Interview with IPotK’s Map Designer: Colin Nitta

Below is an interview I did with the In the Presence of the King’s Map illustrator Colin Nitta. A little background I used a service site called Reedsy that connects writers with the right people to help them get their work published. From editors, illustrators, marketing, even book reviews. I was really grateful and proud of the work he had done on the project and I love the way it turned out!

Now here we go!

Tell us a little about yourself?

I’m an illustrator living and working in Sacramento, California. I received my Bachelor’s from California College of Arts in San Francisco. After graduation, I spent several years honing my skills and I now work full time as a freelance illustrator.

What inspired you to pursue illustrating as a career, was it something you enjoyed doing as a kid?

I actually can’t remember when I started drawing. I think it was as soon as I could grasp a pencil. Most kids enjoy drawing and then they eventually stop, but I just never stopped. I learned about illustration from games like Magic the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. Once I figured out that people get paid to make pictures for those games, my career was set.

Now you do it all from illustrations to maps. Which did you do first and how did it evolve to include the other?

Here’s another one I don’t actually know the answer to because I’ve been doing both for such a long time. I drew maps a lot as a kid to illustrate imaginary worlds to my friends and for all my D&D campaigns. At the same time I was constantly drawing the characters and worlds that inhabited those maps. It’s all intertwined for me.

Any particular scenes or character types you like illustrating the most?

I love telling as much story as I can in one picture. I tend to obsess over fine details that reveal an extra bit of narrative for the careful viewer. If I can get someone who is looking at my work to say, “hey, I know what that’s like!” and truly empathize with a character, then I’ve done my job. I also have a soft spot for elaborate costume design, especially those that draw upon real historical details.

What made you interested in making maps?

Maps are visual gateways to imaginary worlds. There is a reason they’re always on page 1 because they orient the reader to a foreign land. I enjoy sprinkling subtle details in maps – again, something for the careful viewer to discover and take delight in.

How did you develop your style of maps?

The maps in all the Tolkien books are pretty much my starting point. They work extremely well because they look handmade – something from before the computer age. From this point, I tend to tailor my style of map to the specific world of the author.

What tools/software do you use?

First I work with the author to establish a rough sketch digitally in Adobe Photoshop with a Wacom tablet. Once the rough sketch is approved, I print it out, transfer it to a piece of drawing paper and draw the map with Staedtler pencils, ranging from HB to 6B. The last step is photographing the map drawing, color correcting, and adding text digitally in Photoshop. The final result is a digital file that feels handmade.

Adobe Photoshop is my #1 software tool which I use for 95% of my output. I draw with a Wacom tablet on a PC. However I also have a fondness for traditional media: graphite on paper and oils on canvas (I come from an oil painting background).

Any tips for people who would want to start illustrating?

Don’t stop and always strive to become better. There are thousands of illustrators out there and they all share one thing in common: they wanted their career bad enough to put in the work to get it. Many other career paths offer quicker rewards for less work. But, if you love art enough, you’re willing to pay the price it takes to do the thing you love.

Anything you want to plug or shout out?

I have a Patreon at patreon.com/colinnitta where I routinely share tips, insights and in-depth how-to articles on what goes on behind the scenes in my work. You can also check me out on social media on Instagram (username @colinnitta) and Twitter (username @colinnitta).

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