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Illustrated Map of the Month: The College of Novelties from Simul by Andrew Caldecott

Updated: Jan 12

I'm officially adding a new feature to the blogs: Map of the Month! Each month I'll discuss an illustrated map I have created, going into the story and inspiration behind the map and chatting directly to the authors and commissioners. This month's Map of the Month, is one of my favourite I have created to date: The College of Novelties for the book Simul by Andrew Caldecott.

A black and white illustrated map of part of Oxford University. It illustrates part of the story in the book Simul by Andrew Caldecott
My illustrated map for Andrew Caldecott's Simul

I don't mind admitting that this map was suuuper hard to create. Based on a real place: Oxford University, I had to walk the line between real and imagined, including real details with imagined surroundings. I'd also never visited this particular area of Oxford, and there wasn't any chance I could. So, as always, Google maps was my friend.

I started with a map that Andrew had provided. A business-like map of the university with numbered points to show what I was to include. I pored through his notes, crossing-referencing each numbered point with his descriptions, making sure I didn't include anything he didn't want. Having looked up my own map of the university, and picked up a Google map of the area, I then 'shaved' the unnecessary parts away, leaving just the slightly irregular shape of the site above.

I knew, because of the brief, that this map was going to be an end paper (the paper that decorates the inside cover of a hardback). So, as well as considering the slightly irregular shape of the site, I also had a very specific size to keep to. This meant that regardless of the shape of the site, the overall map had to be rectangular. So, I would need two wide borders at the top and bottom to bring it within the perameters of the end papers. The map began to take shape.

As Andrew's descriptions focused down into the detail, I knew that I wanted to create a 3d map of sorts, which would give me more opportunity to include some of the things he had described. To do that, I jumped on Google maps, dropped the little yellow guy in the quad, and went on my own virtual adventure. Fascinated by the wall, I started there, trying to make it as accurate as possible, even down to the crenellations.

From there, the rest of the buildings took shape. Using pictures from the university website, Google maps, and other maps of the area; I slowly pieced everything together, cross-checking everything with the book and Andrew's notes as I went.

The crest of Oxford University
The Oxford University Crest

One of my favourite parts of the map turned out to be the compass rose, within which is a coat of arms which reads 'The Truth in Black and White'. It's based on Oxford university's coat of arms, pictured above. One of my interests lies in heraldry, and I'd actually been researching it for a little while in the hopes that I could start making illustrated crests for my maps and for people. So when Andrew mentioned he might like to see a crest made for the college, I jumped at the chance. As heraldry is heavily symbolic, I knew that I had to be too. The owls and book symbolise knowledge, prudence and wisdom. The crown is the reward of learning; typically symbolising the highest power. Although this typically symbolised literal power, like royalty, I used it here to mean the power of knowledge. The crest also hints at more within the novel, but you'll have to read it to find out what I mean by that!

Within the border there are seeds and birds eggs, which are kept at the College of Novelties. I'm not going to go into any further detail about that, or the mysterious fields where the rest of Oxford should be. You'll have to read the book to discover more about that!

Finally, I battled for a while to find a way of representing the neatly mowed lawns of Oxford University. Luckily, at the same time I was completing another map, a commission for a mini map for a wedding. (Details changed in the example for privacy). I was experimenting with that map when I hit on the little herringbone pattern to represent the green, and I liked it so much it made its way into the Simul map. The only difference was that I used darker lines and lighter lines to distinguish the different directions the herringbone was going in.

A small square map of Bearspaw Golf Club in Canada, drawn in tones of green, brown and blue-black, with a little bit of red.
A Howell Illustration illustrated mini map created as a wedding gift

I absolutely loved creating this map for Simul, it was the perfect amount of challenge and novelty, reality and fantasy for me to really go to work on. Plus Andrew's notes were very comprehensive, and that is always such a plus!

I have a copy of Simul to give away to one lucky reader. Simply comment below if you'd like a copy and you'll be entered into the draw!

I leave you here with the first map I created for Andrew. I'll let you be the judge of which one is better!

A black and white illustrated map, which illustrates part of the story in Momenticon by Andrew Caldecott
Howell Illustration's illustrated map for Momenticon by Andrew Caldecott

As always, thanks for reading.


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