Map process: Amira and Hamza

Photo pinched from Samira Ahmed. Cover illustrated by Kim Ekdahl and designed by Karina Granda

Very soon I will be posting an interview with Samira Ahmed herself, author of (among other things!) Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, and with Karina Granda, the wonderful art director. But first: the process behind this slightly unusual map.

You see, this was not a map of a small part of a world, or even just of one world. The adventures of Amira and Hamza take them not only from Chicago to the Himalayas, but then through many, many interconnected tiny worlds (tilisms), joined to each other by somewhat-metaphysical, but physically navigable, coils. And I had to fit this all on the usual double-page space allowed for a more traditional map.

I started by sketching through the book, drawing notes to myself of descriptions, geographies, references, creatures, beings, and dumpsters, and noting key descriptions, and testing out how to create certain effects (e.g. buildings of gold) when the final drawing would be in black lines.

But as I drew, I puzzled about the shape of the world — whether to draw the tilisms floating in space (but then what about Chicago?), or as a chart? Or a board game?

It was interesting to have to think about the purpose of a map like this. Not for traditional navigation, to be sure, but to create a physical representation of something that shouldn’t be possible, and to give a sense not only of the place(s) in which a story happens, and the beings you might meet along the way, but also the feeling of it: busy and ornate, full of life and wonder and danger and good advice. (Some previous thoughts on maps.)

However, as the book begins with a visit to an astronomy exhibition, and involves some significant lunar events, I started digging into beautiful old charts of the stars and planets (here are a few sketches), and that’s where I found the answer.

Down at the bottom is the tiniest drawing of a figure as a game piece — that was for one of the board-game approaches.

I suggested using an astrolabe as the base for the map’s design: the slightly offset rings could represent the different worlds, with clear boundaries between them, and plenty of room for decoration and the potential for movement. And the curving, vine-like overlays of an astrolabe would be a perfect guide for the coils connecting the worlds. (Also, I enjoy industrial fabulism.)

Here’s just one of the examples:

Mamluk-era astrolabe, 1282, Photo: Mustafa-trit20 CC CC BY-SA 4.0

So I sketched the layout accordingly, taking a rectangular slice of a hypothetical astrolabe. This created the rather rare situation of making it pretty clear where on the page just about everything needed to go. I did not have to consider, for example, the likely paths of watercourses, or the change in types of trees over an area, or puzzle out the relative distances alluded to in the novel.

And it was a lot of fun dealing with miniature geographies — both those requiring plausibly-deniable accuracy and those heavily invented (but still guided by existing imagery). I’ve written before about the appeal of miniature groves, and that fascination fed into the map, too.

Once this concept had been approved by all concerned (art director, author, editor), I then drew an arrangement of circles on the computer to use as guidelines.

I make no secret that I don’t do straight lines or accurate geometries in my art. But I’ll sometimes rule lines up to function as a template around which I can work. These usually are softened and obscured by layers of sketches and changes, and I don’t mind if my own drawings are inaccurate, but at least the suggestion of a nod in the direction of plausibility lingers.

Using those lines and the sketch as a a base, I then developed the more detailed pencils for the map. You can just see the greyed-out circle guidelines.

I hand-lettered the place names in my own loopy writing on a separate piece of paper. But this quick placement of lettering makes sure that I (a) allow enough room for the words and (b) don’t put important details in places that will be hidden by labels. (I drew the lettering and scrolls separately so that the publisher can easily move them around / edit text / translate it.)

The grey band down the centre of the page above is to stop me putting important details where they could vanish into the spine.

Then I scan the pencil sketch in again, darken it, print it out, put it under nice drawing paper (Canson illustration 250) on the light box, and start inking.

I used a dip pen and Winsor & Newton black ink.

Once I can trick myself into starting, I love this stage: turning those aspirational little pencil scribbles into final ink drawings, with shadows and movement and personality.

Playing with hatching and texture.

Filling the space between the stars.

Drawing the tiniest dumpsters.

I will post the interviews soon. In the meantime, Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds has been published and is available through all good bookstores!

A few older map posts:

Note: If you’d like to support art and writing and posts like this about it, I have a Patreon account (patreon.com/tanaudel) and patrons there get behind-the-scenes process and sneak-peeks, starting from US$1, or you could buy me a (virtual) coffee at ko-fi.com/tanaudel (and I get through quite a bit of coffee).And/or check out prints and products available at Redbubble and Spoonflower.

New map! Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds

Photo pinched from Samira Ahmed. Cover illustrated by Kim Ekdahl and designed by Karina Granda

New map just dropped!

I was thrilled to do this slightly unusual map (involving multiple worlds!) for Samira Ahmed’s Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, from Little, Brown.

I’ll post more about the process soon, but in the meantime, please admire the cover art by Kim Ekdahl.

On the day of a rare super blue blood moon eclipse, twelve-year-old Amira and her little brother, Hamza, can’t stop their bickering while attending a special exhibit on medieval Islamic astronomy. While stargazer Amira is wowed by the amazing gadgets, a bored Hamza wanders off, stumbling across the mesmerizing and forbidden Box of the Moon. Amira can only watch in horror as Hamza grabs the defunct box and it springs to life, setting off a series of events that could shatter their world—literally.

Suddenly, day turns to night, everyone around Amira and Hamza falls under a sleep spell, and a chunk of the moon breaks off, hurtling toward them at lightning speed, as they come face-to-face with two otherworldly creatures: jinn.

The jinn reveal that the siblings have a role to play in an ancient prophecy. Together, they must journey to the mystical land of Qaf, battle a great evil, and end a civil war to prevent the moon—the stopper between realms—from breaking apart and unleashing terrifying jinn, devs, and ghuls onto earth. Or they might have to say goodbye to their parents and life as they know it, forever.…

Observation Journal — three thoughts about maps

This page of the observation journal is about maps, as well as about a specific book: Mark Monmonier’s Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Risk in America.

It was a fascinating book (and dense — it took a long time to read and absorb). Also, it was published two decades ago and I HIGHLY recommend reading technical books (outside of your own field) that are 20 years out of date — it takes the pressure off having to remember details accurately and is very useful for conversations at parties, because you can usually find someone who is willing to fill in the gaps.

Three map-specific thoughts on reading it:

  • Every map is rhetorical.
    • I had a very invigorating argument with someone on a panel, once, about whether a particular map could be considered as absolutely objective, and they just CAN’T. Especially military maps, which I think was the focus of our debate.
    • Every map exists for a reason, and makes choices, and needs artificially constructed skills to create and/or read it, and presents views and is intended to accomplish (or enable the reader to accomplish) a purpose. That’s their whole reason for existence! And their fascination, power, and possibility.
    • I’ve made a note here to play more with the idea of maps for hyper-specific purposes, but I’ve already touched on this in a few stories (“Kindling”, in which maps suppress the fantastic, and “The Tangled Streets”, in which maps are an expression of the fantastic), as well as illustrated maps. I approach book maps less as tools for physical orientation than as a pool of narrative possibility into which the reader is about to be pushed.
    • Related to this, and equally subjective: I often enjoy introductory descriptions of the location of a story (separate from character action) when (and because) it plays the same role as an illustrated map (of the type I like).
  • All maps are maps of where the dragons are (or might be, or how far they have been pushed back).
    • This is a more lighthearted argument than the one above, but I’m still prepared to have it.
    • I don’t know why I compared this to applying for grants.
  • That maps (like books) are pins stuck in time.
    • For some reason this thought linked to both the Muppets travelling by map and Connie Willis’ characters’ reliance on maps of where bombs fell in the Blitz in Blackout and All Clear. There was also a splendid website that let you go back to maps from specific years of Brisbane’s history and find photos of or from those places in a given year, but I can’t track it down.
Trees sketched for a new map, in progress.

Drawings from the QWC Map Workshop

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!).

Pen drawings with bits of maps, clouds, compass roses. A sheep on a solitary island with "Map of the Last Lonely Island". A stag running down a beach with a label that leads to "Elsewhere".

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 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).

Meg Dunley

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:

Asia Ren

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).

Toni Risson

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:

Sketched trees, houses, gardens, paths, fishing village. Typed notes that say:
Map features:
mums wholefoods
fishing village
crossroads where deals are made
granny's apothecary
memorial meadow
and the washer woman's chant:
"beat the cloth
flow and froth
beat until the grime comes off"
Megan Badger

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!)

July 2021 calendar — Houses

Note: This calendar is supported by patrons, who get it a little bit early, along with other sneak-peeks and behind-the-scenes art: patreon.com/tanaudel, and also by those very kind people who throw a few dollars towards it via the tip jar: ko-fi.com/tanaudel

I knew I’d be running late on this one (due to some project deadlines), and I also knew this was NOT the fastest design I had in mind, but OH WELL. I’ve been wanting to draw a pattern of houses for ages and it was a very pleasing design to work on. And I was able to put some Queenslander houses into it, and a few hints of stories.

That, for me, is one of the charms of book maps — not “here is the place where this story takes place”, or even “here is this sort of place…”, but “here are the sorts of stories that might happen in a book like this.”

And that applies just as well to a town as to other maps.

It is also up as a print and repeating pattern on Redbubble if you are in need of (for example), prints, phone cases, notebooks or dresses (or a jigsaw puzzle). It’s up in both colour and as a line drawing (if you prefer monochrome, or would like to colour in your own clothes).

And here (for personal use) are the printable versions — one pre-coloured and one to colour in yourself. If you like them and/or like supporting the arts, you can contribute to the calendar (and get it and other behind-the-scenes things early) at patreon.com/tanaudel (starts at US$1/month!) or by buying me a coffee or two through Ko-Fihttps://ko-fi.com/tanaudel.

Map illustration workshop — 19 June 2021

I’m giving a narrative map illustration workshop for the Queensland Writers Centre on 19 June 2021.

Pen drawings with bits of maps, clouds, compass roses. A sheep on a solitary island with "Map of the Last Lonely Island". A stag running down a beach with a label that leads to "Elsewhere".

It will be face to face at the Queensland Writers Centre in the Queensland State Library (Brisbane), but the event (and me bounding around drawing on boards and building small worlds, while pursued by the videographer) will also be live-streamed.

Birds-eye-view photo of paper and flowers and hands drawing on a table.
Photo courtesy of Where the Wild Things Are

Please note, it is an illustrative rather than a scientific cartography workshop! I am neither a cartographer nor a geographer — my maps are big pictures of the spaces where stories happen. BUT you do not have to be an illustrator or even able to draw particularly well to take this workshop — you just need to be willing to draw and break open a world. I will be teaching some drawing tricks, and mostly it’s about story.

MapAfter
Map detail from Holly Black’s The Wicked King

QWC sign-up links

Map illustration workshop — 19 June 2021

I’m giving a narrative map illustration workshop for the Queensland Writers Centre on 19 June 2021. It will be face to face at the Queensland Writers Centre in the Queensland State Library (Brisbane), but the event (and me bounding around drawing on boards and building small worlds, while pursued by the videographer) will also be live-streamed.

Please note, it is an illustrative rather than a scientific cartography workshop! But you do not have to be an illustrator or even able to draw particularly well to take it — you just need to be willing to draw and break open a world. I will be teaching some drawing tricks, and mostly it’s about story.

Face-to-face sign-up link

Livestreaming sign-up link

Wild Things map workshop

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Photo courtesy of Where the Wild Things Are

Some overdue photos from my map workshop — these are from the first instance of it, held at the wonderful Brisbane YA and children’s book store Where The Wild Things Are who ordinarily give marvellous workshops, and still give excellent advice. Like all bookstores, they could use some return support at this time (see also parent store: Avid Reader).

Here we all are on the back deck of Avid Reader. It was billed as an older kids workshop, and we ended up with a mixture of ages which I’ve always found delightful. Everyone gets both so light and so serious.

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Courtesy of Where The Wild Things Are.

At one stage in the workshop, we build a world, to make sure everything is connected and water (absent serious provocation) flows downhill (the two most important cartographic principles), and that hills and forests are where they ought to be for the tale. (My dad, an infantry officer and grazier, used to do this with us to explain tactics or cattle movements).

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Below, a cartographer contemplates the sea, which can be identified in the photo above by a very small lighthouse.

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It’s the most delightful workshop. We start with the same base story-shape to illustrate, and build it out with adaptations, themes, techniques, variations…

2020-03-18-MapWorkshop1

I walk them through the process of illustrating a map, including a lot of my actual work for Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy (I think only the Cruel Prince was out at this point).

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(Above is a glimpse of notes I took on trees from many maps in books and old atlases when I was working out the style of The Cruel Prince).

And then everyone gets so busy (I love this picture of hands).

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Some versions end up in space. Others appear to have swords stuck through them (this class wanted to know how to pin art to the wall with virtual daggers — I think this was because of the City of Bones 10th anniversary illustrations).

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(Spot the little house lurking under a wrist, there).

Art/writing activities:

(This is a variation on the activities in the Old Maps post).

  • Build a landscape to fit a story (a fairy tale, your own story, a movie...). On a grand scale, cushions, chairs, odd-shaped objects, and a blanket to throw over them will give you the basic layout. Then you can drape them with shawls and belts and toy houses, potplants, dinosaurs, etc to give watercourses, trees, and habitations. On a smaller scale, an assortment of cups and books with a light scarf draped over will give you a bijou universe. I’ve more than once built a small city out of thermoses, for reference.
  • For illustrators: convert this into a map (or a perspective landscape painting, if that’s your style).
  • For writers: consider how the terrain affects the story — often it can be the story. What can you see from a particular point (consider To Kill A Mockingbird)? What can’t you see from a particular point (consider “The Charge of the Light Brigade”)? What reasons might make one take the low road in preference to the high road? What (literally, but why not throw figuratively in there and make a family epic of it) stops a person getting from one side of the blanket to the other? If you move the lamp, how much of the land does the light touch? How much of the story could you tell in a glimpse from one hilltop (and who would be there to look?) — Michael Innes does this brilliantly in the opening of his (beautifully written although not unproblematic, in the ways one might expect from a country house murder mystery from the 1930s) Hamlet, Revenge!

Old maps

My family has often drawn maps. Next time I visit them (next time I’m allowed to — what a strange year this became) I need to dig out a pirate map — complete with ominous bullet hole — my father made when I was little. I think it’s in a big Nürnberger gingerbread chest with other childhood treasures.

One of my mother’s sisters was a draughtsperson, and took us on a memorable tour of the Yale plan department when we visited her there (and printed us plans of various buildings, as souvenirs!). My father’s brother got onto a few real actual maps, including in the Northern Territory (below — if you look at neighbouring names you’ll get an idea of the relevant decade) and Antarctica.

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When I was pulling together all our map books and atlases to take to some some map illustration workshops, we found a few more:

Here is a treasure map of our house out west, leading to a present for my mother. Whatever it was, we hid it in the bathroom. (The “giant’s causeway” was the stepping stones that led to the outdoor (unplumbed) toilet, so this was before we installed a septic tank and put a new toilet building at the site of the “thorny strait”).

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All good maps have a mermaid and a sea-monster.

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This one was for a very early (and somewhat culturally unexamined) Peter Pan birthday party for a (now 20-year old!) nephew, held around Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.

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And here are the clues!

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Ideas, exercises, lessons:

  • All good maps have a mermaid and a sea-monster. If you have been world-building and have not taken this into account, consider redressing your omission. Think laterally if you must, but I see few reason why this cannot be literal. Space mermaids!
  • You can use all sorts of locations as a base for a fantastic world. Start with your living room and sketch a map, transpose the details into relevant fantastic locations (is the tissue box a volcano? a fever hospital?) and send a hero on an adventure across it. What perils might they meet? Rough out a quick scene (written or drawn, according to what you do).
    An advantage of this is that many rooms are roughly rectangular and so your world will print nicely onto the opening pages of a novel.
  • Converting a house to a fantastic location is one way to occupy time at home. You’ve got the option of a treasure hunt, of course, but you can be quite literal here, too. In fact, one time at college we had meant to go on a picnic, but it rained, so we went to great lengths to recreate a park (duckpond and all) in my room and had the picnic there. As social isolation increases, I’m going to have to work out what I can do to get (more of) a cafe vibe happening in my house.

 

The Queen of Nothing — the map!

QueenOfNothingMap

The Queen of Nothing, the third in Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, and sequel to The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King is now out! I’m visiting Massachusetts at the moment and got to ride along to Holly’s first event of her tour, at An Unlikely Story. But now I can also show you the map.

I have loved adjusting the map for this series (although altering wave patterns in ink with each new ocean detail, and splicing them in digitally, was certainly a challenge!).

Under the map (above) are sketches of possible treatments of the corners and new details. But other new pieces came from the little thematic sketches I made along the way (no spoilers).

QueenOfNothingLittleSketches

A few of the little original ink drawings of tiny new details are now available at Book Moon Books in Easthampton, Massachusetts (or will be by tomorrow, when I am sketching there!). Below is the tiniest.

(The cover art is not by me. Sean Freeman has been illustrating those, with design by Karina Granda. BUT I did draw the foil designs under the dust jackets on the hardcovers — and got to meet a girl with the Cruel Prince design tattooed on her arm, which was very exciting!).

TiniestFox

Art by Sean Freeman, design by Karina Granda, tiniest fox by me, SNAKE by Holly Black