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The Making of a Cover: Interior Maps (Bonus)

Welcome to the most in-depth, behind-the-scenes, play-by-play account of how a cover is born, from the point of view of the Art Department. We’re charting the conception and birth of the Shadowdance series by David Dalglish.

So far we have talked about the first real step of a book, Acquisitionand then what goes into Cover Briefing. Then we let our minds wander and collect inspiration and form Directions for the cover. Then we agreed on a Photographer and Illustrator. We’ve even found our hero, the Cover Model. And we found a Trampoline for him to do stunt work on safely. We decked him out in book-specific Costume & Props. We spent all day at our Photo Shoot. After receiving the Rough Cuts and narrowing down the images, it was time for the illustrator to get to work, and while he did, Kirk was already working on the Design Roughs. Meanwhile, during this whole process for the cover, I was also working on developing Maps and Chapter Icons for the interior of the book.

Maps are an important part of world-building in SFF, especially in epic fantasy, and often authors will have pretty in-depth maps sketched out for themselves while writing the books. It’s also really interesting for readers to be able to see and navigate the maps along with the story, so at Orbit we try to include maps as often as they are available, and useful to the story. Of course, we need an artist to take the author’s sketches and notes and scribbles and turn them into a coherent map. It’s not just a art job, it’s also a seriously geek job. You need an artist that is really into figuring out the details and making everything work. It’s not uncommon for one of my map artists to discover that the geography needs extra definition (and in some cases, outright redesign) to get the pieces to work. In the case of David Dalglish’s Shadowdance series, the maps were already pretty detailed and included in David’s self-published versions. However, we really wanted to push them the extra mile, so I brought in illustrator and mapmaker Tim Paul.

I’ve known Tim Paul’s work as an illustrator for a while now, and actually had no idea he illustrated maps too. And then one geeky night at the Society of Illustrators (yes, such a place exists, and if you are a fan of illustration, SFF or otherwise, you should check it out if you’re in NYC. They also house the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) and we were having a super-geek conversation about D&D and how into being a Dungeon Master Tim was, how he made intricate maps and props for his campaigns. He had also started doing some map commissions for smaller publishers, and really enjoyed it. I literally hired him on the spot.


Here’s a bit of process from him:

When starting a map, I start with the background paper texture. It helps set the tone for the map.

Even if the map is going to be black and white, I work in RGB or CMYK. This allows me to keep my guides in color, and easy to tell if something is a guide, and what is final art. I keep all the different features on different layers, so I can turn them on and off, to help reduce visual clutter as I work.

Once pencils are approved by the AD and editors, I’ll start on the final (even something like this can go through rounds of approvals). I ink in all line work first. I follow the same order each time, coast, rivers, mountains, hills and forests. When you have hundreds of mountains and trees to draw, it helps make it go fast, rather than jumping around.

I then do all the shading, and then go back and add in highlights to help make area’s pop. After that, I place all the locations such as cities, towns, landmarks and roads.

The lettering is the last to go in. Even though I hand draw the lettering, I use fonts to plan out where it’s all going, get the spacing right. It makes doing curved words much easier.

Sometimes even after the final art is done, there are still changes that need to be made. Details may have changed, or the geography needs to be adjusted, or I even misspelled a name. Some AD’s want the final art in layers, so they can make further adjustments. Once I have final approval, I delete all unneeded layers and format as per the AD’s directions.

And as you can see above, we have a great map for the interior of the book. I really like it when the illustrators use a texture background, it really makes it pop in the B&W interior of the book. And then we often pull a detail from the map to use as icon art for each chapter page, and in this case we used the dagger that made the compass:


So that’s the story of the art that appears in the inside of the book. Thank you to Tim Paul for all his work and detail. Here at Orbit, we geek out about every possible stage of making the book!

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  1. Michael Tumey

    October 21, 2013
    at 11:27 pm

    As a professional fantasy cartographer, and a senior member of the Cartographers’ Guild (website) on a “board of review” called the “River Police” to point out geologic/geographic discrepancies in maps posted by new members – you’ve got several odd river formations on this map. The river system to the west side of your map flows from north to south into a rather too large a delta system (one problem), but several of the tributary rivers in that map seem to flow backwards then join the main river system which is really odd. The river system to the east along the coast also seems to flow into an odd 2 river delta (that is also too large), but you have one river reaching the sea before reaching the delta – meaning the entire river system should go out to see here, and not continue on inland to those two southern rivers. Aside from a delta, rivers can only reach the sea at one location – not 3. If I were the publisher, editor or author of this book – I’d make you fix those rivers before publication.

    On the other hand if the author’s fiction requires the rivers to do unrealistic things as a part of the story line, I can accept that (to some degree), but as originally created cartographic work? This map is unsound.

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