


Close-up of text from LFRWSIM

Many questions came up as I worked on these two maps and from my presentation and discussion with Kate and Luke. I’ve captured some my responses below:

Do these pieces work as stand-alone objects or do they need supporting text?
I felt they could be ideal as educational displays that supported a larger exhibit. The sturgeon in the second piece would be great as an illustration, and I feel encaustic would be worth further exploring for creating animal illustrations to support other research.

Could they be progressed further?
Certainly a large scale encaustic map would be great to work on, or scanning in a map and then enlarging it and working with it as a digital illustration.

Does having a hypothetical fact in a piece devalue the real data in it, or does it make it more approachable by appealing to imagination?
I love surrealism and an occasional non-sequiter, but it’s not for everyone! I know I run the risk of alienating my audience by presenting hard facts with fictions, however I would hope that it would help engage them and add a more human element to an educational piece.

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