What especially caught my eye in the Frazier interview was the fact that he draws his own maps (highly praised in the aforementioned review by Drew). Like Frazier, I learned Adobe Illustrator initially to draft maps for Civil War Regiments journal—it's a great way to go, but mastering the software was not a cakewalk. Indeed, if you're like me, you'll learn just enough to be proficient and to handle specific needs, leaving the vast power and capabilities of the program largely untapped. I wrote about my early map-making adventures back in a 2007 blog entry here.
Frazier has some terrific advice for authors considering doing their own maps (excerpted from The Trans-Mississippian):
Your book features a number of your own maps. What advice do you have for aspiring mapmakers?
Learn Adobe Illustrator. It’s not a real mystery on how to make maps, you just have to be prepared for a bit of a learning curve. I have drawn more than 2,000 maps for various clients world-wide. I discovered it is easier to turn a historian into a map drawer than an artist into a historian. Geography and landforms are the canvas upon which history is painted. You understand how humans interact with terrain, and you will have an instinct for what is important to show on a map. Also, if the place appears in your index, try to make sure at least one map in your book has it located.
His quip that any location significant enough to make it into the index needs to be present on at least one map is so true, and so often neglected.
Having authors do their own maps has many obvious advantages, but, like Frazier says, the learning curve is steep and unfortunately few authors that attempt it make it up the slope! That said, I would much rather have stylistically primitive maps with all the necessary information than useless works of art.
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