Mollified only a little since my rage began to blossom, I’ve decided that there is, perhaps, a use for ‘real’ maps, provided that they’re rotated in the same way that the real places and moments that make an impression are; i.e. turned sideways through the ‘why does this bit of geography appeal? what’s interesting about it? how could other impressions be placed within it to make it something other than what it was?’
These are three maps at three stages of production. Being unwilling to just slam elements down on a blank page and betray my gross ignorance of physical geography, I’ve instead elected to trace from my archaic atlas and then rotate a region of Earth’s geography that’s a) not in Europe and so not immediately recognisable as stock fantasy fodder and b) vaguely in the right part of the world to have the climate that I envisage. (I did spend a morning reading up on cloud forests and vulcanism so I’d not be totally hopeless at mashing the concepts together). I had a couple of goes at simply copying a computerised image but found the wealth of details and my own inability to manage ‘scale’ frustrating; I’ve never been good at life drawing.
While I could do this sort of thing with computerised editing of atlas images, I am something of a Luddite when it comes to both art and roleplaying. I’m of the opinion that Photoshop and drawing tablets have a great deal to answer for; they’ve made it possible to include insane amounts of detail and to remove any evidence that a human hand was involved in the production of imagery, and the net outcome always seems false and plastic to me. The eye is able to detect the unreal and this eye takes pleasure in the signs that a work of art is a made object. More to the point I rather enjoy making a mess when I do arty stuff and I think the vagueness that comes from my clumsy attempt to follow the lines, the occasional skid of the paper and the loss of detail during the tracing process ultimately benefits us in the mapping of what are, after all, supposed to be UNREAL places, maps of which would be drawn by hand.
I traced the major waterways – those I could see through the paper – on the grounds that a waterway indicates much of the surrounding scenery; they are sourced in high places and growths sprout along their courses. The map on the left – and pray excuse the childlike quality of the colouring, I can shade better but this is not the point of the exercise – fills in what was transferred AS waterway. It was the first I produced and I’m not wholly convinced of its provenance, although I see opportunities for underground rivers (potentially one connecting the two inland seas) and perhaps some sort of high plateau on the left hand side/mountain range on the right. I regret doing this with the first map I produced now, but mistakes will be made. I’ve never actually done this before as I’ve always used pre-existing settings or actual places or relied, Discworldlike, on a stout refusal to map and a carefree approach to travel between scenes of import.
The central map was the final tracing before my original copy became unusable. So vague were many of the lines that a joining up of those which remained indicated some sort of archipelago on some coast of a continent, with a major ‘terra incognita’ landmass of some sort at the top. This one I would be more tempted to rotate back through ninety degrees starboard and consider the majority of the map as ocean territory. And what’s going on with that island that’s either swearing or pointing at something?
On the right we have the middle tracing with which I have yet to do anything. I almost prefer the incompleteness of this one, the sense of open possibilities, and might simply fill in a few areas which currently have the LEAST stuff on them as potential starting points for a group of explorers. The remaining tracery then becomes a fog-of-war; we know a little about what’s out there but not much.
I’m still working out the best way to present and discuss my process for populating places. It might well be that I end up using Pinterest or similar to collate them and then post the outcome of the process here, but that doesn’t do the world’s best job of demonstrating how I do it. If I could find the mixing gear I’d record myself talking to myself and try to show rather than tell.