Mapping The Imagination

Maps are a subject I keep returning to again and again and for good reason. Ever since I was a child I’ve held a deep fascination for atlas’s, globes, maps and cartography in general. The mystery of distant countries with exotic names, far flung foreign lands, strange topographic features or intricate maps of fictional worlds have always captivated my imagination and I know I’m not alone in this passion. Maps, particularly when used in fiction, are more popular today than they’ve ever been.

Check out my previous map inspired posts: For the love of maps! & Mapping your fantasy

f27c_thorins_map_from_the_hobbit1

In literary terms, the first map I’m aware of studying was probably E.H. Shepherd’s beautifully illustrated ‘100 Acre Wood’ for A.A. Milne’s glorious Winnie The Pooh, that was quickly followed by the maps in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Tove Jansson’s wonderful map of Moomin Valley and CS Lewis’s Narnia map.

img_0006-71

As all lovers of good fantasy fiction know, there is nothing as pleasurable as poring over a map of your favourite fantasy world, whether it be George RR Martin’s Westeros at the heart of his phenomenal Games of Thrones (Song of Ice & Fire) series, JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in his Lord of The Rings trilogy, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea or Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. 34c29aa5e22785787f24a35d580761c71

 

Now, as an illustrator and author, I create my own detailed hand-drawn fantasy maps for my books and for other authors and publishers. I’ve only illustrated 9 books to date so far but have several projects in the pipeline, and would like to share with you, my fellow map lovers, how I created my latest commission for fabulous fantasy writer, Juliet McKenna and her awesome new River Kingdom series.

Firstly, I cannot tell you what fun it is creating these beautiful objects – “The literal and visual distillation of an author’s imagination through graphite, pen & ink and paint.” It is true that not every great fantasy novel needs a map and some authors like NK Jemisin were initially not keen on them, but for me I love them as I think they create a tangible geographical point of reference from which the story weaves its magic. Funnily enough, Joe Abercromie who apparently wasn’t keen on fantasy maps for his First Law series then included 5 of them in The Heroes (to represent the battle movements)!

heroes-1-300x2121

At the end of July I was approached by Juliet McKenna who was looking for someone to do a map for her latest fantasy series, the River Kingdom. That started a really interesting month of creative exploration. Juliet, much like me, is a stickler for detail, which I love. The devil’s in the detail they say and that is particularly true when creating fantasy maps, the more information the better!

my-map-of-fendellin-colour-for-white-mountain

The first thing I loved, is that her River Kingdom is landlocked i.e. set in the middle of a continent, much like my Fendellin map (see left), and avoids the over used cliché of a coastline and seas. This makes total sense to me – as much as I love coastlines, not every land is going to be coastal and yet if you follow the vast majority of fantasy maps they are all either islands or coastal regions! River Kingdom is inland and is all about the rivers and the regions and peoples they dominate.

300dpi-graphite-map-scan

For a starting point Juliet emailed me a few pages of notes about her fabulous River Kingdom world, the main rivers (Tane and Dore) in her kingdom, what they are like (winding? straight? navigable? deep? shallow? rapids? maelstroms? etc), how they flow, the settlements and communities along their banks, the different administrative ruling centres and fiefdoms, what the Hill Country was like and forests, a description of the Nilgeh Mire, how the land lies and towns relate to each other, etc. It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be something rather special, as so few authors really fully imagine and realise the worlds they create down to the everyday detail.

300dpi-1st-inking-stage-map-scan

From this, we started a wonderful creative collaboration, back and forth. To ensure that my clients are 110% with the artwork they receive, I’m a great believer in asking questions rather than guessing, that way you are able to really crystalize what the author/client wants and are far more likely to deliver it.

More questions and details followed, the colour of the waters of the main rivers, their tributaries, what happens when the two great rivers meet, adding wharfs and quays for river folk to travel and ferries, the types of trees in the forest areas, how high are the mountains, how to represent the towns with different allegiances, motifs to be used to represent the Grainland and Grassland areas and lovely nuances like adding subtle terraces to some of the Downland hills and what the geology and terrain was of drier areas like the High Plateau. Discussions about the lovely maps of 15thC cartographer, John Speed and the red colour of towns depicted etc.

watermarked-300dpi-finished-map-amended-bw-version

Then, after the graphite and then inking stages were finished, a whole new conversation took place about colours and tones for the finished painted map. Mountainous regions in reality, vary hugely, another reason why I prefer to hand draw everything rather than using computer programs which just replicate the same mountain shape again and again, some smaller some bigger but none with any individuality. Were the mountainous regions alpine in nature, snow capped and grey granite or like the dry peaks of parts of the Andes or more like the Cairngorms and Snowdonia, greener lower peaks?

What about the woodland areas?

capture-2

Most forests depicted in fantasy maps tend to be one generic shape repeated infinitum and if they are coloured, one generic green shade. We decided instead to have individual shapes, colours and shades for the different tree types just like a real mixed forest canopy of deciduous and coniferous trees. Yes these are still stylised trees, drawing an accurate observational study of a tree with all it’s intertwining branches would look dreadful in a map context, like a mass of spider webs and would become too distracting to the overall effect.

captureThen you have the map’s compass. I like to do an individual compass for every map and client, so they are unique to that client’s work. In Juliet’s case, I really wanted to include some of the mythos present in her story, namely the fact that her market towns have shrines to the Sun Goddess & Moon God, so I wanted a compass rose with a sun and moon motif at the centre (lol, Juliet is apparently now thinking of using this compass rose as a cross-stitch design!).  🙂

compass

When painting the map, I found myself using some truly gorgeous pearlescent paints and gold inks for the details (there are amazing art products out there!), I only wish the sheen of these had fully translated into the final scanned map.

So, after a month and a bit of continuous work, we had a finished painted map for Juliet’s amazing new fantasy, Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launches at *BristolCon in less than two weeks! Pop along and meet Juliet in person and grab yourself your own signed copy from the author herself! (check out the gorgeous cover by Ben Baldwin!)

*BristolCon – is a fantastic one day SFF convention in Bristol at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on Saturday 29th October! The programme of events is here. (Juliet will be there signing copies of Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom and appearing on two panels & I’ll be there too supporting my publishers, Grimbold Books and doing a panel and reading – come along and join the fun!)

So, there you go folks…the process of actually creating and making a fantasy map, it ain’t easy but boy is it FUN!  🙂 xxx

300dpi-watermarked-finished-map-amended

🙂 xxxx

Advertisements

The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

I don’t usually re-blog my own posts, in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever done it before, but I saw this post I blogged in May last year and just loved the subject matter – writing and the history of writing! Enjoy! 😀 xx

Sophie E Tallis - Author/Illustrator

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil... The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, circa 2nd millennium BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, the writing’s on the tablet and I’m not talking computer tablets here, in terms of writing and technology, it seems we’ve come full circle! 😀

Like many of us, when I was a child I believed that the ancient Egyptians invented writing. That hieroglyphics were man’s earliest endeavour at making sense of the world in written form.

Of course, we all know this to be untrue now, that actually Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) and the ancient Sumerians invented writing, Sumerian cuneiform by writing on clay tablets with a reed called a stylus, at least 200 years before the Egyptians.

"The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the mo...
“The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the most famous of all cuneiform tablets. It is the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Like…

View original post 848 more words

The writing’s on the wall…er…tablet?

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil...

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian, circa 2nd millennium BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, the writing’s on the tablet and I’m not talking computer tablets here, in terms of writing and technology, it seems we’ve come full circle! 😀

Like many of us, when I was a child I believed that the ancient Egyptians invented writing. That hieroglyphics were man’s earliest endeavour at making sense of the world in written form.

Of course, we all know this to be untrue now, that actually Sumer (southern Mesopotamia) and the ancient Sumerians invented writing, Sumerian cuneiform by writing on clay tablets with a reed called a stylus, at least 200 years before the Egyptians.

"The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the mo...
“The Flood Tablet. This is perhaps the most famous of all cuneiform tablets. It is the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic, and describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world. Like Noah, Utnapishtim was forewarned and built an ark to house and preserve living things. After the flood he sent out birds to look for dry land. ME K 3375.” In the . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we grow and get older, thus our knowledge grows. What will we learn tomorrow? 😀   The reason for my focusing on ancient history, apart from the fact that I love it, study it and it continually inspires me, is simply the wonderment of the act of writing itself. That miracle of thought made manifest that we all take for granted.The Sumerians were this planet’s earliest known civilisation, although new discoveries are being made all the time so never let your knowledge be set in stone!

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script lis...

Clay tablet with Sumerian cuneiform script listing gods in order of seniority, 2400-2200 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As well as inventing writing, the Sumerians invented the round wheel, astronomy and agriculture as we know it. A truly amazing people, thousands of years ahead of their time. Yet we know so little about them. Their great ziggurats (pyramids) have not withstood the ravages of time as well as their later Egyptian cousins, many of their stele ‘stelae’ (huge standing stones inscribed with cuneiform) are but broken fragments. Of course, time has not been the only eroding factor. Sumer as it was, lying between the great river deltas of the Tigris and Euphrates, is modern-day Iraq, a country which has been ravaged by war for hundreds of years.

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancien...

English: Ruins from a temple in Naffur (ancient Nippur), Iraq, are said to be the site for the meeting of Sumerian gods, as well as the place that man was created. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sumer’s greatest city states were Uruk, Ur, Nippur, Eridu and Kish, though these are ruins now, their history overwritten by the Babylonian Empire which followed, the Akkadians, Assyrians, Hittites and a host of other invading and overlapping peoples. In such a rich environment, it was hardly surprising that the fertile ground of the Tigris and Euphrates would be a prize worthy of fighting for.

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Anti...

English: Ancient cities of Sumer Español: Antiguas ciudades de Sumeria Magyar: Ókori sumer városok (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, the reason I’m focusing on the Sumerians in particular, is simply because they also gave the world its very first story, The Epic of Gilgamesh. A wonderful fantasy adventure story on an epic scale, with our hero Gilgamesh, along with his friend Enkidu, trying to defy the gods and find the secret to immortality.

Gilgamesh Sumerian King

Gilgamesh Sumerian King (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Think of it, the world’s very first story, long before the Bible, Torah, Qur’an (Koran), the ancient Vedic Rig-Veda (early Hindu sagas), Buddhist tales, Zoroastrian writings or ancient Chinese scrolls of Confucius, the Sumerians were writing about their lives and they were writing stories. We have SO much to thank the Sumerians for!

What made them first think of projecting their thoughts in written form? No doubt the need for trade pushed the need for communication between peoples.

Evidence suggests that it was this cuneiform, written on clay tablets, that travelled to Egypt and India and other parts of near/middle Asia as part of the ancient trade links of the time; and that these later inspired the Egyptian earliest proto-hieroglyphics and the written language of the Indus Valley Civilisation (centred around Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa), covering modern-day India and Pakistan.

English: Mohenjo-daro

English: Mohenjo-daro (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suppose that is one of the contributing factors to my liking fantasy, particularly epic fantasy –  the fact that such sagas were written thousands of years ago, is certainly fuel for the imagination. The Sumerian King List for instance, a legendary text now where fantasy and fact certainly mix. The King List simply lists all the great rulers of the time, but it is not this which makes the record so extraordinary. It is the fact that this document cites many of those Kings as having lived and ruled for hundreds even thousands of years! Immortals? Talk about a feast for the imagination. If you’re looking for inspiration look to history.

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth ki...

Mace dedicated to the hero Gilgamesh (fifth king of Uruk, according to the Sumerian king list) by Urdun, civil servant of Lagash, Ur III. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The melding of fiction and fact is something I adore. Looking at history as we know it and daring to ask, what if this happened? For me, researching for an ancient forgotten people/culture that pre-date humanity, I had a lot of rich source material to draw from. Were these Sumerian Kings immortal exiles perhaps? Banished from their own Ǽllfren or Dworllian kin, to live amongst lesser humans? Perhaps it was these early sun-gods with their advanced knowledge and long life that seeded our civilisations? Are they the reason for the sudden unexplained jump in technology and culture all those thousands of years ago?

For me, my mind boggled with the possibilities. Certainly a rich pre-history from which to hang the tapestry of imagination.

But, fact and fiction aside, all we do know for certain, is that as readers and writers and lovers of the written word, we owe much to that ancient civilisation and their miraculous inventions!

😀 xx

Ziggurat at Ur

Ziggurat at Ur (Photo credit: jmcfall)