A few weeks ago I gave an illustrated map workshop at the Queensland Writers Centre, for about 18 people in person and over 50 online (I bound around and build things on the floor, so a big shout-out to Sebastian for keeping up with the camera, and relaying online conversations and generally doing the hard work of wrangling me!).
The map workshop was specifically illustrative and narrative rather than scientific. I am neither a cartographer nor a geographer, and do not claim to be! My own maps are pictures of the spaces where stories happen — not just the physical place, but the idea of it, and the sort of things that could happen there.
Francis Hardinge wrote beautifully about that in The Writers Map — you can read an extract here: Wizards, Moomins and Pirates: The Magic and Mystery of Literary Maps, but I also heartily recommend the (World Fantasy Award winning) book: The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands — Huw Lewis-Jones.
Here are a few of the books I referred to in the workshop (there are so many out there! and this isn’t including assorted atlases, books about place names, etc):
- The Writer’s Map, An Atlas of Imaginary Lands — Huw Lewis-Jones (World Fantasy Award winner)
- History of Britain in Maps — Phillip Parker
- Great City Maps — DK Publishing
- Sea Monsters — Chat van Duzer
- Plotted: A Literary Atlas — Andrew DeGraff and Daniel Harmon
- Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies — Andrew DeGraff and A. D. Jameson
- The Map Room blog: maproomblog.com
The workshop was a splendid mixture of ages and interests — a thoroughly enjoyable selection of people, because of how all those experiences and abilities and fascinations bounce off each other. I had a few epiphanies about my own work process, too (particularly in relation to written ‘maps’).
There were people who left with map designs to ink, and people who left with stories to tell, and a whole range in between who played with all sorts of skills — communicating through images and drawing tiny things and thinking through a physical space and looking at a world and breaking open a story.
Several attendees have very generously allowed me to post extracts from their sketched maps. I wish I could show you all of the designs that were emerging! While we started from the same story and landscape discussion, there was such a wide range of choices, solutions, storytelling, worldbuilding, linework…
Here’s a section of Meg Dunley’s map and notes (you can see more over in instagram.com/megdunley).
I do so love the “Far Away” label here — the way it frames the map, so that this is where the story is happening, but there is a larger world ‘altogether elsewhere’. It adds an extra level of framed-ness to the story (and a faint breeze of possibilities). The unmistakable little people, doing just what they need to (chopping, laundry), the house with its veranda, the receding perspective acknowledging that the high country is merely a backdrop to Events. Meg’s notes are also heavily drawn.
Consider this corner of Asia Ren’s map:
The varying weight of the pencil lines here are great. Those mountains — scribbly they are, they are DEFINITE, and suggest a certain type of massive, aloof, mysterious horizon as they recede into the background. The boil of the waterfall, the distinct darkness (almost three-dimensional) of the lair, the specificity of the path being a cliff path…
Watching the class consider the different levels and dimensions of the landscape spins out so many questions and takes and stories.
Here’s a slice of Toni Risson’s map (the rectangle borders of this map are themselves on a skewed perspective, which also suggests many possibilities).
What keeps catching me here are all those beautiful curls in the river — suggesting the flow of water, of course, but also making a distinct ornamental choice. The houses have two clear architectural types. The sense of action — the axe mid-swing, the wolf with its attention drawn. This is to be a world caught at a moment of suspended motion.
Megan Badger’s labels delight me:
The drawings here are very clear and instantly communicative: those boats and that fish, the neatly fenced vegetable garden! This map is about the mechanics of the world, all the things that are going on alongside and behind the story — “mum’s wholefoods”, a crossroads for deals, the chant of the washer women (the possibilities of recording sound on a map).
(Also: If anyone else from the workshop reads this post and is willing to send me their map/thoughts, I’d love to look at some more of these details — and if you sent through your pictures but didn’t include a preferred link to your online presence, just let me know!)