Edith/Maddie here, awed to have book map artist Rhys Davies as our guest. Yes, he is the person who drew the famous map of Three Pines! He has illustrated many more author’s towns, too, including Nether Monkslip in the Max Tudor books written by our friend G.M. Malliet and the 17th century London of Susanna Calkins‘ fabulous Lucy Campion mysteries. He agreed to let me ask him some questions today, and he has a special giveaway for one commenter.
When and how did you get started drawing maps for authors?
As an artist and designer, I’d done a variety of creative things over the years. I’ve always had a real interest in maps since I was a kid back in Wales and can remember unfolding the huge OS maps (Ordnance Survey) we had in the house and spending hours looking over them. They were so beautiful and detailed. My dad and I did a lot of hiking in the Welsh mountains where an understanding of maps and how they related to the land was crucial.. and fun.
It wasn’t until years later when this came back into focus again and merged with my creative life. A lucky conversation with a friend who’s an art director at St.Martins/Macmillan in New York started me off in this new direction. It suited me right away and I’ve been fiddling with real world and fantasy maps ever since.
How do you work with authors? Do they send you a sketch and you elaborate it? Or do they describe the town in words, you mock up a map, and you both revise?
Projects usually come from art directors at various publishing houses though more and more self published authors are requesting maps these days which is great.
I usually get a pretty basic scribble of an idea (sometimes very rough:). I’ll have an initial stab at general shape and some features and send it back to the art director. I don’t usually get to have direct contact with the author (poor, sensitive things ! :):).. and work through the art director and editors in endless e-mails. It seems the bigger the author, the more the layers of input. I’ve just finished a high profile book where there was a committee of people giving input 🙂
But usually it’s a back and forth ‘tennis match’ between myself and the art director. Basically ‘ nudge that over’.. ‘change that label’ ..’make that mountain larger’ kind of thing.
Until we get the finished piece. Pretty straight forward.
Do you use mapping software or do it all by hand?
I don’t actually use specific map making stuff, but I do most of my finishing work in Photoshop these days. Photoshop feels a little more organic than hard edged programs like Illustrator etc.
A lot of the time I start a map off by hand and scan everything into the computer. It’s also much easier to make adjustments in Photoshop with something as fiddly as a map which needs adjusting all the time, rather than doing so by hand. Having said that I still do most illustration work on paper, certainly initially. It depends of the project and the style we want to go for.
Do you ever revise a map? I’m thinking of the two fictional villages I write about. With each book, I often add a new business or residence. Do authors ask for updates with new books?
I often do revise maps. Some maps are used again and again on well established book series and it can be quite straight forward and fun to go back into a map and add or change something. This has also happened a lot recently where books have been picked up in other territories around the world. One particular example is a three-book series called ‘Caraval’ by Stephanie Garber, which was a big hit over here and has been picked up all over the place. I made a different map for each book in the series, and since then I’ve had to make dozens of changes and translations for markets all around the world. Great fun.
You landed the Three Pines map, which must have been quite the coup. Can you tell us how you came to draw Louise Penny’s internationally beloved fictional town?
It was great fun working on the Three Pines map. Despite having said that I don’t usually talk to the authors, Louise, myself and the editor chatted on the phone several times about how to get the town just right. Louise is lovely to work with. It seems there had been film adaptation of one of her books (which didn’t quite get it right!), and since then she’s been batting away the idea of having a visual reference for her world. Thankfully, it seems we got it right with the Three Pines map.
…And I just finished a new map of Paris a few weeks ago for Louise. It shows all the places that come into play in her new novel All the Devils Are Here. Lots of illustrations and fiddly Parisienne streets. We think it came out OK.
That’s so exciting! What’s the difference between making maps for large publishing house books and those for smaller presses or self-published authors?
As I mentioned earlier, there are more and more self published authors and smaller publishing houses writing to me asking about making maps. This is great and a little different from working with the ‘big monsters’ in New York! :).
The process is pretty much the same but it’s fun to be more hands-on working directly with an author.
The other difference between the two worlds can be the budget. I think smaller profile authors can sometimes be put off, imagining that a map will be very expensive. It’s mostly true that the big house often have larger budgets for art work, but I really try to bear in mind that writing your own book can cost a chunk of change. Over the years, I’ve developed a bunch of ideas and schemes to make having a cool map in your book do-able and affordable. That is, don’t be put off!
Hmm. Rubbing my hands! What have been your favorite books to work on?
I’ve been lucky to work on all types of books in different genres.
I do get a lot of fantasy maps to do, which are fun and fantastical, and allow me to get back into my Tolkien map mode (the Middle Earth maps are still my favorite book maps).
I recently finished an interesting fictional map for the YA novel Hush by Dylan Farrow. I gather it’s a world where people are infected by ink while they read and write..!
Real world maps are technically a little more challenging as all the details need to be right on. I recently worked on the map for American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings which caused quite a stir. It became part of the whole Oprah book club thing, but I must admit it was fun seeing a video of Oprah looking at a map I made.. ha!
Illustrated maps. These are fun to do because they combine illustration and map making. Louise’s map is an example of that, as is the one of Nether Monkslip from G.M. Malliet’s Max Tudor series.
Another example of a hand drawn map/illustration was for Susanna Calkins‘ Lucy Campion series. I’ve done a number of books showing London at various stages in its history. I really enjoy working on London images as I went to art college in Wimbledon… always fun to draw historical places that you’re familiar with. This map was a combination of a more traditional overhead London map and an illustration of the area around Covent Garden. We had to try and capture that old style of drawing where the perspective is slightly off. Enjoyed it.
Another favorite was a recent map of Yale/ New Haven for Leigh Bardugo’s novel Ninth House. Probably the toughest map I’ve worked on.. .tons of changes and tweaks and endless back and forth. In the end we had to work with another illustrator who the author wanted involved as well. But it came out really well, thankfully.
The Alexandria map, on the other hand, was much more fun. It was for the historical trilogy ‘ The Shards of Heaven’ by Michael Livingston. There were some historical references to go on, but as far as I could find, there wasn’t a similar 3D image of how the old city looked in Roman times, so it felt like I was breaking new ground to some extent. These ‘ flyover maps’ are fun to do but do take a lot of time to do…quite fiddly.
Readers: Do you pore over maps in books? What are your favorites? And…do you pay attention to the artist’s name? (Now you know you should!) You can ask Rhys questions, too. He will send one lucky commenter a signed map of their choice, and possibly a bit more swag, too!
Rhys Davies is a freelance cartographer and illustrator. Originally from Wales, Rhys studied Fine Art in London before moving to the US some twenty years ago. He spends most of his time illustrating maps for books, amongst other creative projects. Rhys lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife and two children. You can find him on his website at: http://www.rhysspieces.com or he can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org