Conversing with a Cartographer Part 1

The book series which I’m about to launch (International House of Vampires) in 2014 is considered a dark urban fantasy genre.  Many fantasy books in general have maps in the front as it helps build up a world for the readers.  So I decided to seek out a cartographer to help me make two maps for my book: a world map and an invisible fortress map.

Here is the world map of places where various characters travel to in the book.  Then I realized, what the heck are 3 Canadian places doing on the map?  Oh right, Canada is such a big remote country, it’s easy for cults to hide in the north…

World Map smaller logo

With a stroke of luck, I connected with Robert Altbauer, a cartographer who lives in Salzburg.  I keep enviously envisioning him as a polite, handsome man who lives near the Alps somewhere eating bon bons and drawing maps in an ancient library somewhere.  You can see some of his fantastic work at www.fantasy-map.net – Where visions become maps and www.sapiento.deviantart.com – deviantART portfolio.

Hi Robert, thank you first of all for taking on my crazy map requests.   First, can I ask how long have you been doing this cartography craft and how did you start?

Hi Jean, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my profession.

I have been making maps since the beginning of 2010. I had an idea for an alternate history setting and wanted to do a map for it. So I bought a graphic tablet and started mapping.

At what point did you become serious and form a website, etc to make cartography an entrepreneurial business for yourself?

This was a few months after my first map, in mid 2010. I applied for a cartographer job – a novelist needed a map for her setting (sounds familiar, I guess 😉 ). I got the job and soon afterwards I decided to turn this into my second profession. One of my first clients created websites and we did a quid pro quo – he got a map and I got my new website.

 Do you also have a day job as well?  Or what do you hope to do?  Or would your dream be to only do cartography?

I’ve studied law at the Universityof Salzburg, Austria. I quit my last job a few months ago and now I’m looking for a new job where I can use my study. While mapping is really great and I love it, I like the changes in working within another business that uses my other talents.

I found you on the Cartographers’ Guild forum – do you think having online guild website such as this one has raised the bar in cartography?  I mean, before the internet age, I’m not sure where one would go to find mapmakers.  Now, it’s a global competition for freelancers.  Do you think it’s a double edged sword?

More or less, yes. While you get a whole world of potential clients you get a world full of competitors, too. The Cartographers’ Guild is a very friendly and helpful community. Of course, everyone applies for the same jobs and sometimes I come off second-best, but on the other hand it is a great place to learn new things and exchange your experiences. The cartographers influence each other with new ideas, so this leads to many excellent maps that are made by the guild members.

Do you see any future evolution for cartography?  More 3D video game stuff?  I mean, where do you think changes are happening?

3D is certainly something that has the potential to change a lot – but at the moment only for certain areas, like gaming or TV. As long as there are no 3D capable e-readers I don’t think that a lot of maps will be true 3D.

The greatest challenge for human cartographers will probably be sophisticated computer programs that can produce maps by just giving them a set of parameters. While they cannot substitute real creativity – at least not until we have some kind of artificial intelligence – these could become a competition for humans. But that’s a general problem of modern society and one that still has no satisfying solution.

Continued into Part 2

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