Time for my first blog post ever! Let’s start with the basics. I’m Tommi Salama, a 34 year old graphic designer from Finland. You know, the small cold country in Scandinavia. I’ve been a graphic designer for over ten years now, result of me realizing I’m not going to be a huge movie director, but wanting to do something creative anyway. No worries though, I love my job!
Now before we go any further, I want to point out that although I write this in English, I’m not a native speaker, so bear with me with all my bad grammar, spelling mistakes and weird sentences. Let’s just hope you all understand what I’m trying to say! And as I want to make things more personal, here I am:
Now as I said, this is my first blog post. I’m not going to make any plans on how many or how often I’ll be doing this, but what I want to do after this introduction, is to write about how I approach cartography, how I make maps and to talk about products I have worked on.
Let’s talk a little about me and how I got where I am now.
I’ve been a cartographer for almost a year now. I know it’s a very short time, but I do have years of experience in other graphic designs. I did do some cartography before that also, but just for my own or my friends games. I’m not sure if I can call myself a professional cartographer yet, but my road to making maps for professionally published products started as a simple thought: “This is fun, I wonder if someone would commission me for making maps for their products?”. So I went to this awesome forum, Cartographer’s Guild, and looked through the map request subforum. There was a post from Steven D. Russell from Rite Publishing looking for a cartographer for Adventure Quarterly magazine. I sent him an email although I had no prior experience, or even a good portfolio. I just attached some of my old maps and hoped for the best.
Right after I sent that email I knew I was never going to get the commission with the samples I sent. Steve was looking for a cartographer for mostly dungeon and encounter maps, and my samples were overland maps. I launched Photoshop and worked all night to make a tavern map with a small dungeon underneath it. I sent the map to Steve next morning, before he even had the time to answer my first mail. I did land the job later on, and Steve was making a huge leap of faith for me, an inexperienced wannabe cartographer looking to get his maps on a published product. I think I owe a LOT to Steve for believing in me and making it possible for me to get in this industry. He also publishes Rite Map Pack line in which I make all kinds of battle maps, and also some larger scale maps for all the GM’s out there. Great man with a great company, I salute you Steve!
After my first gig in Adventure Quarterly #5, I continued reading Cartographer’s Guild and sent a bunch of applications for commissions. I got some of them, mostly for gamers looking for maps for their private games, and also some from fantasy fiction writers for maps in their novels. It wasn’t long before Steve contacted me with a job for making an isometric map for a book for Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. I hadn’t done an isometric map before, but Steve seems to have a habit of trusting me to deliver. I think I did pretty good with that one, especially as I stepped out of my comfort zone and draw it with a pencil rather than Photoshop. I think you really need to step out of your comfort zone as often as you can, that’s the only way to get more creative, and thus better at what you do. In my opinion at least.
I had contacted Jonathan G. Nelson from AAW Games based on a post in cartographer’s guild. He was looking for a cartographer for Rise of the Drow Epilogue, and even as cartographer for that commission hadn’t been decided yet, he sent me an email with that Rickety stair map attached above asking if that was my work. Now I seem to come across the nicest and most trusting people in this industry, as Jonathan gave me a chance to make an isometric dungeon map for a module that’s a sequel for one of their very first modules, Crypt of the Sunlord. I would really want to show you the map I made, as it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of, but the product is not out yet, so I can’t. Sorry!
That map was the beginning of my journey with AAW Games. I’ve made several maps for their products so far, and also done some layout and other things I can help them out with. I feel very lucky that I’ve come across so great and friendly people so far. I salute you too Jonathan my friend!
In my first year in this business I’ve also had the honor to work with Creighton Broadhurst from Raging Swan Press (man I love their products, awesome stuff!) and Ron Lundeen from Run Amok Games (super talented!), both as friendly as it gets. I think I’m off to a very good start!
If you managed to read my ramblings this far, I wholeheartedly thank you! Now that I’ve talked enough about myself, I can concentrate on talking about cartography. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to work with Show White from AAW Games, a hardback edition of the wonderful adventure for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, which is live now in Kickstarter! I’ll get to some details about my part in it in my next post. Until then, farewell everyone!