Commonly Asked Questions

Seeing as how I get asked a lot of the same questions for interviews and such, I'd like to address them here so I have a link I can point people to before being sent a set of questions.

Sorry for the length but this was just the easiest why I could think to address all of these questions and hopefully save myself some time with a quick link or copy & paste.

Topics addressed below in order of how the sections appear:

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Map Making & Queue Questions

How did you get started in cartography?
I started by creating maps for my own D&D campaign years ago. I never thought about selling them or offering commissions because I was so use to the homebrew crowd that seemed to do all their own maps, that I figured why bother. 

Did you always want to make maps?/ How did cartography end up being your career? 
No, as a matter of fact, despite learning lots of other art techniques, it was by chance that I started creating maps for a living. I shared a prop map I made for myself of Skyrim in 2011 and the next thing I know, I'm being asked to create maps for other people. I ended up in such demand that I realized I should possibly consider doing this full time.

Do you take [insert any natural phenomena that affects the landscape of a planet] into consideration when making maps?
No. That's the world building stage of world design and usually occurs well before a map is made.

How long does the average map take to make?
There is no "average" map as each has very different needs & level of detail, but maps usually take 2-6 weeks to complete.

 

What materials/brushes/programs/etc. do you use to make your maps?
Click here to see a materials list of everything I use to make both physical & digital maps.

How much do you make per map?
Whatever my patrons pledge to my Patreon monthly unless it's something needed for commercial/exclusive work.

Commercial/exclusive work starts at about $1600 per map depending on the amount of work needed, plus a licensing fee of $1000 per design.   

Why did you pick "Mistress of Maps" as a title?
I didn't, it was given to me after numerous people saying I was a "master cartographer" and feeling it was mis-gendering me, so "Mistress of Maps" became a title.  However, I did try to resist it at first due to the alternate meaning of "mistress" and knowing how people on the internet would react.  But one cannot always choose such things and I eventually gave in. I'm happy I did and actually get very few comments regarding it. 

Can you make [fill in the blank] map?
I cannot make a map from any fandom as it's copyrighted. I can make original maps only unless the company who has the rights to product products with that map hires me to do so.

Can you recommend another cartographer being your commissions are closed?
I recommend checking out the Cartographers Guild where you'll find lots of very talented artists with their commissions open.

Don't you worry about teaching people cartography means they might become your competition?
No and here's the three biggest reasons why:

  • I cannot possibly do all the maps for everyone in the world that wants a map so the more cartographers the merrier.
  • There is no competition. They do their style of maps, I do mine. 
  • Most people who take my course don't end up taking on cartography as  career, it's not as easy as one might think.

What advice would you give to someone starting cartography?
Have fun. Seriously, there's no magic secret to map making. If you want them more "realistic" like mine, basic Earth sciences help with that. If you are just doing it for yourself & your TTRPG group, just have fun, don't worry about what's "right" or "wrong" and practice, practice, practice.

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Patreon/Business Questions

You offer your maps for free, how is that possible?
My patrons' monthly pledges cumulatively pay my "salary" enough that I can offer maps to the community free.  I reserve the colored & alternate versions as rewards for helping me do this.

How has Patreon helped you with your business?
I've based my business model around it. Patreon is a fantastic platform that allows artists like myself to be able to make projects while still being able to pay the bills.  Imagine spending your entire 2-6 week's paycheck to have a map! That's how long my maps take to make but that's pretty expensive for the average DM! So as long as someone will allow me to share it with the community, it costs only what they are pledging monthly because ALL my patrons are helping everyone get maps.

However, this is a business model that doesn't work for everyone as maps are seen as both art and as a functional need for TTRPGs.  Not all art is seen that way.

Do you have any advice for a successfully run Patreon?

1. Don't offer physical rewards of any kind unless you are certain you have the time, energy, & funds to do so. A lot of people make this mistake & instantly regret it but feel obligated to continue.

2. You're not opening a store and you need to remind yourself & patrons of that. Your shop is your shop and your Patreon is not a shop. It's a place for patrons to get to know you, to get exclusive content, to be rewarded for being awesome. Treating rewards like products being sold usually doesn't end well.

3. Embrace the gift of giving. A LOT of people become patrons because they want to be a part of something creative. Let them do just that. Let them send you gifts, let them participate in your process, let them get to know the creator behind the content. Just as you would love to do for others, let them also do for you. It let's you turn "patrons" into friends and that's awesome!

When creating projects for companies like Wyrmwood, Die Hard Dice, Rook & Raven, etc., how much do you charge?
This varies GREATLY per situation and often needs to factor in how much time/work is involved, what and now many designs are needed, etc.

Please note: There's a HUGE difference in being hired to create something for someone and collaborating with a company to create a product. Collaborations mean both parties put in equal work and both parties can use the work elsewhere. Being hired means you usually cannot use the work in other projects and thus only make the money you charged to create the original work.

How do you fit in projects like above while still working the map queue?
When I created my queue, I left time between commissions in case their was overlap or a project took longer than normal. If I have the time between free, I'll work on a project. Also, even with having a queue, I feel it's unfair to expect an artist to solely focus on commissions without allowing for other projects that expand their brand and/or allow a creator to mentally/emotionally reset.

How do you handle social media, Discord, Patreon, commissions, collaborations, create new projects, AND a personal life? You are always posting new stuff!
I'm an extremely well organized and very disciplined business person. I am a former efficiency manager and have learned to apply those skills to my own business. I account for everything in my schedule, even factoring in being distracted by my lovely kitties.  

Where do you get your products like the mugs & bags printed?
I use Printful (affiliate link).  They are a great, easy to use service that allows me to simply make a listing on my website and they handle the rest, even returns! They have an easy to use mockup generator for products, templates you can download, and offer a discount on sample orders so you can see their products first-hand. I always order a sample of a product before I offer it on my site to see not only how it looks with my art but the quality of the item. They've yet to disappoint me. 

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Critical Role Questions

(Specific map questions for the CR maps are in the next section)

How did you end up creating the maps for Critical Role?
I created a gift for Matt Mercer at the end of campaign one, a map of Tal'Dorei. He already knew of my art as we followed each other on Twitter. While talking about how to get him the map safely, I stated that if he ever wanted a map from me, please don't hesitate to say so. He piped right up with stating they were starting the new campaign and he'd love to have something he can hand to the players...the rest, as they say, is history.

How much information does Matthew Mercer give you when you create a map for him?
Matt gives me a rough draft showing all the key features of the map (such as mountains, coastlines, bodies of water, etc.) and I'm given freedom to fill in the details depending on the biome.  I will only suggest revisions if needed or if something might work a bit better in a region.  I also offer up geographical information if a particular land/water feature would indicate things like drastic weather, choppy waters, earthquake or other activities.

Do you hide things in the maps?
No, I'm professionally hired to create these maps & will not add things unless requested. I feel strongly that doing otherwise is me just being selfish as a fan and wanting to change things because of my own personal reasons. 

How long did the maps take you?/How long do the maps take to make?
I technically draw each map twice. Once for the prop version and again for the digital/poster version.  That means that Matt has a one of a kind physical map and the posters are slightly different. Because the prop maps are usually rushed, I don't have the luxury of noting the time and the digital versions are created during my "off hours" so I don't get behind on commissions.

What was life like before Critical Role?
I get this question often and it's hard not to answer how very little has changed and yet everything has changed. I mean, before CR, my queue was packed & I was steadily working.  And after CR my queue was packed and I was steadily working but now my name was suddenly getting known & I had more companies trying to hire me than individuals. But because I don't want to work *for* a company and prefer being able to make maps for the community in general, I turn down a lot of offers and just stick to what I think would be fun or interesting to do. 

How insane was it to have your map queue suddenly overflowing after your map appeared on the show?
My map queue was booked for 14 months (and would have been more had I not closed it) *before* my map was shared on the show.  It was only because I hated saying no that I opened it again only to have it fill up for 4 years worth of work. So though it was already insane, it was the first time that I realized how *much* people loved my work. I mean, if you're wiling to wait FOUR years....yeah.

Have you met any of the cast in person?
Yes, all but Ashley, Laura, & Travis.

What paper do you use to make the maps?
140 lb watercolor paper that goes through a different process depending on how Matt & I decide the feel of it should be.  

How do you create the texture we see on the maps? 
Tutorials are coming soon to my Patreon.

Why is Travis always sniffing the maps?
Because the process I put the paper through to make the maps leaves them smelling like a rich herbal coffee.

Are you planning on being a guest on Critical Role anytime soon?
No, I don't like being in front of cameras. It's just not my thing.

Would you guest on Pub Draw to teach us how to make maps?
No, I don't like being in front of cameras. It's just not my thing plus I teach all of that on my Patreon.

Can I commission you make me a map like the ones you did for Matt?
No, all names, places, designs, maps, drawings, paintings, physical maps, digital versions, posters, prints, products, and graphics you see of the maps I made Critical Role are copyrighted by Critical Role exclusively.  I cannot provide you with anything from the maps nor any portion thereof regardless of how small or insignificant you feel it may be.  

How much do they pay you per map?
This is a question I get asked a lot and I will never answer.

I see your map designs all over Critical Role's stuff, how much do you get in royalties?
This is a question I get asked a lot and I will never answer. 

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Questions/comments about the maps of Exandria

Before I begin answering any of these comments/questions, I want to stress that maps are representational.  Again, REPRESENTATIONAL.  They are here to help tell the story of the characters of Critical Role, to give a sense of where they are in the world, and to invite you to explore it along with them.  

That said, they are NOT drawn in "real time" meaning, they are drawn in the past and therefore do no reflect any changes on the world that the current characters are creating. There's no tree in any house in Rosohna because the map is from a time before there was one there and EVEN IF it wasn't, why would a map maker put that there to begin with?  They wouldn't.  Just like they don't make note of your house's landscape, only the general shape of the property lines & house.

These maps are for fun.  Don't expect them to be perfect, don't look to them to be exact, don't worry if something doesn't quite fit with a description.  Just as in our world, maps aren't perfect and many cartographers take liberties with their designs as long as it conveys whatever they need them to.  In our case, these maps are meant solely as an artistic rendition of the world we're exploring with a general idea of where it's predominant features are in relation to others.

Lastly, the maps are representational and don't depict every river, lake, or body of water in the world of Exandria, nor every hill, road, house, tree, forest, etc., just the most predominant ones.  

* * * 

What is the actual scale of the maps in the EGtW?  It says "miles" but that can't be right.
Feet, but you're free to change it to whatever you wish in your own campaign.

On the continent of Wildemount, it looks like several rivers run coast to coast.
Actually, they don't. They run from the higher elevation where they start to lower elevation on the way to the oceans.  

But you have rivers cutting through a mountain range!
Yes, and so does Alaska!

You have a lake with three contributing rivers in the Greying Wildlands!
No, we have a lake formed at the base of a mountain range (it's source) flowing in different directions.  

UGH! I can't look at the maps without cringing!
Feel free to create your own for your own campaign.

Did you or Matt make/design/add this mistake/error/incorrect issue/unrealistic geographical feature/etc.?
No maps were published without the approval of Matt Mercer (and others for the EGtW) first, so if it's there, we're all ok with it.  I'm sorry something about the maps bothers you.  I hope you can look past it and just appreciate the art & story while accepting we're only humans and imperfect.  If not, please feel free to disregard them and make your own versions for your own campaign.

Do you hide things in the maps?
No, I'm professionally hired to create these maps & will not add things unless requested. I feel strongly that doing otherwise is me just being selfish as a fan and wanting to change things because of my own personal reasons.  

I want to make a project using your map(s) and would like your permission/approval?  
Personal projects that you don't hide behind a paywall, monetize, or make any money on is fine.  However, any projects you do make money on need to be approved by Critical Role as it is their IP.  I cannot grant permission to use any maps/images I've created for Critical Role in any project as it's not my IP/copyright to grant.

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Community Questions

What are "Ruebees", I thought that was the name of your cat?
One of my cat's name is Ruebee because so many of my followers just adored her and started showering her with gifts when we first got her.

However, "Ruebees" is the name I gave my followers.  After stating that I wanted something gender-less to call everyone on the internet, I said  I was just going to greet everyone as "bees", for Critical Role's coined "Hello bees" phrase.  And naturally I punned greeting my followers as "Rue's bees or RueBees".  The joke sort of stuck.

What is "Ruesdays" about?
Tuesdays are Rue's days (Ruesdays) where I hold contests/giveaways on my Discord, livestream cartography or gaming, and just a punny day for us Ruebees. 

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D&D Questions

When did you start playing D&D?
At the age of 14 years old in 1988.

Did you always want a career in the TTRPG industry?
Well, yes and no. I don't know a kid that doesn't dream of doing something with the thing they enjoy most and I was no exception. However, I never took any steps towards it being a career other than when I first started selling my art at 17 years old when I tried to get break into the fantasy genre. I was told I there was "really no work unless you want to paint romance novel covers", which was not my thing.

How does it feel being D&D canon?
It's impossible to wrap my brain around. I've been playing for over 30 years and never, EVER thought I'd see my name in one of those books.  But the added bonus that it's the world of Exandria, a land so close to my heart....I cry just thinking about it.

What is your favorite class to play?
Why the cartographer ranger of course! 

Do you DM?
Yes, I DM for a group of visually & audio impaired players & "theater kids" in a private home game.

Will you guest on my D&D show/stream/podcast as a player/DM?
No, I don't really enjoy playing with an audience. Again, being in front of a camera is not really my thing.

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Visual Impairment & Accessibility Questions

What exactly is your impairment?
I was born with less than 5% vision in one eye, near-sighted in the other, and visual snow in both.

This causes me to see only in two-dimension and have relatively no depth-perception as well as to be light sensitive (this is why I'm always wearing tinted glasses, even indoors).

How do you make your maps so three-dimensional then?!
I don't know I'm making them three-dimensional. When I draw maps, I'm focusing on the shadows, light source, & over emphasizing what I think would be in front or behind something else.  This somehow translates to a very 3D look though, again, I see in 2D so I'm not sure how it looks different.

Do you need anything special to make your maps because of your impairment?
Nope. For physical maps, I need magnifying glasses but so would everyone else for details that small and for digital maps, I just zoom in.  No special equipment needed.

Do you need anything special to play D&D because of your impairment?
If I am playing with a normal-sighted group, I usually have a Reader with one ear piece in to read me items I need to look up.  A Reader is a program that turns text into speech either by the page or highlighted text.  This is so I don't have to have anyone look up things in the PHB for me. 

I will also ask DMs to keep key words/phases in mind when describing a situation. I prefer being told I'm "steps" away instead of feet because this is how I best learn the space around me (counting steps from one object/door opening to another). I also need them to always say things like "the monster is 20 steps in front of you at 1 o'clock" so I can best understand where something is.

When playing with my home group, we all take a bit extra time to explain things in detail with far more tactile descriptions than visual. So I say things like "the walls are slimy, and slick with moisture" instead of "the walls are glistening with liquid".  Feel instead of sight helps us better understand our environment.

What obstacles did you need to overcome because of your visual impairment?
Life, just like everyone else. Don't get me wrong, I understand how normal-sighted people have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be partially blind, however, I am of the mind that everyone has their own issues to overcome in life.  I can't even act like how I had to teach myself to create art was a unique obstacle because so many artists have done that as well.

I can say that the obstacles in life aren't necessarily on my end.  I frustrated art teachers because they told me to draw what I saw and then got frustrated that I couldn't "just see" it in more depth (public schools are not equipped to teach children with impairments).  Or I have had people very uncomfortable around me because of my support cane or that I always wear tinted glasses. The hardest part about being partially blind is dealing with a lot of the stigmas in society.

How can DMs better address accessibility for visually impaired people?
I cannot stress this enough... ASK THEM!  Every person is different.  Everyone has their own needs & preferences.  All you need to do to invite people to your table is to actually *invite* them and then ask if there's anything you can do to make their experience at the table the best possible.

My group prefers props so we have a tangible item we can identify as something in our inventory. We like the sounds of clinking coins, sloshing potions, and paper rustling to add to our immersion and give us auditory aids to what is happening in game. But others might not. Just ask. 

What one thing would you like to tell people about your impairment?
As much as I know you mean it as a compliment, saying things like "now I'm even more impressed", in reference to my artwork, after hearing I'm partially blind is not really a compliment.  Comments like this down play my artistic talent and emphasizes my impairment, as if that makes my work more astounding when it looks exactly the same as it did before you knew of my impairment.  Many people in the disability community do not like people acting as if whatever we accomplish is somehow even more amazing because of our physical issues.  I know fully sighted people who cannot create as I do so clearly, my vision isn't what made me a good artist.  I create with my imagination, not with my eyes.

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Personal Questions

How on earth do you have time to do everything you do?!
I'm an extremely well organized individual who keeps to a good schedule, doesn't berate myself when I don't, and allows myself time to goof off.  It makes my job much easier to handle and much more fun to do. Time just zips by as I'm knocking out projects and having fun doing them!

How do you keep such a positive attitude all the time?
I don't feed the trolls. Full stop.  I don't take what they say to heart.  I don't keep them in my life.  I don't keep them in my feed.  I don't bother responding to them other than the occasional burst of snark that escapes my brain. Seriously. Don't feed the trolls and eventually they die from attention starvation.

Do you get a lot of negative comments/trolls? And if so, how do you handle them?
I don't feed the trolls. Again, full stop.

How do you reset/recharge?
I actually do a little recharging every day. I make a point of either gaming, or turning everything off and just hang out with my wife & cats, or I play.  And by "play" I mean, I'll put on a fun costume, or pretend to be on a ship, or have a tea party with the cats, or whatever strikes my fancy that day. I make a point of living a creative and magical life and that does wonders for me on a daily basis. 

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I think that just about covers them.  If I missed any, ask them below and I may add them to this list. 

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