Floating Map





Introduction: Floating Map

About: I am an artist and maker living in Illinois. I make sculpture based on self-recorded personal data using digital and traditional fabrication techniques.

In this Instructable I will walk you through the steps I used to make my artwork "Floating Map (Stroud UK 2000-2015)"
The piece comes from my larger on-going Latitude and Longitude Project


In that project I have been recording my Latitude and Longitude every hour since 1999.

Floating Map is a way to visualize all the time I have spent in my wife's home town of Stroud England over the years. In the piece I trace a line from one hour to the next for all the time I have spent there. Different years are illustrated by the different layers.

Step 1: Recording

The big project started way before this sculptural visualization was conceived. In 1999 I set my watch to beep every hour to remind me to take out my GPS and record a waypoint. At the end of the day I write down (by hand!) the location of where I was every hour. Several weeks or months later I type my handwritten logsheet into Excel. The spreadsheet can be used and manipulated for various drawing, visualization, and sculptural projects.

Step 2: Drawing

From the spreadsheets I move over to RhinoCAD to draw the maps. In the first image you can see the Rhino workspace. The drawing is in 3D with East and West on the x-axis, North and South on the y-axis, and time progresses up on the z-axis.

Step 3: Refining the Drawing to Make a Sculpture

For this project I was really interested in just my time spent in Stroud, England, so in Rhino I zoomed in on that area. It is a little hard to see but in the zoomed in image you can see a green square. That is the area I chose to visualize. Different line colors in these images illustrate different years of the project. In the last two images I have cut away the information I don't want, flattened each year onto the same plane, and separate the lines by year.

Step 4: Testing

Because this was going to be a big expensive block of plexiglass, I wanted to make sure everything would work. I made a small block to check various etch depths and resin colors.

Step 5: CNC Etching

Satisfied with my tests I started etching the real pieces. Each slab is 12x12x1.5in.

Plexiglass can be variable in thickness even withing a sheet. I found my 12x12in pieces varied enough that I needed to shim them up to make sure they were completely level with the movement of the CNC.

Once each piece was trued up I set to etching. I used a 60 degree v-bit.

The process left a lot of chips in the grooves but the cut was otherwise clean. I scraped out the grooves by hand later.

Step 6: Set Up for Resin

With all the pieces etched I set them up to pour the resin.

It took some time to figure out the best way and unfortunately I don't have a picture of the final set up.

I used tile spacers to keep the spacing regular, and then clamped the piece to hold it together.

The most reliable way to seal the plex for the resin pour is to glue thin strips of plex on using solvent cement.

Step 7: Resin Pour

Once the piece has been sealed up on three sides it is time for the resin pour. I build dams of clay on the top to prevent overflow.

I mixed up two big batches of Smooth-On Epoxacast 690, one tinted pink the other blue with Smooth-On So Strong tints.

With the two batches mixed up I poured mixed the colors in smaller batches to create the spectrum I was looking for.

With the resin mixed I put the cups in a vacuum chamber to get the bubbles out.

The resin has a long pot life and cures completely in about 24 hours.

Step 8: Surfacing

To clean up the side I have to surface them with a router.

Because the piece is so large it won't fit under any CNC machine I have access to. Therefore I made a surfacing fixture for my router. With this rig I can set the stops to pare away just a bit of the material.

In the router I use a 1/2in straight up-spiral end mill with 1/16in radius corners.

Step 9: Sanding and Polishing

The last step is very labor intensive. Due to the different density of the plex and resin and to keep the faces completely flat, I do most of the sanding by hand with a sanding block.

I start with 60 grit and go through about 15 grits to end up somewhere around 12,000 grit. I use various sand papers and pads on the way through the grits. All sanding it done wet.

Sanding is followed by Novus pollish

Step 10: Final Piece

Finally after all that sanding and polishing, the end result!

More images at:




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    13 Discussions

    Wow impressive! To bad I do not have access to a CNC.

    i like ur design ,,, very much , Arcylic

    Very cool. Do you source your plexiglass locally?

    Wow! Incredible! Congratulations on doing something so spectacular and original.

    That's a fascinating project. Incedible job!

    what was the point of you recording each hour you spent in your wife's hometown?

    wow! still getting my head around hourly location data starting back in 1999... The stories this tells you must be interesting. To get a more organic feel to the paths, i guess you would need to zoom out or collect data more frequently?

    2 replies

    yeah "organic feel" is good and so is "collecting data more frequently".

    WOW Amazing work of art.

    Yes, at the scale of this piece a lot of zig-zagging and meandering is missed out. The drawings in step 2 give you a more organic feel, as they cover hundreds of miles. You could also get more squiggles if you recorded more frequently. But with my somewhat manual process, every hour is just the right frequency. Interestingly, sometimes I do drawings with just points instead of lines, these drawings have a more organic feel. They highlight the hourly location instead of the space between.

    When I saw this on the frontpage it instantly reminded me of of your last acrylic/ resin artpiece. Even with all the background info and the real data its based on, it is still hugely interresting to look at. Also you have my deepest respect for the flawless sanding & polishing.