Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Maps and Mapping

I thought I might do a bit of a post on the process I go through to produce maps for the books. Getting the process to a stage where I'm happy has been long and daunting, and has involved lots of experimentation with different kinds of media, so perhaps it might be in some way helpful if I share a little of what I've learned as I've gone along.

Most of my maps start off like the image below -- a pencil sketch in my moleskine notebook, with lots of crossing out and rubbing out and fairly basic detail. Usually I doodle these at the same time as working out the plot, so I have at least some kind of idea of the world in which the characters are moving.

Sketchy, pencil drawn maps are all very good, but when it came time to provide something more presentable to the publisher I went into a bit of a spin. My first thought was to try and rope someone else into doing it for me, then I realised that the maps were a very important component of the story and something I really needed to own myself. After a bit of experimenting, I bought a set of (extremely expensive) technical drawing pens and used a pad of tracing paper to turn my pencil sketches into something more presentable.

I liked this version, and I considered it good enough to send to the publisher, but somehow I knew it wasn't what I wanted to end up in the book. It looked too much like something from Lord of the Rings, with little trees and bumpy mountains and the like. Since Tales of the Blue Jade is set in a world based on Asian mythology I decided I needed to look at historical Asian maps and get a feel for how these were drawn.

After a visit to the university library and quite a lot of googling, I found the map below.

It's an old (unfortunately I don't know exactly how old) Chinese map showing the Korean Peninsula. It had exactly the kind of feel I was looking for, so I used it as the basis of the map I finally ended up drawing.

The other thing I did is put away those expensive technical pens. Instead I bought a nib and bottle of ink for about $10.00 from the local art shop. Because cartridge paper gave me too much "bleeding", I used some heavy duty paper designed for acrylic paints. Not only did it hold the ink perfectly, but it had that aged parchment look to it, which further accentuated the look I was trying to achieve. Here is the result.

And yes, I did the whole thing by hand. Drawing those waves nearly took away my eyesight and my sanity, and every second I lived in fear of that misplaced drop of ink that would ruin the whole thing. I'm sure I could have done it more easily with photoshop and a tablet, but somehow I felt the urge to use a more traditional medium, something at least vaguely close to the tools used by historical mapmakers. And I think it came out well, if I say so myself.

This version then went, in a very heavily reinforced envelope, to the publisher, who added proper typeset labels for all the features as well as a scale and a compass that fits in with the existing feel of the map. I'd like to post the final version, but I don't have a copy of it yet (other than in the ARC, and that's too small to reproduce).

I guess you'll have to buy the book and see it!


  1. Very cool. Love the final direction. Can't wait to see the finished product. Your work on the background is astonishing. Nice hand.

  2. Thanks Jonathan. Your comments on the previous version were very encouraging and helped spur me along towards the final thing, so a double thank you!