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Interviews: Interview with Isaac Stewart, the man behind the maps of Mistborn and The Way of Kings

Summary:

Entries

20

Date

Apr 9th, 2012

Type

Verbatim

Reporter

Trevor Green

Links

Beyond Dragons and Wizards

  • 1

    Trevor Green

    Permit me a nerd-like "squeee!" before I start this one. I'm not ashamed. Okay, now that's taken care of, let me tell you what the big deal is all about today. As you can see in the post title, this month's interview is with Isaac Stewart, hence my excitement. He's just the guy who created the maps, symbols, and chapter headings for Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series and The Way of Kings, in addition to a ton of other cool stuff. But I'll let the interview detail the rest of that. There's some seriously good info in here boys and girls, so make sure to pay attention.

    ...I met Isaac at a book signing with Brandon Sanderson, oh, maybe a year ago. He was laying down his John Hancock on some seriously huge bookmarks (of which we scored a couple). My wife and I took the opportunity to talk with him a bit, asking some stupid questions since we had never met him before. He was pretty down with talking to everyone, which is always great. We've kept in touch since then and chatted at some more signings and a con. He's a dang nice guy and I'm sure he'd love to have you all shoot him a tweet saying "hi". Alright, enough from me, on to the questions!

  • 2

    Trevor Green

    First off Isaac, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy, busy schedule to do me this favor. I know there's a lot of people who will be really thrilled to hear some of the great info you have for us. Getting started, how about you tell us a little about yourself?

    Isaac Stewart

    Telling stories and drawing have always been my first loves. And Legos. As I got older, I added more loves to that list: my wife, my kids, learning, languages, traveling, creating music. I could've tried to make a lot of those into careers. But life is short, and I've already spent too much time as a jack-of-all trades. These days, I focus on my family, my writing, and my art. A more in-depth biography can be found here.

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  • 3

    Trevor Green

    Most of us know you for your work on Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and The Way of Kings. What are some things you've been involved with that we might not be as familiar with?

    Isaac Stewart

    I've been working in the 3D animation field since 2000, specifically educational videos, graphic design, and video games. A couple of the more well-known projects I've worked on are A Kingdom for Keflings for xBox 360 and Twisted Metal for the PS3. For a while I co-authored a webcomic, Rocket Road Trip (link here) with my good friend Shawn Boyles (link to his site here). We highlight the everyday life of a family of monster hunters who take their monster-hunting life on the road. We rarely update anymore, due to demands on both our time, but what's there is certainly worth a read through.

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  • 4

    Trevor Green

    Your website mentions a lifelong desire to write and illustrate books. Tell us what's been going on with you writing-wise. You have a book coming out soon through Deseret Book, right?

    Isaac Stewart

    Kenneth Pike and I put together a book called Jacob's Journal of Doom (link here) Deseret Book acquired for publication on July 31st of this year. Anybody familiar with the Wimpy Kid books will see the initial similarity: a story unfolds through the writings and drawings of an eleven-year old keeping his journal. The goal here was to create a character and story that LDS middle-graders can identify with without hitting them over the heads with heavy-handed lecturing. Besides being LDS, one of the things that sets Jacob apart is his imagination. There's a bit of a Calvin and Hobbes vibe as Jacob imagines himself as a ninja or his family as space aliens.

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  • 5

    Trevor Green

    You've been involved with some pretty big projects over the last few years. Tell us what it's been like working on the art for novels such as the Mistborn trilogy and The Way of Kings.

    Isaac Stewart

    Writing, art, and book publishing have always been my biggest interests, so working on these great books has been very fulfilling.

    I get the manuscript early on in the process, print it out, and go through the whole thing with a pencil, marking it up with notes about artistic details and tiny maps marking places in relationship to each other. Then comes my favorite part of the process: working with Brandon and his assistant Peter to make sure that my vision melds with Brandon's vision for the book. We usually do a lot of revisions and emails to get to the point where we're all happy with the results. I cannot say enough good about Brandon and Peter; they are both gentlemen to the core.

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  • 6

    Trevor Green

    I know some of us have heard the story of how you came up with the symbols for Mistborn, but tell those of us who haven't how they came about.

    Isaac Stewart

    I'd drawn about a half dozen pages of symbols inspired by my first reading of the book. Pages with dozens and dozens of tiny, intricate symbols—maybe someday I'll write a post about the process: Failed Allomantic Symbol Designs. But nothing was really working for me or Brandon.

    I'd collected a lot of reference material for the steel inquisitors—nails, railroad spikes, those sorts of things—and one day when I was looking at a picture of a rusty pile of bent up nails, I saw the symbol for Iron. It was a Beautiful Mind experience. The symbol just jumped out at me. Glowing and everything.

    After that initial experience with the symbol for Iron, it was easy to come up with the others. The bent nail part eventually became the crescent shapes used in the final book.

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  • 7

    Trevor Green

    On a similar note, The Way of Kings has a lot of symbols associated with different aspects of the book. Were you involved with creating those, and if so, how did you design them?

    Isaac Stewart

    I created forty-plus symbols for The Way of Kings. Many of these are found in the color charts in the hardcover version of the book (link here). My absolute favorites are used at the beginning of each Part (one of them is debossed on the book's hardcase beneath the dust jacket). I used Arabic word art and the shard blades as inspiration for these. Many of the originals were drawn on an iPod Touch and later brought into Photoshop for clean up.

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  • 8

    Trevor Green

    You did the maps and artwork for Vodnik by Bryce Moore, which just came out recently. (For those of you who don't know, Vodnik is set in Slovakia, which is a real place. Just, you know, FYI.) You told me a while back that designing a map of an existing place has some unique challenges. What were some of the things you came up against, and how did you overcome them?

    (This is an excellent book. Read my interview with Bryce Moore here.)

    Isaac Stewart

    Designing the book, cover, and maps for Vodnik had some unique challenges, many of which Stacy Whitman (Bryce’s editor) and I have already detailed at these links:

    How a Book Gets Its Cover: The Prequel (Click here for link.)
    Design 101: How a Book Cover Gets Made Part 1 (Click here for link.)
    Design 101: How a Book Cover Gets Made Part 2 (Click here for link.)

    These were the first maps of a real place I'd ever done. The biggest problem we had to overcome with them was finding open source satellite images I could use as reference in making the maps. Google Fu came helpful here as Bryce used his Librarian powers to find maps we could legally use.

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  • 9

    Trevor Green

    I think a lot of people have little to no knowledge of how a professional-grade fantasy map comes about. How do you go about designing a world based off an author's ideas? Do you just throw some stuff onto a squiggly coastline and call it good?

    Isaac Stewart

    Making a map is quite the process. I read the book and make location notes (sometimes I find myself noting geographic references in books I'm just reading for fun—it's become a habit). I really try to make the map match the tone of the book and to make it more than just something for the reader to keep track of where the characters are. I've brought back maps from many of the real-world countries I've visited. I've marked on them where I've been. I've planned trips on them and dreamed about going to some of the places. Fantasy maps are the same way. They're a real thing—souvenirs that the reader can bring back with them when they're done visiting the book.

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  • 10

    Trevor Green

    Do you feel like the art you've provided for the various novels has fueled your desire to create your own worlds, or is it a separate animal all together?

    Isaac Stewart

    Stories and art were always separate things in my head. But my art has somehow begun to pave the way for my own story-related projects. My love of art and story have accidentally collided. It's so obvious, I didn't know why I didn't think of combining them that way before. Talk about the biggest duh-moment of my life.

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  • 11

    Trevor Green

    Are you currently working on any other writing projects?

    Isaac Stewart

    I finished a middle-grade novel a year or so ago. Since then I've put it through four revisions and am part-way finished with the fifth draft.

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  • 12

    Trevor Green

    There's a lot of different people involved in designing a book, not just in the writing itself. What are some of the job-titles of everyone involved in the art of a finished novel, and what do they do?

    Isaac Stewart

    Usually the Editor or Art Director will contact the Book Designer, who will read the book or a description of the book. The designer will then come up with thumbnails for the cover and interior design, which thumbnails are then presented back to the Editor and Art Director. Sometimes the President or VP of the company might even see these thumbnails and give feedback. The book's Publicist, the Marketing Department, and the Book Buyers for book stores and distributors might even get involved in helping choose a direction.

    Once the direction is chosen, the designer will create a more-polished version of the cover and interior, which is then approved by the editor/art director (and so on). Sometimes an Illustrator or Photographer is involved with the actual cover art, and sometimes the designer will use stock photos or create the art herself for the cover.

    When typesetting is done, the book goes back to the copy-editor to make sure final changes are added (and to look for any mistakes that might have been introduced during the process). The designer fixes these, submits the book again, and if everything looks good, the book goes to the Printer.

    At a smaller publishing house, sometimes one person will take on more than one of the roles mentioned above. I might be missing a few job descriptions from the process (Project Managers), but as you can see, there are a lot of people involved to ensure the quality of the book.

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  • 13

    Trevor Green

    What are some of the books you've been a part of, and what exactly were you in charge of?

    Isaac Stewart

    I’m responsible for all the maps and symbols in the four (so far) Mistborn novels as well as all the symbols, chapter headings, maps, color end pages, and Navani's notebook pages in Brandon's Way of Kings. (The other artwork in the book was done by Michael Whelan, Ben McSweeney, and Ben Call. I'm thrilled to be showcased in the same book with these amazing artists.)

    On the design side of things, I've been designing self-published books—covers and interiors—for a while, but recently had the luck to get into the business professionally with the book design for Bryce Moore's YA novel, Vodnik. I've also done covers for some ebook re-releases of some science fiction and fantasy classics from the 80s.

    In addition to Brandon's maps, I've also worked on maps in the re-release of Robert Silverberg's Nebula-winning novel A Time of Changes and the upcoming reprint of his very-enjoyable Downward to the Earth.

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  • 14

    Trevor Green

    What's been the most difficult thing about being associated with such largely successful novels?

    Isaac Stewart

    Finding the time to fit everything in. These days I have to be very selective about what I take on since I've committed a lot of my future time to working with existing clients. I rarely take on new clients because there isn't enough time in the day to work a full-time job, be a husband, be a dad, serve in my church, do existing freelance projects, and work on my own projects. Sometimes I find time to breathe and blink.

    Trevor Green

    (At this point I'd like to once again thank Isaac for taking the time to do this interview. Makes a fellow feel loved you know?)

    What's the best about it?

    Isaac Stewart

    The best thing about seeing your friends succeed in writing books is also recognizing the pattern of success and realizing that becoming a full-time writer can actually happen. When I find myself in the occasional moment of frustration, I count how many people I know who have "made it." If I don't give up, I tell myself, I'll make it too. This makes the chains of all-nighters more bearable.

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  • 15

    Trevor Green

    I believe you create merchandise for The Way of Kings and Mistborn. How's that going? Do you ever see people wearing your stuff out in the wild?

    Isaac Stewart

    InkWing Arts (link here) is the business my wife Kara and I have put together to showcase the artwork I've created for Brandon's worlds. Right now we primarily sell bookmarks and t-shirts, but watch in the future as we add patches, art prints, and games. The goal there is to make cool things based on cool worlds. It's been a lot of fun to interact with fans in this way.

    I mostly see the shirts at Brandon's signing events. But my eleven year old son came to me the other day and said he saw someone wearing one our shirts at the grocery store. He thought that was pretty cool. So did I!

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  • 16

    Trevor Green

    How often does the author end up hating the art that's provided for their book (be it cover design or chapter art)? Has anyone ever been less than thrilled at something you gave them?

    Isaac Stewart

    Occasionally I hear about authors who aren't thrilled with their book cover. More often, I see cover reveals where the author is ecstatic. Designers, artists, art directors, and publishers really want to design beautiful book covers that will get their books into the hands of those who will enjoy the books the most. In the process, you'll wind up sometimes with authors whose opinions differ from their publisher's, or in some cases, the cover might truly be awful.

    No client has ever come to me and said they hated what I did (doesn't mean there isn't someone out there who hates what I've done for them—if there is, they just haven't told me). Usually the process we work through to get to a final idea weeds out the awful stuff. Ideas and thumbnails are thrown out all the time because they stank like week-old dead fish. Sometimes you've got to sift through the fish to find the roses. That's a terrible metaphor, but you get the idea.

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  • 17

    Trevor Green

    What's the first thing you'd tell someone looking to get into designing maps and artwork for fiction?

    Isaac Stewart

    Join the cartographersguild.com. See what's being done today. Work on your craft. Study real maps. Study fantasy maps. Work on your craft some more. Put together a half dozen examples, then start meeting editors, art directors, and authors at conventions. Study the masters of illustration. Work on your craft until your fingers bleed. Find out the art submission guidelines for publishers and submit your portfolio. Draw, draw, draw, draw, draw. Enter your artwork into the shows at conventions. Paint, draw, and keep on working hard.

    It's a difficult industry to break into. It's even more difficult if you want to make a living creating artwork. But one thing remains the same. If you are excellent at your craft and you're putting yourself out there, you will find those willing to pay you to create artwork.

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  • 18

    Trevor Green

    Do you have any advice for us writers, from an artist's point of view?

    Isaac Stewart

    When I work on a video game, one of most-important things I have to keep in mind is the Tone of the game. Whether you're the writer, a concept artist, a level designer, an animator, or an interface designer, each of you are working on the same project, and all your art and design needs to work together to create a consistent Tone.

    To do this, we often will put together a "tone" folder where the project directors can put stuff: sample music, sample photos and artwork, a text file with words and descriptions that describe what the game is about (ie. ash, gothic, misty, overcast—you can probably tell what setting I'm describing just from those words alone).

    Tone is a very important part of writing novels. I recommend creating your own Tone Folder and adding items that fit with the feeling of your novel. This is your target. This is the emotional feeling you want readers to experience when they enter your world. Now, don't spend so much time working on your tone that it keeps you from writing, but taking an hour at the beginning of your project will help you create a cohesive world.

    Trevor Green

    (Side note from Trevor: I absolutely love this idea. I'd go even further and add this: If you have room for cork boards or whiteboards where you spend time writing, go ahead and start pinning physical copies of the above to them.)

    How about as a writer yourself?

    Isaac Stewart

    If your lifelong dream is to write, then prioritize your life so that writing takes precedence. I wouldn't suggest putting this before taking care of your family. If you become a writer but in the process you have also become a jerk, then you really haven't gained anything worthwhile.

    There are a few "rules" I've come up with that help me as I work on a writing project.

    First Rule of Writing Fiction:
    Strive for Emotion. You're trying to make the reader feel something and then care about what they're feeling. Use the "objective correlative" to master showing. Know when to tell.

    Second Rule of Writing Fiction:
    If it's boring, cut it. If the information is crucial, find a new, non-boring way to present it. In essence, write what you think is cool and skip the boring stuff.

    Third Rule of Writing Fiction:
    Is this the best thing for you to be writing right now? Is it an original, high-concept idea that's worth spending your time on it? Write what excites, intrigues, fascinates you, and makes you FEEL. If you're not passionate about it, nobody else will be either.

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  • 19

    Trevor Green

    What's the next "Big Thing" for Isaac Stewart?

    Isaac Stewart

    I'll be sending my revised middle-grade manuscript to agents early this summer. Then I'll start work on another middle-grade novel/graphic novel hybrid.

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  • 20

    Trevor Green

    Thanks for being a wonderful guest Isaac, I very much appreciate the consideration.

    Isaac Stewart

    Thanks for the chance to be interviewed on your blog, Trevor. I'm interested to see where your writing and webcomics take you. I've done a fair amount of both (writing and comics), and they're fun roads to travel.

    Trevor Green

    There you have it kiddies! All you could want to know about Isaac Stewart! Make sure to check out his sites and stop by InkWing.com to start browsing their wares for when you become the inevitable winner! (Once again, just leave a comment on THIS post to be entered into the contest.)

    http://www.isaacstewart.com
    http://www.facebook.com/izykstewart
    Twitter: @IzykStewart

    http://www.inkwing.com
    http://inkwingarts.blogspot.com

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/InkWingCom/109397795797630
    Twitter: @InkWing

    If you feel so inclined, please follow my blog and/or Twitter to read some other awesome interviews with the authors and creators of your favorite books! Interviews post monthly, with more contests to come!
    -Trevor

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