Interview with Freelance Cartographer Rhys Davies

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

For me, there is only one contender for the title of best fantasy map and those are the Tolkien maps for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I remember pawing endlessly over them as a youngster, and still do! They succeed in every way for me as a “world” map: aesthetically, geographically, and with incredible clarity as well. Also, a wonderful companion book for us map geeks is The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad. She pulls apart the stories and shows in intricate diagrams and maps just how detailed and precise Tolkien was with his world. Everything fits just perfectly.

I also enjoyed the illustrations and maps that James Gurney created for his Dinotopia books—illustrations one can easily get lost in.

And I used to love looking at the illustrations in National Geographic where they’d cut away the sides of castles and illustrate cities.

What media do you use? Do you think any media are better, or can shape, how speculative elements are depicted in a work?

It depends on the style of map I’m creating and the style of the book it’s for. I used to draw or paint everything on paper, but now I tend to do the vast majority of my work in Photoshop. It’s lovely to paint watercolor images but if you make a mistake on something as tight as a map, it’s quite difficult and messy to rectify. Technology allows us to shift stuff around, make mistakes and clean them up very quickly. So I draw and scan stuff into the computer and then can manipulate ’til the cows come home.

I very rarely use Illustrator as I’m not a huge fan of the hard-edge feel that a vector image creates for you. Photoshop is a little more organic.

How has the field been changing in the past ten years?

I think I’ve seen more self published authors asking for help. It’s great that so many more people have the confidence to put a story down and go after their dream of writing a book. It’s rather punk rock in some ways—that ability to just go for it and get something out there… and miss out the middleman.

I work mostly with the big publishing houses but am always excited to work with lone authors who want to have a cool fantasy map in the front of their book…and I offer self-publishers rates for the work, to help a little.

What have been some challenges for you, as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys? Did you expect to get into mapmaking?

When I left art school I had no idea I’d become a “freelance cartographer,” which is the fancy title I’ve just started using to describe what I do when I have to. I’ve had a ton of fun trying all sorts of things over the years.

Triumphs and joys… It’s always cool to walk along the shelves of Barnes and Noble or the like and pick out books you have artwork in. I sometimes hide the names of my kids in the mountains that I draw and they get a kick out of finding them.

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Society generally isn’t balanced in favor of artists, musicians, dancers, writers, etc.

I think anybody working in the arts needs to have a ton of flexibility and patience. Being able to make a living in the creative world is tough and you need to try a lot of different avenues and artistic directions.

If I were to give any direct advice, I would say to be open to taking everything on that comes your way, be it artistic or not… Just try things out. It needn’t be something you’ll do for the rest of your life, but it all adds to who you are as an artist and a person. One thing can lead to another thing which can lead to another thing, and with any luck you’ll eventually find something you’re really good at, enjoy spending your days doing and… people will see that passion. Do whatever you do with enjoyment and commitment and people will eventually find you. Just keep getting yourself out there.

Rhys Davies

Rhys Davies is a freelance illustrator, mapmaker and artist. Originally from Wales, Rhys studied fine art in London before moving to the US. After spending many years as a product designer with Yankee Candle, Rhys now spends most of his time illustrating maps for novels amongst other numerous creative projects. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with his wife and two children.

You can find him on his website at: