Interview with Deven Rue – by Craig Simpson
Deven Rue is a cartographer and an illustrator creating original hand-drawn fantasy maps and coloring them with Copic inks. Introduced to D&D at the age of 14, her passion for the game was instant and boundless; her cartography, however, wouldn’t be known until 2011 when she first showed the world a map she had made for herself of her favorite video game, Skyrim. She now works with DMs from around the world to bring their worlds to life through maps and various illustrations.
Hi Deven. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Making maps has been a hobby of yours for a long time, but what first got you into cartography?
Hi Craig, I’m honored by the interview!
The very first map I made was when I was about 15 or 16 years old. I was in a D&D group that spent 5 minutes playing and 20 minutes arguing over those 5 minutes of playing. The argument at that time had been about where our party was in relation to where we started and which direction we needed to go. I drew a really quick, and horrible sketch that loosely resembled a map and used it to settle the argument. We agreed and moved on. As the game continued, I started filling in the map with trees, hills, a road, I think a wagon or something; you know, just to fill the time between arguments. Ha! Anyhow, by the time I was done, the DM leaned over and asked if he could use it. Next thing I knew, I was talking to my Earth Science teacher, studying all sorts of interesting things about how our world was shaped, and became the cartographer for most of the groups I’ve played with. Mind you, it didn’t occur to me to do this for a living until 2011 when I posted pictures of a map I had made for myself of Skyrim (my favorite video game) and things just sort of took off from there!
Haha, that’s awesome. It’s great to hear that you use geography to influence your maps too. The amount I have learnt from YouTube documentaries has been incredibly useful! Were there any maps or artists that helped influence your style?
I think essentially, every artist/cartographer I come across influences and/or inspires me. From those who are trying their damnedest to make their first map to those artists who are household names, everyone has something interesting to offer and I try to take that with me to my studio.
That is great to hear. So, for those who are trying their damnedest, do you have any tips for them?
Learn about biomes, how mountains form, why rivers flow to the sea, or some degree of Earth Sciences to make your maps not only more believable but to also help you fill them in with tons of tiny details. Practice. A lot. Engage with your favorite cartographer and see if they offer tutorials. See if they livestream or make YouTube videos so you can watch them create. Don’t compare your map to someone else’s. My first maps were just absolutely horrible (I took landscape design classes to help improve this). Last but not least, maps are representational. They are meant to give an idea or concept of an area. They don’t have to be exact nor perfect in order to get your players or readers from point A to point B.
That is great advice. It is clear to see that being part of the community drives you. Are there any stand-out moments that you look back on and think ‘I can’t believe that happened to me’?
It does, very much so. When I was 14 years old and first discovered D&D, it was the first time in my life when I wasn’t told that my “wild imagination” was a bad thing. While playing, I wasn’t told to get my “head out of the clouds” or to stop daydreaming. At the table was one of the very few places someone like me could be truly free to explore and express their imagination, no matter how strange or odd. I’ve been blessed with some amazing experiences from the RPG community and make a huge effort to pay that forward. I want to inspire as much as I’ve been inspired. I want to give as much, if not more, than I was given. I want to set someone’s imagination free and watch what they create.
As to any stand-out moments…yes, quite a few. Namely the day Ed Greenwood told me how he and his wife traced their fingers along a leather map of Faerun that I had created for him and how it now resides in his home office. The time Geek & Sundry included me in an article of our community’s cartographers (14 year old me was crying over that one); to be included along with names like Schley, Blando, Logos, just….yeah, I had no words. Every single time someone honors me by becoming a patron, as if to say they believe in my work. Every message I get that I’ve inspired a story, a campaign, or someone to take up cartography/illustration.
As over the top as this all sometimes sounds, I’m being quite sincere. I often have days where I just sit in awe that this is what I get to do for a living! I mean…I can’t imagine life getting any better than this yet each day…it does!
Wow, that is incredible.It doesn’t sound over the top at all and I can honestly say it is deserved. Your work is phenomenal! If I recall correctly, your mother is an artist, right? How much of an inspiration was she at the beginning of your art career?
Yes, my mother is an artist though I didn’t grow up with her. So sadly, she had very little influence or inspiration to me as a child or young adult. We have two very different styles though both enjoy fantasy art. She’s more whimsical and I’m…well, not. lol
She is, however, one of my biggest fans and absolutely loves my work…though she might be a wee bit bias.
And thank you for the compliment. I put in several hours almost every day honing my skill and trying to create interesting and detailed pieces
The list of ‘biggest fans’ must be huge. The practice really pays off! At what point did you realize that becoming a full-time artist was a viable career?
Hmmm…I started painting when I was 17 years old and started showing/selling rather quickly but it was always “feast or famine” with pieces selling for hundreds of dollars but only a handful throughout the year. And I had a corporate career that I loved for quite some time, so I think that if I did have the ability to be a full-time artist back then, I don’t think I even realized it. However, in 2009 I left the corporate job and the traditional artist careers behind. I wanted to find something less difficult to share or sell and something that I would enjoy doing every day. I fumbled around for a few years (mostly just dealing with health issues) until like I said 2011 when I shared my maps online for the first time. Since then, it’s just been a steady stream of working on my art until I was comfortable with it’s style and then roughly a year ago (November of 2016) I came up with a business model that I really wanted to make work. It took me a bit to find someone doing something similar but once I did, I knew it would work. That artist’s name is Dyson Logos and he offers his maps free to the public! This was what I wanted to do. I hated that galleries and collectors were the only people who really got to enjoy my paintings and I wanted my art to be affordable, something anyone could easily get. Free seemed like the best way to achieve that. And like Dyson, I knew I would need some sort of way to still pay my bills, thus Patreon became the perfect way to do that. Now I offer all my black & white maps free for anyone to download, or you can purchase the colored version for only $2 per download. And they can be used for small business use, so DMs can use my maps & illustrations to spruce up their DriveThruRPG pieces or things similar.
That’s excellent. You obviously had to make a lot of changes, but they were all positive changes and the love for the community really shines through. Choosing to give away your b&w maps is a testament to that. As you have just mentioned, you started off by selling art, were there any other avenues you tried before deciding on fantasy cartography?
If there’s an art form out there that doesn’t involve power tools and/or volatile chemicals, I’ve probably tried it. Even a few that have. I love to create and have tried my hand at everything from crocheting to pyrography. I love to learn and thus often do little side projects that seem completely different to what I normally do but that’s sort of the point for me. I enjoy making things like props for my photography, sculpting, and I still paint. Next up I plan on learning to use my new Cricut machine to make vinyl stickers of my artwork because why not?! But I can’t say that I decided on doing any one particular art. It’s not like I decided that I wanted to be a cartographer one day, it’s just sort of the art form that let’s me do a little of everything I enjoy. It’s fantasy, it’s painting, it’s calligraphy work, it’s illustration, it’s technical, it’s photography, it’s detail focused, and it’s functional art. Like I always say, “fine art for the sophisticated geek”.
It all sounds and looks amazing. It must be great to have free rein on what you can do and I’ll have to keep my eye out for the vinyl stickers! Haha, I may have to use that phrase at some point, with permission.
You mentioned that Patreon has helped with how you can sell your work. How has it changed the way that you approach your career as an illustrator compared to using something like Etsy?
Actually, I think Patreon helps me FROM selling my work. Patreon allows us to band together to help an artist do what they do best without it costing us a lot individually. If it wasn’t for my Patreon, I couldn’t offer my maps free to download. The more patrons I get, the more art I can offer freely without worrying about selling anything. A perfect example is custom maps; each map takes anywhere from 40-60 hours just to make. If you want me to make you a map, you would need to pay me my weekly salary. But my next goal on Patreon will make it so I won’t need to charge that anymore. Instead, as long as you don’t mind me sharing the map freely with the community, I will be able to make it for the cost of you being a patron. This way, if you are a patron of mine for four months at a dollar a month and I pick your map to create, you get it made for $4 and the community gets another map. So essentially Patreon helps me help our community, pay my bills, and be a full-time artist without actually selling something. That leaves anything sold in my shop as a bonus but no longer my only means of support. And that in turn lets me not have to worry about selling, ads, and shipping things out.
That is fantastic and a perfect trifecta of results. It must be difficult to find time to do anything else, but I understand that you are also an avid roleplayer. What RPGs do you enjoy?
I use to be a LARPer but I haven’t LARPed nor played a TTRPG in years, sadly. I’m hoping to change that next year and dip my toes into 5th edition for the first time with a patron-only campaign in Tal’Dorei. Though I do play video RPGs in that I’m an avid fan of The Elder Scrolls series and Dragon Age as well.
That sounds like a great way to get into 5th edition, I hope you enjoy it once you get the chance. Two great series of games, they must continue to fuel ideas for you too. You mentioned earlier that you work on a variety of different products. For those who don’t know, would you like to explain what else you work on?
I create prop maps that are essentially “aged”, stained, and created to feel like parchment to use in photography as well as games. I do a monthly “cartography photography” session highlight a specific map and make as many props as I can in the images. Including things like book covers, patches, leather bags, potion bottles, etc. I also still do pyrography (wood burning) when a project strikes my fancy; mostly tavern signs or treasure chests. I also color for other cartographers such as Dyson Logos and Kosmic Dungeons. I think that’s the majority of what my side projects are.
With all the projects you are already making and the vinyl stickers still to come, have you had time to think about any other projects at all?
I have a very LONG list of projects that I will eventually get to…one day. Hopefully. Though those I don’t like to discuss until they come into being.
Sounds exciting though! So how can people find and support you?
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was so great learning more about you.
Aw, thank you so much! This was a lot of fun.