Stamen watercolor: Watercolor Process | Stamen

Watercolor Map |

Watercolor Maptiles is a web-based, open-source mapping tool designed by Stamen Design, a San Francisco-based data
visualization and cartography design studio. The site displays OpenStreetMap’s data with the hand-hewn textures of
watercolor paint. (OpenStreetMap is a collaborative project to create a free, editable map of the world.) To explore
and use the map, users can enter a location into the navigation bar, pan, scroll, and zoom in and out (zoom levels
range from 1 = whole world/furthest zoom, to 18 = closest zoom). Users can take screenshots to create images for use
in their own open-source projects, and they can embed the map into their own websites. Launched in 2012, Watercolor
Maptiles is part of a larger web-based cartographic project to create free, open-source tools that present public
data in highly visual ways.

The website you are experiencing here is a duplicated live version of the original Watercolor Maptiles site, hosted
on Smithsonian Institution servers and domain. In 2021
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum acquired Watercolor Maptiles into its
digital design collection.
You can view the work’s collection record here.
It is the Smithsonian’s first acquisition of a live website into its collections, consisting of over 56 million map
tiles (separate png image files) and the underlying code. In addition to archiving these assets, Cooper Hewitt worked
closely with Stamen Design to copy the live site to a Smithsonian version where it will be maintained and made available
under Creative Commons licensing, facilitating the free access and interactivity that is inherent to the work.

Why this website?

Stamen Design is an award-winning design firm and in 2017, won the prestigious National Design Award for Interaction
Design. Watercolor Maptiles is one style in a series of Stamen Design’s legendary digital maps—open-source mapping
tools that are searchable, zoomable, and downloadable. The map styles are built on OpenStreetMap data, so they are
freely available for use wherever OpenStreetMap data is displayed. Stamen designed the maps with free public access
as a fundamental goal. The maps render the world in several styles from which users can choose, as seen below—a
conventional terrain map, a high-contrast black-and-white toner map, and the watercolor style that imbues the
digital map with the hand-hued textures of watercolor paint.

Screenshot (taken January 11, 2021) of the landing page, which displayed the other two map styles in the series: Terrain and Toner.

Watercolor Maptiles breaks from traditional online cartography by emphasizing aesthetics at the same level as
representational accuracy. The marks on the screen are based on real-world data, and the mapmakers have taken
liberties with the rendering process to emphasize that the maps are the product of human–computer interaction, not
the end result of faceless robotic activity. Water is rendered in blues mixed with turquoise and violet; green
spaces are yellow, forest and muddy greens; terrain is a combination of peaches, browns and violet; motorways are
oranges, reds and browns; buildings are lavender gray. The colors retain the texture of rough paper. A wet-wash
technique results in darker tones where the pigment accumulates and disperses in lighter hues. The aesthetic
recaptures the tactility and hand-hewn nature of physical maps, qualities that are often lost with digital maps,
while being rooted firmly in the open data ethos and global nature of the OpenStreetMap project. The maps have been
ubiquitous on the web and used in thousands of mapping projects around the world.

What did Smithsonian do?

In order to create this live version of the website, our Smithsonian team worked closely with Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen’s
Founder and Creative Director, and his team. We actively sought to acquire Watercolor Maptiles not as an archived
site, similar to how the Library of Congress archives websites, but as a live site in order to prioritize free
access and interaction—hallmarks of the original site. We had to form artificial boundaries in order to tame
Watercolor Maptiles into something “collectible” by institutional standards, despite it still breaking with
conventions in many ways. Notably, Cooper Hewitt’s branch of the site disentangles Watercolor Maptiles from Stamen
Design’s other web-mapping tools. We copied the watercolor map tiles from Stamen to Smithsonian servers; relinked
the code to the new server locations, now under Smithsonian’s control; and made required security modifications,
updating the site’s http protocol to the more secure encryption of the https protocol (a web standard that began in

We made minimal, but critical, changes from the original site. Removing the black band located across the top of the
original site enabled us to feature more of the watercolor map and signal its disentanglement from the other
web-mapping tools. Options to “Donate” funds and to “Buy” objects decorated with maptile images available on the
original site were removed and replaced with this “About” section. A key goal for institutional collecting of
digital objects is to document and reveal to the public as much of our process for collecting and preserving as
possible. We have maintained the “Embed” function of the site to ensure usability as it was initially
designed. And we continue to make the site publicly accessible and open to all, critical to the ethos of the project
since its launch.

We recentered the site’s landing page to feature Cooper Hewitt’s New York City location rather than Stamen’s San
Francisco headquarters. This slight modification seeks to reflect the site’s literal and visible acquisition from
its native Stamen ecosystem to Smithsonian’s collection. The landing page of the original site is documented below.

Screenshot (taken January 11, 2021) of the original Watercolor Maptiles landing page as hosted by Stamen Design.

Other resources:

Cooper Hewitt archived the more than 56 million map tiles and original code in its secure Digital Asset Management
System (DAMS). Furthermore, the museum has generated extensive documentation around our efforts, including designer
interviews; video documentation navigating the native site; a substantial research dossier tracking all assets,
changes, and the acquisition process; and the acquisition of printed maps made by Stamen Design when the website
first launched.

Here is the Watercolor Maptiles’s Cooper Hewitt collection record.

Click here to watch a video of Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen Design founder and creative director, discussing the work.


The public is welcome to use and generate map tiles on this site in accordance with the Creative Commons copyright licenses
provided by Stamen Design and OpenStreetMap. In all other respects, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum makes this
site available under and Smithsonian Institution’s Privacy Statement.

MapCarte 108/365: Watercolor by Stamen Design, 2010

Click on image to view web map

One of the ways in which mapping technology has changed, particularly in the early 21st century is that we now have a wide range of pre-canned work that can be re-purposed as part of our own work. Google’s 2005 map revolution played a massive part in this as the idea of cached, tiled basemaps at multiple scales became the de facto digital map experience. Soon after, people began ‘mashing up’ their own content across Google’s basemap and the mashup craze was born. Cartographers have always compiled their work from a range of different sources, and often used base mapping produced for other purposes, so conceptually this wasn’t anything new but practically this developed into a radical departure. For compile, read mashup.

But what if you don’t want a Google topographic reference map as your underlay? What if you want something else more suited to the data you’re draping across the top? Many mapping companies, design studios and individuals have developed techniques for re-styling other people’s tiles or for re-cooking new tiles based on modifications you make yourself. This provides the map-maker with a fantastic opportunity to prepare a basemap that truly meets the map’s needs.

Stamen Design  have developed a reputation for thinking outside the box and using a technological sophisticated approach to produce aesthetically pleasing work. This includes digital base maps. They’ve produced many different, eye catching designs but perhaps the one that has caught most attention has been Watercolor. The map takes on an ethereal feel because it’s appearance is similar to the soft strokes of a watercolor painting. Fills are inconsistent in tone, texture and transparency, line widths are not at all uniform in width or colour and many of the features are little more than a hazy amorphous blob. But what an effect!

Click on image to view web map

The concept of taking a digital map data set and portraying it in the most un-digital way possible provides a natural attraction. There’s something very appealing about the way that an apparently painted picture challenges the stereotype of rigid digital data and traditionally produced maps. It provides a very organic product from a very sterile set of coordinate data. As with all good digital basemaps, the detail is re-styled at different scales and the process of simplification and generalisation works well – less detail and more smudges at smaller scales and some refinement as you zoom in.

Many have used the basemap, often, it has to be said as a stand-alone map just because it has a strong visual appeal. Ironically, it’s also been printed and hung as a picture by many too. Of course, as with any basemap it’s also possible to find examples where people have used it wholly inappropriately under data not suited to the style but that’s to be expected. What Stamen did was challenge our notions of what a digital basemap can be and inspired us to move beyond functional digital maps to beautiful digital maps.

More about Stamen’s maps can be found here. Their overall design studio work is here.

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    Watercolor on nails step by step for beginners

    Watercolor painting on nails has been a popular type of nail design for a long time. Usually it is reproduced on a matte white substrate. As patterns it is used: abstraction, flower theme, landscapes. A good master with the help of this technique is able to depict a serious composition on the nails.
    In this article, we will analyze in detail what watercolor is on nails, consider step-by-step instructions for beginners, learn about all the intricacies of this technique.

    What you need to know about the features and nuances of watercolor painting techniques

    Manicure watercolor painting is a technique of applying images of different subjects to nails. A feature of this technique is the manifestation of the blur effect. With the help of translucent strokes, the master makes the design light, and the layering gives it dynamics and volume. Now there are several types of watercolor techniques. Each of which has its own subtleties and properties.
    The appearance of designs with murals is different. This makes it possible for each master to choose and study the most comfortable way for him to apply images on nails.

    Experts distinguish three types of techniques, depending on the materials used.
    1. Blur technique (Dry) . This technique involves applying paints to the nails and further blurring them with alcohol or water. Thus, a transparent airy texture is obtained and chiaroscuro is created. The advantage of this technique is that it is unnecessary to dry the surface in the lamp after each stage, because the materials used dry easily in air

    2. Painting with gel polishes
    . This technique requires great skills from the master, time to complete, the ability to work with chiaroscuro, knowledge of color. After each step, an intermediate polymerization is required. Images made in this way have a more realistic and three-dimensional look. To achieve this, the masters mix gel polish with a top coat or with other varnishes.

    3. Watercolor on nails (Wet)
    . It is considered the fastest method of creating a design. In this case, special materials are used, and the task of the master is in the direction of the image. Connecting with each other, the directions create specific shapes and patterns that cannot be repeated.

    All the described techniques are suitable for creating not only simple drawings, but also complex compositions, the main thing is the skill of the performer.

    Do you want to become a TOP master?

    Come to our updated course, in which we have collected the most relevant techniques and techniques for performing the procedure.

    After the training course, you are guaranteed to be able to complete the procedure on your own from and to. When enrolling in a course this month, there are discounts, and you will also receive a guide for attracting customers from Vkontakte as a gift.

    And if you want to find a job in a beauty salon, we will help you find an employer according to your preferences and arrange a meeting with the manager.


    What materials and tools will be needed for watercolor design

    Watercolor design on nails is performed using the following types of materials.
    1. Watercolor drops. The material is a special colored liquid sold in vials. An alcohol solution is used as the basis for watercolor drops. Due to this feature, the material dries quickly, and the treated surface does not require additional polymerization. The liquid has a narrow color palette (10-15 color options). However, when mixing, the master can create the shade he needs. Brushes are required to work with the material.
    2. Acrylic paint. This material is a pigment (sold in tubes) for painting. Paints of this type are applied to matte surfaces and dry easily (in air) and can be dissolved with water. Acrylic paints diluted with water take a very long time to dry. Therefore, most manicure masters use them less often than others.
    3. Watercolor gel polishes. In appearance, these are ordinary gel polishes, in an ordinary bottle with a brush. However, this material has a special chemical formula, so that different pigments can interact to create shades. After applying to the surface, the varnish spreads, creating in the process of composition the most similar to flowers, reptile skin or an abstract pattern. It all depends on the experience and skills of the master, as well as on the size of the drop.
    4. Artistic watercolor. This is the most famous form of watercolor paint. It is made on the basis of a plasticizer and a pigment. You can buy this material at any art store. A large palette makes it possible to use this paint to create any compositions.
    5. Regular gel polishes. This coating necessarily requires curing after application to the surface. The material can have different pigment density, it all depends on the effect and the manufacturer. There is a wide palette of colors and shades and therefore gel polishes are often used by nail service specialists. Painting with gel polish takes a lot of time, as it requires a phased implementation with mandatory drying with a lamp after each layer. This is important to keep in mind because otherwise the pigment may mix and the design may look untidy.

    As for the tools for watercolor design, the set must include: brushes with a sharp end made of natural bristles, brushes of different thicknesses made of synthetic bristles, as well as a standard manicure tool.

    Interesting images and images for watercolor painting on nails

    It should be noted that the technique of watercolor painting on nails can greatly simplify the creation of images and compositions. The disadvantage in this case is the low variability of possible ideas for design.
    Now imitation of various textures is very popular, like:

    • minerals;
    • haze;
    • cyan;
    • reptile skin;
    • marble.

    These types of designs can be combined with the most famous techniques and decorative elements, including:

    • stamping;
    • aquarium equipment;
    • slider;
    • foil;
    • sequins.

    Floral looks are seasonally popular. After the end of winter. In anticipation of the heat, everyone wants to see bright, rich pictures with many shades. This group may include a composition with a thin stem or bright rosebuds. It all depends on the taste of the client and the skill of the master.
    Consider the most popular watercolor designs.

    Stained Glass

    This watercolor design features a mix of vibrant details, abstract patterns, shapes and lines. The application of such a coating occurs in stages, layer by layer, while using varnishes that differ in a more liquid consistency.

    Flower theme

    This design offers a wide range of ideas and compositions. Among its main advantages, it is necessary to highlight: a variety of forms, a large palette, it is possible to beat compositions in different ways. If the image consists of large flowers, then the master must draw as many small details as possible (petals, stamens). But drawings with small buds should be done with materials that do not create a relief.


    Like flowers, this theme allows you to create different designs. Apply many different shades, create compositions with several characters, draw portraits.


    This design is created on a white backing. Before it dries completely, the master adds black (dark gray) gel polish and dilutes the drop a little with a thin brush. Then you need to wait until the pattern disperses, and then apply drying. As a final touch, you need to finish the veins.


    This style is most often used in the spring, when greenery blooms around.

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