Mapping An Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes world map sketch

I was commissioned to map the world of An Ember in the Ashes, the New York Times bestselling debut novel by Sabaa Tahir. The final is at the top of this post (and a larger version below).

It’s great to take on a map of a new world. Sabaa and Penguin had a great outline sketch – and rich notes on the world. The primary civilization is roman-esque, alongside a desert culture, and some border nations. I started by taking that and throwing together a quick sketch. This stage of any map is to get all the main features in the right place, and get sign off. At this point I tweaked the rivers to make more geographic sense, and layout the text.

An Ember in the Ashes world map sketch

From this point, there were some rounds of refinement on the precise locations of the main cities. Sabaa answered the questions about the terrain in the Empire, the cities, the styles, from the city of Serra to Kauf Prison.

An Ember in the Ashes world map sketch

The trick here is to get the map all but final. All the line work should show all the key features, sell the terrain, fit all the text in, and make it readable. If there was a need for a pure black and white line art map, this stage should be ready for that.

The final stage is to colour the map. Mostly, the important task here is to not obscure the details.

An Ember in the Ashes world map sketch

The colours enhance the line art – differentiating the desert from the wastes, from the farmland and the cold north. I like the deep blue oceans we ended up with here – the dark tones throw the whole map into relief.

Between the line art and the final, I added illustrations for each of the locations. The different cities have a sense of different cultures – from Roman, to Moroccan desert dwellings, to nomad tent cities. The trick for these is to get the sense of a city, without drawing every single building.

Here’s a detail of Serra and Blackcliff:

Detail from An Ember in the Ashes world map

This is the full size version of the map, three times larger than anyone ever sees it. By illustrating the map at this level of detail, the shrunk down version of the map looks subtly detailed.

So there you have it. One brief, three rounds of illustration and revision, and a final world map for a burgeoning new writer, and a wonderful new world. Check out the book An Ember in the Ashes here.


7 thoughts on “Mapping An Ember in the Ashes”

  1. Can i ask how do you do white color in snowy area?. When i try to color white in color blend mode layer (on broun parchment) all i get is grey. The only way to get it more white is to add extra overlay layer and block with white, bun then colors are neon like.

  2. Can I ask you which brush settings did you use to create the line art for this map. It looks amazing. I have a lot of trouble finding the right tool and pressure settings in photoshop to make my lines look so natural.

    Hope you see this and are still creating such inspiring works!

    1. The line work here is done with a hard round brush – sized at 5pixels, with pressure sensitivity set to control the size. Really simple – and gives a nice natural line. Thanks!

  3. This is amazing! Might I ask what you use when creating maps (i.e. GIMP, Photoshop, etc.)? Also, what size image do you begin with before creating the map? The level of detail is very intricate, so I assume fairly large, but I’ve never been able to get that kind of detail down to the tents of Nur. It’s insanely difficult with a Wacomb tablet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *