Art Process: Wilderlore Maps

Here is a look behind the scenes at how I drew the maps for Amanda Foody‘s first two Wilderlore books (for Simon & Schuster): The Accidental Apprentice and The Weeping Tide.

Stay tuned for interviews with author Amanda Foody (now up!), art director (Karyn Lee) and editor (Kate Prosswimmer)!

First, as usual, is to read the book and work out what should go into the world. The publisher and author provided me with sketches showing roughly where everything was located, and ideas for elements — this sped up the process, as sometimes I get to spend a while playing with alternative geographies (also fun). But reading the book lets me find ways to fit the elements together, and make the drawings suit the story, and find more Beasts with which to ornament the pages.

(Drawing two maps at once simplified some decisions, too, as they needed to match and belong to the same style.)

You can see that at one point I was thinking about a double-page map (top left, below), but in fact this was to be a single-page map. The edges of maps are very important to consider! Both so that the world can be pleasingly spaced inside them, and because while borders take real estate, they’re also a lot of fun to play in.

We thought about having no borders (since the world hasn’t been completely mapped). But in the end we all liked the idea of beasts in the corners so much that we put borders around them anyway. Design tensions!

Tiny thumbnail sketches of book elements

So many Beasts!

These sketches are on accordion-folded strips of drawing paper. You can see here I was starting to think about how to fill all the space between the islands in the Sea.

There was a lot of Sea to draw — and a lot of Woods! These maps are of places that are only partially explored in the world of the books. So I had to fill them with enough detail to keep them interesting (the Beasts helped with this!) while also giving the sense that there were many adventures yet to be had.

Tiny thumbnail sketches of book elements

My older sister asked if I could just draw a whole lot of trees/waves etc once, and use them to fill in backgrounds. I certainly could, and possibly one day I will on a project that suits it. But I love making everything a little bit different, a miniature world on the page, and being able to work elements around each other, or hint at topographies with the arrangements of trees.

Here are the sketches Amanda Foody made for me, for reference (she said I could show you, and noted that they were drawn just as guidelines for me!). I dropped them into a page template in Photoshop and stretched and nudged them into place until everything fit.

Author's map sketches in page templates

I had to think hard about placing things around Woods because there’s a LOT of information that would usually be centred on a map (towns, kingdoms, etc), but which here needs to be pushed right to the side, so the Woods can take pride of place. But I also wanted to draw the little towns!

I printed those rough layouts and used them as a guide for a large pencil sketch. That sketch would go for adjustments and approval, and then I would use it as a guide for inking.

Here is what the pencils look like close up. Something I wanted to play with here was using the trees’ shadows to hint at the rise and fall of the land.

Pencil sketch of trees and bats

I sent the sketches through for discussion. You can see some of the notes made on them here — adjusting locations and labels, identifying watercourses, etc.

I have two big geographic rules when I’m drawing maps: everything is connected, and (unless there’s extreme provocation to the contrary) water flows downhill. Sometimes I can add in connections and watercourses, but often they might turn out to be important in later books, or affect the broader shape of the world. And sometimes (as in other maps) I have to leave room for elements that will later appear or disappear.

Something else that’s fun with maps is that they do involve a little bit of writing. There’s the figurative sense, in which I am influencing and reflecting and talking with the story. But there are, quite literally, labels to write. And some of those labels I get to make up, or at least suggest — as here, with the “partial and incomplete” and “tentative and ongoing” labels.

And then I have to draw the banners around them (banners are fun — I filled the whole February calendar with them).

The next step, after having the pencils approved, and discussing the ideal corner animals, is to panic. I almost always freeze up — maps are big and complicated to draw (and therefore to get wrong), and I’ve almost always suggested something in pencil that will be very difficult to draw specifically in ink.

The trick, almost always, is to do a sampler page, trying out whirlpools, for example, or different ways of drawing streams, or how to hint at a snake skeleton.

Some elements I already am comfortable drawing (trees, for example), and other elements here have shown up in other projects and samplers (the January 2022 calendar was a tree-and-building sampler, and for February 2021 I was already trying out some of these waves and fish, which owe a great debt to the style of Pauline Baynes‘ illustrations of fish, and medieval drawings). But there’s almost always some twist on how it needs to be incorporated.

Page of test ink drawings of map elements, waves, streams, trenches, etc

I went with the fully-inked watercourses here, to make them stand out in a trackless forest. It also linked the two maps, with the under-sea ‘rivers’ in the Weeping Tide map.

Below, you can see the pencils showing through the drawing paper as I work on a lightbox.

Inking of stream on map in progress — visible pen nib

You can see that best here around the lake:

Close up of ink drawing of stinky lake

I didn’t want the waves to look mechanical, but I did need them to be roughly similar-sized. If they vary all over the map when they’re not meant to, it can be distracting. I ‘d already tried this process out on the February 2021 calendar, so again I drew up a pattern of stripes about the right distance apart. I put that under the paper, and used it as a guide, adjusting a little bit where necessary to work around fixed elements.

Map of Sea on drawing board with guidelines for waves behind it

I don’t always hand-letter directly onto the map. Often I put it on a separate page. This is because (a) I make mistakes and (b) I have to separate them onto their own layer in Photoshop, for proofreading (and replacement in translations, etc).

This time I did, though — the map looked bare in patches if I left those elements out, and the idea behind the maps was that they might be maps made in a sketchbook by a traveller, so some infelicitous lettering would be consistent with that.

Photo of inked maps side-by-side on drawing board

And there are the two maps, before I scanned them in, tidied them up, separated the letering and sent them away!

Stay tuned for those interviews…

Edit: The interview with Amanda Foody is now up!

The maps aren’t in the first editions, as I came on board as the series expanded — I understand they will be in newer editions of The Accidental Apprentice (from 1 February) and second edition/hardcover reprints of The Weeping Tide (when they come out — the first edition is out now, though!).

Cover Image of The Accidental Apprentice
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

A boy who accidentally bonds with a magical Beast must set off on an adventure in the mysterious Woods in this “wholesome, delightful” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and cheeky middle grade fantasy debut—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

Cover image of The Weeping Tide
Cover art: Petur Antonsson

Barclay and his friends must save an island city from the Legendary Beast of the Sea in this exciting second book in the Wilderlore series, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and How to Train Your Dragon.

4 thoughts on “Art Process: Wilderlore Maps

  1. Pingback: An Interview with Amanda Foody | Kathleen Jennings

  2. Pingback: Maps in Books: An interview with Karyn Lee, designer | Kathleen Jennings

  3. Pingback: Maps in Books: An interview with Kate Prosswimmer, editor | Kathleen Jennings

  4. Pingback: February 2022 — round-up of posts | Kathleen Jennings

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