IRL adventure feels like its at an all time low, but wanderlust? Woooo. Searches around escapism are booming. Basically, we all want to get out and since all excursions are #cancelled, we’re getting more creative around how we decamp to another world. It’s one of the reasons searches for “fantasy map making” have tripled on Pinterest.
To understand more about it, we asked pro fantasy cartographer (aka map maker), Stephanie Ingmire, 31, from Minnesota for tips. Better known by her art name, Shing on her Instagram and Patreon, Stephanie’s been drawing maps for over 12 years.
What is a fantasy map?
“Fantasy maps are often used as visual guides to help readers and viewers comprehend plotted worlds in literature and shows,” explains Shing. “Famous fantasy maps include Middle Earth from J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.
These maps help provide context and understanding as to where the characters in the stories are traveling too, as well as comprehension of how far the characters have traveled. These maps truly help readers and fans immerse themselves into the stories by providing more details and give another layer of dimension.”
How did you first get into fantasy map making and why do you love it?
“Throughout my life I have always had fantastic dreams, dreams that I thought were too amazing to keep to myself. I started to write a huge adventure based on a dream with my sisters and decided that plotting the story through a map would help us stay organised. My younger sister jokingly said that I was a cartographer reincarnated. This compliment sparked the artist within me and inspired me to continue drawing maps.
For me, maps tell us where we have been, where we can go, and how to get there. I believe I love drawing maps because of my fascination with fantasy stories and traveling. As a child I traveled every summer with my family. In a time before GPS, I always sat with an Atlas in my lap. Now as an adult I travel anytime I can, whether it be in the US or abroad. I am always adventuring, whether it be through paper and pen or with my own two feet.”
More people are seeking out “fantasy map making”. What do you think is the reason?
“First, there is definitely a huge inspiration from books turning into TV series. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter started this wheel a few decades ago by turning dearly loved books into movies. However, you always hear the book-lovers stating that so many details get lost in the book-to-movie adaptation.
With streaming we’re seeing this switch from movies to short-series, which allows directors and script-writers to include more information from books. These short series are perfect for novel-adaptations. Seeing so many amazing books come to life is a great inspiration and is opening the doors for newer fans to discover fantasy worlds.
Second, we are all so connected in social media. It is easier than ever to find and share your little niche on the internet. Instagram holds a peaceful community of cartographers who are nestled within writers, tabletop role players, and board gamers. This allows us to display our artwork more openly and connect with a larger audience.
Third, we have all been in isolation for almost a year now. This has given many people the time they needed to write their stories, practice their arts, and pick up a new hobby.”
How do you make a fantasy map – where do you start?
“There are two types of maps that I draw – original and commissioned. When I get to draw my own maps, I love it when inspiration strikes, whether it be with an interesting landmass design, a beautiful map name, or a story behind the world.
With commissions I always begin by sketching out the world in pencil so that I can map out how I want the world to look. This helps with overall composition allowing me to make sure that nothing is cramped or forgotten. Working with ink means that there is no erasing my mistakes, so I have to plan and draw carefully.”
What are your best tips for creating a fantasy map?
“Do not be afraid to use references. We all remember what a tiger looks like until we have to draw a tiger from memory.
Take your time. When you feel that you’re starting to rush, that’s when you need to take a step back or take a break.
And finally, USE A RULER! It’s very easy to say, ‘I’ll just wing it!’ and then end up with a lopsided world.”
“I am a renaissance artist therefore I draw all of my maps by hand with only pen and paper. I use very specific tools so that I can guarantee the integrity and quality of my work:
- Sakura of America pigma micron pen – sizes .003 through 1.0
- .3 and .5 mechanical pencils
- Westcott 8ths 12-Inch Beveled Transparent Ruler
- Pentel Hi-Polymer Block Eraser
- Alcohol based markers
- 75lb./110 gsm non-glossy paper (This is paper heaviness to reduce wrinkling and hold ink)
Since I do not do digital art, I reached out to a map friend for those interested in working with digital tools!
Richard Chapman (@fantasymapink) is a digital cartographer providing tutorials on Instagram and YouTube, and also does one-on-one Adobe Photoshop lessons for mappers. They mostly do work on Procreate and Adobe Photoshop on iPad.”
Which fantasy map that you’ve created is your favourite and why?
“Every time I draw a new world it becomes my new favourite since with every map I feel as if my skills and potential increase. Commissions and requests often ask for challenging and new ideas that force me out of my comfort zone. I love drawing REALLY TINY details, so a lot my posts are of zoomed in pictures of my art.
Kelvoran was a huge stepping stone in my career. It was the largest original commissioned map in which the entire world was created by me. Before this all of my commissions were recreations of other established worlds. This map helped start my career as an illustrator and fantasy cartographer. But surprisingly my most popular map is of Colorado!
What advice would you give to someone just getting into fantasy map making?
“Beginning is always the hardest part! “It’s intimidating to see other maps and how detailed they are. But remember, that every piece of art is just layers and layers of details. You start with the main idea and then just add those layers to it. Don’t be overwhelmed by other artist’s accomplishments. Let your own creativity flow, show the world what it’s missing: your original art.
Drawing is just like every other hobby, it takes practice. The more you draw the more your muscles and brain remember how to recreate. So stretch, get comfortable, and just go at it.”