On getting maps into books: An interview with Karina Granda

Previously in this series of posts:

Karina Granda, Art Director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, can be found at https://www.instagram.com/karinamakesbooks/. I’ve worked with her now on several books, including the maps and ornaments for Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series (The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and Queen of Nothing), but most recently she was the art director on Samira Ahmed’s new middle-grade fantasy (and science adventure Amira & Hamza: The War for the Worlds, and I worked with her on the map.

She very kindly agreed to be interviewed about putting maps in books (generally, and specifically Amira & Hamza) — and to interview me right back! So halfway through this post the roles flip…

Kathleen 1: What do maps do for you as a reader/art director? Do you have a favourite map (literary or otherwise)? 

Karina: Typically we place our maps at the front of the book, and they are very useful for instances where the reader is being introduced to a new world, and/or where the sense of place and space is very important. We often think of fantasy books since you are entering lands unknown, often built from scratch by the author, and the characters move through a large space, multiple kingdom’s etc. But some are more unconventional. I recently commissioned a map for April Henry’s upcoming book, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE, which is a thriller that takes place entirely within a motel. The motel map clues the reader into the entrances, the exits, the dead ends–which creates a really interactive experience where the reader can follow the map to chart the action, or try and guess escape routes for themselves! I also love the maps for the AMIRA & HAMZA series because they deal with time and space in such an unconventional way.

Kathleen 2: How do you decide when to put a map into a book? What do you look for in an illustrator, when commissioning maps? 

Karina: When I commission a map, the first thing I think of is the purpose of the map. Does it need to be highly literal? For non-fiction books, or perhaps a book where we are following a war, etc.—we often want to be very exacting about scale, relative positioning, dimensions, landmarks, etc. Or is this one where we can take more artistic liberties? Is this one where we can add more decorations and fun tidbits? Where we can choose which places to emphasize in scale/detail based on significance in the book, and not literal size? For very literal maps, I look for artists that have a cartographer’s approach. If not, I cast a wider net—including some artists that may never have done a map before—but that match the tone and feel of the story (and the art created for the cover). Or perhaps the map is an opportunity for contrast. One thing I found really fun about working on the FOLK OF THE AIR series is that we had these hyper-modern 3D covers, but were able to use the map and interior art to add a softness and whimsy that we needed for a more complete package.

Kathleen 3: Why did you want maps in this book? Did the particular requirements of this map give you any pause? 

Karina: The maps for AMIRA & HAMZA posed quite a unique challenge in that we were not just looking for how to move north to the mountains, or east to the ocean, let’s say; but we are dealing in different dimensions and moments in history. In all honesty, I conceptually understood what Samira wanted, but I did not have the vision for how to execute it in a way that was digestible as a map. But I knew Kathleen is so fantastic at fantasy, and maps, and also in giving extra special care and detail into everything she does, that I knew if she took it on, she would figure it out. And it was truly perfect.

Kathleen 4: Thank you!
Do all maps in books need to do the same thing? Or what are some of the purposes a map might serve? Have there been any Unexpected Moments in Maps in your career? 

Karina: All maps “set the scene”; but I think that can be literal, or more for the purposes of feel/tone. I do my best as an art director to avoid surprises! And really it is out of respect for the time and energy that artists are bringing to the work. So I try to start by seeking out as many details and as much information as possible. Though I have to admit that I was thrown for a loop when it was decided that FOLK OF THE AIR would need different (but similar!) maps in order to adapt to a changing landscape—and our artist works in ink! Series pose the most surprises since it can be the author’s prerogative to introduce change at many points in the process. That said, we were lucky that Holly and Kathleen are both so flexible, and such pros, and we were always able to make it work. ;)

Map for The Wicked King, by Holly Black. Little, Brown 2019

Kathleen 5: What’s the process you follow when you’re commissioning a map? Are there any surprises in that process? Has anything ever gone hilariously wrong (that you can talk about)? 

Karina: First we determine whether we need a more literal or artistic map, and then we look for artists that would complement the style of the art we are pursuing for the jacket. Typically we share some options with the author so they can have a say in the art style too. Then I pose what many authors consider to be a big challenge: Please doodle the map for me. It can be incredibly rough and amateur, but it is very important that we are all on the same page about the relative positions of the different landmarks and locations. And I promise that everyone has been more than capable of providing what we need. I also ask for a list of the landmarks and locations with written descriptions and/or visual references so that the artist has something to work with when adding all their great details. We’ve been lucky to work with so many fantastic artists and authors, that the rest of my job tends to be easy on my end! It mostly entails shepherding and clarifying feedback. But the artists are really the ones working their magic. I am just a gopher. ;)

Kathleen 6: What would be your favourite thing to find in a map? 

Karina: I think all great art for books brings its own level of storytelling. For example, when I think of a good picture book, there is always a little something more being said in the image. It is in conversation with the text, but not just a literal representation of the author’s words. And I think the same can be said for maps. I like finding the hidden characters, the specific flowers that would grow in that forest, the pearl or mermaid in the ocean, etc. I look for all the things the mapmaker brought to the art in order to make it feel vibrant and alive.

Kathleen 7: What would be the worst/funniest book to have a map in, if you could only get away with it? 

Karina: I imagine that any book with a map that would travel through the human body could have a hilarious and also totally gross component. A book like EVERYONE POOPS or TRUE OR POO? Or if there were some non-fiction book about how cities work, you could map some poop or dead goldfish making it’s way through a sewage system. And honestly think some kids would love maps like that. Kids can be totally weird! But that said, maps are always in conversation with the text, so I don’t think it would ever be any weirder than the story the author and publisher have already agreed to put out there!

Kathleen 8: Any questions you’d like me to answer?

Karina: Yes!

Karina 1:  What is your process for taking an author’s words and doodles and giving them an actual shape/drawing/form?

Kathleen: Obviously it depends a little on the final shape. Usually I sketch out the basic layout on the first page of my folded sketch paper, just to keep it in mind. But after that, I like to start by first just reading the manuscript or extracts, and taking notes. Where possible, I take make the notes in pictures. That way I’ve already solved (or identified!) a few problems, and can see at a glance where I might need to do more research — for example, whether certain creatures should be drawn with or without shirts, or whether something “appears” because it becomes relevant or because it magically comes into being (both of these on maps I worked on with you!). That’s where I might play with style, make little wishlists of things I’d like to draw, and so on. 

Sometimes this is like reading through the pencil — it goes straight from the book to the page and I just follow along. Sometimes it is a very complicated logic puzzle — sentences that seem to make sense can be tricky to turn into an actual picture, especially with fantasy! And then I have to get the tone right — what am I doing to the words. A picture can make something more grim, more whimsical, austere, warm…

After that I get more mechanical. I rule up several boxes with the shape I have to work in. Often I’ll make a cardboard template — I have a few standard ones already in my pencil case. They might be only a couple of centimetres/an inch tall. Then I start sketching the strongest ideas into them, very tiny.  I choose the best of those and send them to the art director, so you can consult and choose or suggest variations.

Tiny sketches from developing the map for Amira & Hamza

Karina 2: What is your biggest challenge when creating a map? Or, is there any map you have worked on that has been particularly challenging?

Kathleen: The biggest general challenge, apart from sometimes drawing more trees than I bargained for, is fitting the map into the page. Worlds are very rarely written to exactly fit two open book pages! And that’s working with just one world, and not the multiple tilisms of Amira & Hamza. But I have to fit the world plausibly into that space, and then fill the rest of that space pleasingly, accounting for margins and the area that risks disappearing into the gutter (fold).

Specific challenges vary. Amira & Hamza, with its map that’s more of a conceptual representation of the links and progression between spaces, made me pull right back and ask what a map could and should look like. For Folk of the Air, I had to think about real-world vs fairytale geology in designing the islands — and then fit new details into the sequel maps (splendid fun, but some spatial tinkering!). In two maps I have coming out next year, I had to deal with a lot of unexplored space, and ask how the characters who might have made the maps might have filled those areas up. 

I like to draw maps which capture the feeling of a world, rather than precise distances. But there’s still challenges there — with Folk of the Air, for example, you and I had to consider the ideal balance of whimsy and ominous elements, which led to me adding (among other things) some tiny skulls. But still I need to think a bit about geography — what flows where, or if it’s a slightly 3-dimensional map, what might be obscured by mountains or buildings.

Karina 3: What is the most fun part of working on a map?

Kathleen: The fact that every map is so different! I really do love these little puzzles — and then, once I solve them, getting to fill all the blank spaces with simurghs or mermaids or skulls or ominous toadstools or stars. And getting to put tiny stories and jokes and reinterpretations into the design. And I love how much people who see them get excited about having a world unrolled in front of them.

When I was little, I envied the characters who got to climb into books, and of all the jobs I’ve had, being an illustrator is the closest to that, and of all illustrations, drawing maps is like parachuting in.

Karina 4: What are your favorite maps? Literary or otherwise?

Kathleen: The Muppets travelling by map!

Well, my least favourite is the big wall map I have which is centred on Australia, because it turns out there are good design reasons not to do that: vast oceans on either side, and all the other continents squished around the edges. It’s rubbish for reference, and has made me feel so much further away from everyone all year.

Favourite… Hmm. I love so many — I’ve previously posted links of some of my favourite books of maps. Pauline Baynes’ maps were my first fantasy maps and she was the first illustrator who made me realise what illustration could do. And the maps always make me taste salt air and smell pines in the snow… When I walked into the Tolkien exhibition and saw her maps of Middle Earth — right there, in gouache! — I gasped. And my father used to build 3-dimensional maps out of blankets and cushions, to demonstrate historical events or how our property was laid out. That was when maps first made sense to me, as objects you could — almost — hold and touch and turn to see how the world works. More recently, I really like Elisabeth Alba‘s work, especially her map for Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Finally:

And do check out Amira & Hamza: The War to Save the Worlds, a rollicking, thrilling middle grade adventure through science, mythology, poetry, and more worlds than you usually get in one map!

Curse Workers — art reveal

Some more exciting news!

A new bindup of Holly Black’s magical con-artist trilogy The Curse Workers is coming out in November — and I designed a new silhouette chapter header for each book. It’s available to pre-order now.

(The cover design is by Michael McCartney)

They are great books, gritty and with a cynical enchantment. Much as I love Holly Black’s Elfhame and fae enchantments, I’m always so surprised and drawn in by the patina of her (almost) real-world settings — it adds such a salt-and-acid note to the sweetness (however decadent and cruel) of the more fantastic settings. And The Curse Workers is all that side of the story. It’s also a story of embedded rather than discovered magic, where it’s a (disreputable) part of the structure of technology and fashion, politics and society and organised crime.

(Another illustrated project that is available to pre-order is the limited edition of Angela Slatter’s The Tallow-Wife — and there are a few more coming soon, like the special linen-cover edition of Juliet Marillier’s Mother Thorn in April!)

Reference as it finds you

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I’ll post some more of my favourite reference objects soon. But while it is great to have them, and they can save a lot of time, a great deal still relies upon being able to make do.

Above is a perspex trophy and the creek at the end of my street standing in for reflections on the glass coffin in my illustration for The Darkest Part of the Forest.

Below are dominos and a tube of Hydralite standing in for a gallery above an alcove, and a spiral staircase.

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And here is a small part of the haul of objects unearthed from around my house to use for the illustrations for Clockwork Angel: a paper parasol (fortunately discovered in the bottom of the linen cupboard, because I’d mislaid the cocktail ones), a lovely book, my Year 12 formal gown, my grandmother’s black gloves, my embroidery scissors, assorted buttons (in lieu of cogs), and of course, Mortimer.

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Art process: The Darkest Part of the Forest

I was delighted to have the chance to design a header and ornaments for a rerelease of Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest.

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2019 edition, cover art by Sean Freeman, design by Karina Granda

Lately, I’ve been appreciating decorative illustrations more than I used to, and it was lovely to just spend the time designing faery swords and choosing leaves.

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The header itself was an intriguing proposition. It was to be a specific object/scene from the book — the glass coffin in the forest. Glass coffins are their own challenge, of course, but for other single-header books (e.g. Holly’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy) I’ve tried to pick images that are less specific and more broadly representative of elements of the book.

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Holly has a very particular gift for combining the wondrous with the mundane, in this scene no less than others. Capturing the weeds and rubbish as well as the coffin and its occupant was a delicate balance.

It was also a slightly different style of drawing to my usual more 2d representations. This needed a dark forest to nestle into, as well as an ornamental frame.

Here are the completed pencils, to use as a base for the final drawing — you can see where I was moving things around digitally (e.g. the fox) as well as swapping tree sketches outs for different effects..

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I decided to experiment with more hatching, just because — in this case, leaving out the outlines in the background (which I am usually all about).

Here is the final ink drawing, as it appears in the book.

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And a sword (and an epigraph, which Holly also always chooses beautifully).

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Exercises for illustrators and writers (from the perspective of the illustrator):

  • How much of an image can you show without outlines? How much of a scene can you write only by describing the background?
  • Think of a book (a favourite, or your own). Design a single iconic/thematic image that would work as an ornament to introduce all the chapters.
  • Find a single decorative image (the Public Domain Review is a good start — search ornament or browse around) that could work as a chapter header for a hypothetical book. Extrapolate from that to work out what sort of book it might be. In a book tuned to that image, what would the action/adventure chapters be like? What mood would the reflective sections have? What crises and reversals would happen in a book that could be summed up in that picture? Is this an image that necessitates the presence of a prologue?
  • You can do a similar exercise with an epigraph/leading quote. Let a book fall open, browse Bartleby or choose a random page from Wikiquotes (the ‘random page’ link should be on the right). That’s now the epigraph for an as-yet-unwritten book in your favourite genre. Proceed as above. (Or you could try a random quote as the lead-in for each chapter (or each scene in a short story) — choose a reasonable number, line them up, and work back from there to find out what the story (or an appropriate accompanying illustration) could be.

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…

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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!

Flyaway and arty publisher photos

A few screengrabs of my publisher collating thoughts on Flyaway. (I recommend following Tor.com  on assorted social media generally — they are so enthusiastic about books, and not just their own!).

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If this sounds like the gothic, literary fantasy with a bite that you are indeed looking for, pre-orders for Flyaway are open at the Tor.com website, and where good books are found.

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Modern Faerie Tales – Holly Black

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So this was fun! I was asked to design a single header for each of Holly Black’s three novels in the Modern Faerie Tales series: Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, for this omnibus edition.

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They are delightful novels — as is the new The Folk of the Air series (The Cruel PrinceThe Wicked King, and The Queen of Nothing), which is lightly connected, and for which I did the maps. Holly has a gift for (and works hard at) balancing a rather gritty 21st century mundane with a stunningly wondrous (but cruel) magical world. If you grew up on the urban fantasy of the 80s and 90s, you’ll know the feeling of Holly’s worlds — grit and glitter and death and magic.

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Which is to say, I recommend them all, as well as having had a Grand Time drawing in them.

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Note re links: I’m experimenting with affiliate links, which means I might get paid a small commission if someone buys something after clicking a link on my site. This is early days, so I’m really just testing out the program links at this point!

The Queen of Nothing — the map!

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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).

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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!).

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

Sketching! (Surprise…)

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(Edit: This was Friday 22 November)

As part of Cottage Street, Easthampton’s Grrl’s Night Out event, I will be doing some sketching at Book Moon Books. There will also be some original art for sale, for a variety of projects including (but not limited to) ornaments and illustrations for books by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare…

The Wicked King – map!

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Holly Black’s The Wicked King, the follow-up to The Cruel Prince, is now well and truly out. Finally. I’ve been sitting on the plot of this book for a year and am delighted at seeing everyone else’s reactions to it now.

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I did not do the cover — that is by artist Sean Freeman and senior designer Karina Granda, and they have a post about it here: Evolution of a Cover.

I, however, did draw the internal ornaments, and… updated the map.

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The map begins from the same place as my map for The Cruel Prince, with certain shifts and adjustments for the direction this book takes.

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Below is one of my favourite changed details. Before:

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And after:

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I’m gradually expanding the published maps category over on my portfolio. Stay tuned!