As someone who was reading books entirely too old for me at an age when most of my peers were still thumbing through chapter books, I’ve always loved when I flipped a page to see a map, illustrated chapter head, or even a full illustration hidden in pages of text. As an artist and life-long book geek, imagery in stories has remained important to me as I grew up. I think that’s why, when I got to a point where most of the books I was reading no longer boasted any art past the cover, I found myself going back to world or city maps placed at the front of fantasy books over and over.
Having direction, a concrete visual of where characters are and how the world is situated, was always something that helped to ground me in a story. I love world building, and when I started writing my own stories, maps are where I started when I was trying to flesh out my own worlds.
Once I graduated from Art Center College of Design with a degree in illustration, I started adding my own paintings to my stories to give them something a little extra, and eventually offering the same to other writers when my freelance business started to expand.
Out of all the aspects of world building, map-making is one aspect of that process that always strikes me as especially enjoyable. To me, map making is like solving a puzzle that can have multiple different answers.
When I’m trying to think of something interesting for a city, I look at where it’s placed on my map. Not near a water source? What prompted someone to build a city there? Maybe it’s on a mine. A diamond mine, that sounds cool. But it’s in a part of the world that’s known for being less than amiable to the law – maybe it used to be a diamond mine, and now the city is divided into two sections – the surface, and a criminal underbelly that uses the abandoned mining tunnels for their various dealings. Or maybe the mine dug up something dangerous, and the miners sealed off the mines – now the only people who go down there are foolish treasure hunters or criminals sentenced to a fate worse than death, etc. And from there I can build a story, or at least a hook and a few sentences in my world building bible for one if I ever choose to drive my characters there.
Generally, I use this method of self-questioning when I world build for my own world, but for clients I usually go off of a list of cities or a rough sketch that they’ve put together themselves. Everyone has their own story to tell, and as a working illustrator when I take on a map making, fan art, or character art commissions, my job is to help someone else’s world come to life with pen, ink, and watercolor.
That said, while I stay true to the artist’s vision, so much of illustrating a commission is about bringing your style to someone’s imagination. Part of what I love about my job, especially with some of the character/fan art projects that are a little more open to interpretation, is the amount of freedom I have to put my own interpretation of an author’s vision into a piece. Nothing is better than seeing how excited an author gets when I send them a finished illustration of their writing brought to life.
I work most often with watercolor, but I also accept requests for digital work or pen and ink work. I am currently (As of June 2021) open to commissions and can be reached via the contact form on my website, http://www.mariaoglesbyart.com. My digital work and most recent projects can be viewed at https://www.instagram.com/mariaoglesbyart/