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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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:
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.
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?
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.
This is the first year I've been a Special Guest at SDCC. On top of that, Gen Con has me as their Author Guest of Honor and Dragon*Con is bringing me in (for the third time) as an invited guest. With this conflux of awesome conventions happening, I wanted to do some special things. For years, I've wanted to do con exclusives—something to make it worth the effort for people to go out of their way to come see me. And so, this year, we have some awesome things going on. Read below for an expanded list of my SDCC activities.
I do realize that not everyone can make conventions like this, and I'll do my best to make some of these items available to those of you who can't come. However, I'd like to make the con experience a great one for all involved. In addition to simply attending SDCC this year, I have a booth (for the first time) provided for me in Artist's Alley (#II-10). Isaac, who does much of my artwork, and his wife have decided to come and run the booth. I'm hoping this will prove lucrative enough for them that we can do things like this in the future. So please, do come stop by and see us. We will have freebies every day and awesome merchandise. If you know someone who is going to SDCC, send them by to pick something up for you!
Feruchemical Table Fine Art Print
As a complement to the Allomantic Table we offered a few years back, we are bringing 100 signed, numbered copies of the matching Feruchemical Table. This wonderful artwork by Isaac Stewart is printed using archival ink and paper. There will be a limited edition of 300 fine art prints, all signed by both me and Isaac. They're absolutely gorgeous. We'll be selling numbers 101–200 at SDCC. The other two hundred are going to be for different cons and, most likely, for a small internet sale after the cons are over. Once these are gone, they're gone—though Isaac may do a smaller, unsigned poster-style print afterward. (Like we did with the Allomantic Table.)
Wheel of Time and Mistborn Temporary Tattoos
Price: Free at my booth!
Each day on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday Isaac and Kara have a promotional temporary tattoo to give away. (A different one each day, while supplies last.) Two are Allomantic symbols, and one is the Snake Wheel logo from the Wheel of Time. (They also have the dragon symbol from the Wheel of Time, but that one misprinted to be tiny. They'll give those away too, but they look a little silly printed as small as they are. Be sure to ask for one anyway—and I believe they'll give those away on any day.)
Isaac and Kara paid for these themselves as promotion, so I'm hoping that when you guys stop by the booth, you have a look at the T-shirts they've brought. (A Wheel of Time shirt and a brand new Way of Kings shirt that I'll talk about next.) Isaac is an awesome artist, and he's put a lot of work into the Feruchemical posters and the shirts.
Szeth Shirt (from The Way of Kings)
Launching at SDCC will be the new Szeth shirt from The Way of Kings. Wear the Assassin in White proudly on your torso. :) This shirt is based off of the concept art Ben (Inkthinker) McSweeney did for Szeth when I pitched the series to Tor. I loved his rendition of Szeth so much, we ended up using Ben's image for the Szeth chapter icon in the books.
These will be for sale eventually on InkWing's website. But for now, the place to get them is SDCC!
I will be at my booth (#II-10) from 1:00 to 3:00 Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and 2:00 to 3:00 on Friday. In addition, I will do an extra hour some of the days.
Thursday: 1–3, and back from 4–5.
Friday: 2–3, no extra hours. (I have two panels bookending this, then a signing in the signing area.)
Sunday: 1–3. No extra hours at the booth, but I might be playing magic in the evening at my hotel. Watch my twitter and facebook for confirmation.
It's possible that I will be hanging around the booth at other times, such as Wednesday Preview Night. (I will tweet to say when I am.) When I'm not there, Isaac and Kara WILL be, so if you want the exclusive items, show up earlier in the day. (I will leave signed books behind when I leave.) Also, feel free to tweet me to get something signed.
Once again, we're hoping this will be a successful experiment. I've avoided bringing merchandise to conventions like this because of the hassle. If people enjoy these exclusives, and the booth makes enough money to compensate Isaac and Kara for their time, there's a good chance we'll continue doing this in the future.
I haven't actually seen the map yet. I'm curious to see how it turns out. . . .
The person doing it is Isaac Stewart, a guy in one of my writing groups. He's a man of many talents, and works as an animator. He was very excited about MISTBORN, and when I mentioned he could do the map, he was enthusiastic. I've heard a lot of what he's talked about with the book—doing a map that is based on old Victorian-era maps of London and Paris. We'll see what he comes up with!
EDIT: Now I've seen the maps!
Wow, Isaac did a wonderful job with these. One of the things I asked for was a round world map, and he really stepped up. I love the embellishments around the border and the illuminated manuscript type feel for it.
The city map is probably more important to the story. Oddly, I didn't actually do one of these when I was writing the novel. In fact, I only had a very basic sketch for the world map. That meant, of course, that when I sat down with one of the later drafts, some things were inconsistent. It also meant that a lot of things on the map weren't named, such as the gates.
I owe a lot to Isaac on this one. His intricate map is very detailed—each of those slums was hand-drawn with the insane twisting of all the little streets. He was the one who named the gates, building eight of them and naming them after the basic Allomantic metals. All and all, he did a fantastic job. Make sure to check out his website, Isaacstewart.com
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?
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.
Are you currently working on any other writing projects?
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.
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?
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.
What are some of the books you've been a part of, and what exactly were you in charge of?
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.
What's been the most difficult thing about being associated with such largely successful novels?
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.
(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?
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.
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?
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!
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?
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.
What's the first thing you'd tell someone looking to get into designing maps and artwork for fiction?
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.
Do you have any advice for us writers, from an artist's point of view?
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.
(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?
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.
What's the next "Big Thing" for 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.
Thanks for being a wonderful guest Isaac, I very much appreciate the consideration.
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.
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.)
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!
Have you ever worked on a video game before?
This is my first extensive experience working on a video game. I have sold video game rights on one of my other books, but I haven't begun working on that yet.
How did you get involved with Infinity Blade?
They approached me. The developers of Infinity Blade were fans of mine. They tell me they spent some six months trying to get hold of me, going through different channels. But they kept trying because they really wanted to work with me. Eventually they realized they had a contact with Isaac Stewart, who has done a lot of art for my books and is a good friend of mine. So through him they eventually got me to dinner to pitch working on this project with them.
The question is, can you read it (the Alethi alphabet)?
I can’t read it, Isaac can.
Isaac can’t read it.
He came up with it!
I told you where it came from, the writing system, right? That I told Isaac, “I want it to look like waveforms,” and he developed it to look like waveforms on the little thing when you speak voice- and things like that, and that was my goal for the [writing] system was something that was a line with waveforms across it. And he developed it then.