• On The Map - Interviews with Cartographers 11

    Continuing our series of interviews with cartographers, this month we're talking to John Stevenson,
    known to many as J.Edward, amongst other names.
    He's known for loads of detail and probably some other stuff.
    He does some unusual top down maps and tries to push boundaries.
    We asked him 7 questions, as we will in each interview.

    1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background...
    Hey, I'm John. ...J.Edward, John Stevenson, SirInkman, that guy. Yep. I draw stuff. Most of the time it's maps. But not always. I do a lot of other illustration and assorted imagery when time allows.

    I live in a land of rolling hills carefully layered with sweet fields and friendly farms scattered with forests spreading out in wide valleys between the long spines of the Appalachian mountains as they stroll through the heart of Penn's Woodland. Penn's story is an interesting one and well worth a read.

    This is where I was born. I was gone for long years in other places doing other things. I returned several years back to this pleasant land. This is the backdrop where I make maps and other sundry illustrations.

    I've been a cook, a carpenter, a renovator of old things [namely homes], and an odd assortment of other random jobs and skills over the years. I used to till the land and plant seeds and trees and flowers and otherwise beautify commercial properties long ago out in the sun in the lands of the south. I ran a warehouse full of towering shelves filled with books, of course.

    Off and on I would stab at the freelance dragon when it would rear its head.
    The last time I brought a saddle instead.
    Now I ride that mercurial magical beast from dawn to dusk each day. It takes me to strange lands and is always an adventure.

    2) How did you get into mapping?
    I can recall drawing terrible little maps as a child, maybe 8 or 9 years old. Maybe earlier. I drew space maps with colored pencils on black paper and imagined stories about those places. I read nonfiction history books before I ever read fiction. When I did finally read fiction it was fantasy and that lead to role playing games. Role playing games probably pushed me most toward mapping.

    I've always loved maps but really putting effort into making maps began as a young gamemaster in the early 80s. I quite enjoyed MERP [Middle Earth Role Playing by Iron Crown Enterprises... for those who may not know] but also got into Jorune, Talislanta and a bit into Warhammer as well as the old man, D&D. I liked the Forgotten Realms.
    It grew well beyond those bounds and a desire to imagine fantastic places and stories took more prominence.

    I started with pencil and moved into pen and ink over the years. Over time I came to the digital frontier which has offered so many options. But I return to pencils all the time. Something so natural and fluid about drawing on paper. Sometimes I just think better sketching on paper first.
    Some of my best maps started life on paper. Others were born digitally. Depends greatly on the subject and nature of the map. But most of the best ones were little bits of graphite on tree pulp when they first came into being. And I kind of like that. Feels more natural.

    3) Do you create maps professionally, or for fun? If you've sold your work, how did you get started? Any fun/horror stories to share about commissioned work?
    I do both. I find much fun in creating maps, professionally or otherwise. I've done illustration off and on for years but the doing and making of maps for clients began here at the Guild not so long ago. It has been a busy thing ever since. My very first map commission was from a member of the Guild who posted a map request. Thanks Jim - you opened a wonderful door and I'm glad we went through it together.

    Of horror and dreadful tales I have scant few. A few clients taking too long to pay. Clients with too many edits and not the faintest flicker of a design brief. Nothing too terrible. Many clients are new to the process and unsure.

    I've found that horror stories come most often from not knowing when to say no. Not every commission is a good fit. Some clients need a different map maker and that's okay. Much better to turn away than create a tale of dread.

    4) What kind of computer setup/equipment/software do you have? Any advice or tips for learners?
    I dream of a new and perfect operating system. Alas, on waking I return to windows 7 and sigh. Photoshop runs most all of my tasks with grudging helpfulness, not always pleasantly though. There is a three-way argument going between windows, photoshop, and the cintiq drivers, occasionally egged on by nVidia [how appropriate - look up the definition of Invidia].

    Most days my work machine beats them into submission. I have always built my own systems and this one is a beast driving a huge ox-cart of specs and components. I threw as much in there as would fit under the hood. Oh, and what my wallet could afford at the time. There's a new world out there full of potential called 64-bit. This work creature does not stagger or crawl, except when windows grows confused by itself, as it is wont to do.

    Best advice.... Join the Guild. Enter monthly challenges. Mingle with friendly map makers who will encourage you and also tell you how you can improve. Help Robbie keep this splendid creature [The Guild] going. Maybe donate if you enjoy it or feel that it has helped you. And get outside your comfort zone. Push boundaries.

    Beyond that... experiment. Learn and understand your tools, software or otherwise. Experiment with making useful brushes. And try new things. Also, learn the core basics - rendering forms, light and shadow, rendering materials and surfaces. It's more useful for general illustration but it is also quite helpful for maps. Look at satellite images of terrain. Look at perspective images of terrain. And Buildings. Study your subject. And try new things.

    5) What are your favourite kind of maps or favourite map makers from history?
    Hmm, favorites.... Eduard Imhof, Erwin Raisz, Dave Catts, and many others whose names escape me just now. I've always enjoyed National Geographic maps. I love topos and DRGs from national land surveys. There's just so much to be inspired by.
    Landscape paintings and panoramas. So much good inspiration. All of the story and fairytale maps over the years that sit quietly in old books as pages or endpapers. So much inspiration and good maps here on the Guild as well.

    I like all kinds of maps. I can't pin it down to one kind or style.

    6) What do you consider your best piece of work? How about your favourite, if different?
    Hmmm, difficult question really. Some pieces are good in one way and not so much in another. Haerlech was a very special piece. I've never dedicated that much time and effort to one piece before. But is it my best? or my favorite?

    I keep trying new things and maps improve in different ways. I'm also not much for favorites - I like too many things.

    I achieved things with Bourmout, Haerlech, Nahadua, and others.
    Best piece.... I'm sure it lies somewhere in the future. Favorite piece? Too hard to say. But there is always a warm feeling about Frosthaven though.

    7) Where can we find you on the web?
    I'm around. My own website is Imagine Better Worlds. I'm here on the Guild as J.Edward. On DeviantArt as Sirinkman.
    I'm also starting on Behance and Artstation some time soon.

    I'll leave you with a fun little pic that crept out of the greasy underbelly of the Guildworld project.

    Comments 9 Comments
    1. - JO -'s Avatar
      - JO - -
      Thanks for the interview and for unveiling a bit of yourself !
      Your work is so much inspirational for me, that I'm always glad to learn more about it !
      In all of your drawings, I find myself dreaming and traveling through the fantastic places that you're creating... and that's a real escape for me !
      So... thanks for that too !

      I hope to discover lots of your new maps in the future... Looking forward for that !

      Best regards,

    1. DanielHasenbos's Avatar
      DanielHasenbos -
      Thank you for the interview John, you have a brilliant way of telling your story! Your maps are always a great source of inspiration and I sure hope I'll be around to see when you deliver your best work!

    1. Mouse's Avatar
      Mouse -
      Your story is as fascinating as your maps, and well worth the read.

      Thank you for sharing it with us
    1. jshoer's Avatar
      jshoer -
      Hey, that's a nice header for this "On the Map" series.
    1. Robulous's Avatar
      Robulous -
      Great, I love reading these interviews, very enlightening
    1. Josiah VE's Avatar
      Josiah VE -
      Great interview, thank you!
      It sounds like you've had an interesting life, you should write an autobiography.
    1. ThomasR's Avatar
      ThomasR -
      At last, it came ! There's the same poetry in your maps and your words and I second Josiah on the interesting life. You are a Jack of all trades !
    1. Ilanthar's Avatar
      Ilanthar -
      Interesting and awaited interview . I would add "Jack of all Maps" !
    1. J.Edward's Avatar
      J.Edward -
      Thanks everyone
      The Guild is really such a great community.
      So many wonderful, friendly and talented people.