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The Glorious Dragon Map

Posted by Fallon Foster on

The story behind this map goes that the client has been running tabletop games for quite some time. When one of his players was moving away the player doodled this map up as a parting gift (in an afternoon!).  The client has been using the map for his setting for the past 12 years and it's easy for me to see why.  The art and detail that went into this map is a bit mind boggling.

Because of that it took me two and a half days to trace the map on the computer in order to form a draft.  This would be the first of at least two more times where I would go over the map line by line.  Fortunately the rest of the process didn't take quite as long.

Because the draft took so long to make I decided against using the conventional form of transfer.  Typically, once the leather is cased a print-out is placed on the leather and traced with a stylus to transfer the design onto the leather.  However, if I did that this time then I knew there was a reasonable chance the leather would decase before I was ready to carve it.  So I decided to use an ink transfer to apply the entire design to the leather all at once.  Instead of spending 15 hours (more likely twice that) transferring the design, it'd be done in 15 minutes. 

I've used ink transfers on leather before, but never for this particular application.  So since this project was so big I did some experimenting and one full proof of concept to make sure everything worked together.  I wound up determining that I would get the best transfer by applying the ink transfer immediately after casing the leather.

This was one of those ideas that seemed simple at first but of course it wound up a little more complicated after a thought or two. For one thing, the map is 11x17" and the printer gets really funny about scaling at those dimensions.  The only way to print a map (at least on my printer) of that size without loss is to print it as four 4.25 x 11" quadrants.  It still scales a bit oddly that way, but it's an odd I can compensate for.  At that point the biggest challenge becomes lining up the quadrants and keeping them stationary during the transfer.  The slightest budge during the transfer can smudge the whole quadrant.  And it doesn't help that they tend to be faintest near the edges.  So while the transfer is finished in a relative blink of an eye it's a very, very tense and stressful blink.

From that point on it was mostly established territory.  I cut the design into the leather and went back over it it to carve and stamp as appropriate.  This was the first project I've done with really high quality veg tan from Italy (thanks to new suppliers) and it carves beautifully.  The transfer wasn't perfect so there were some spots where I was going off memory and my printed draft to guide the swivel knife but that turned out to work pretty well.  The original artist had used different lines to distinguish types of terrain and I followed suit using different carving techniques to accentuate those differences. In particular I used a pear to carve the water, rather than burnishing it as I would normally do.  This helps to raise the land even more and creates an effect I rather appreciate.

When it came to staining we'd already decided we wanted to tint some areas.  Cliffs and ravines I was going to go over with light brown and the border was getting a dark brown.  I used a fairly diluted blue for the water (hence some of the patchyness).  There was a lot of back and forth over whether the forests should be tinted but I couldn't find a stain that would work well and still be distinguishable from the water.  We decided to forgoe tinting the forests and I think it's much better for it.

For the actual staining I used my usual mix of Saddle Tan antiquing gel.  There was some layering and touching up involved to guarantee that I got every itty bitty bit of the map stained.  Over that went an additional straight coat of finish.  The assembly was a relatively simple matter of gluing the hardboard backing into place and fixing a bit of latigo lace to it; same as all the other maps.

The result is satisfyingly impressive.  Almost all of the original map's detail has carried over.  Even some of the subtler effects, like the hill-ribs, can be seen on the leather.  The tinting and antiquing gel work together to create an excellent impression of an olde world style map.  The pearing of the oceans gives enough contrast that the terrain really pops.  The italian leather adds some texture of its own so every portion of the map has some character.  It's taken a good solid week of work to pull together but I don't think there's a single bit I'd change if I could.