While the echoes of ancient battles still resonate through the mists of time, a new masterpiece has emerged to capture the essence of the legendary Hyborian Age. Heroic Signatures, in their quest to venerate Conan the Barbarian, has entrusted a task of monumental importance to a true artisan of our age – Francesca Baereld.
Francesca, a creator whose hands have been guided by a lifelong passion for the world of Conan, has brought to life a map of the Hyborian Age. This interview isn’t just about a map; it’s about the journey of a fan turned creator, whose work now stands as a beacon for others to explore the world of Conan with fresh eyes and a renewed spirit.
Join us as Francesca walks us through the painstaking process of bringing the Hyborian Age to life on canvas, her creative challenges, and the joy of crafting a piece that resonates with the soul of every Conan fan.
1. What does the Conan franchise mean to you personally, and how has it influenced your work on this map?
The first time I met Conan I was a little child, jumping on the couch in front of the TV, while my father encouraged me to flex my biceps like Arnold.
Growing up I had the luck of reading a few Conan comics and ended up enjoying Dark Horse’s run so much I have all the hardback copies in my library.
As a gamer I immediately grabbed the chance to play Age of Conan and Conan Exiles as soon as they came out. Now, in my adulthood, I’m discovering the true Conan directly from Robert E. Howard’s own words and by Crom what an experience!
When Heroic Signatures approached me to create the new map for Conan, it felt like destiny calling. I was born the year the Conan the Barbarian film was released, and now I had the chance to contribute to this universe that has been a part of me for so long.
2. Can you walk us through your creative process for designing and hand-painting this map?
After calming my initial enthusiasm, I started with a detailed pencil sketch, guided by the comprehensive art brief from Heroic Signatures. This brief included Robert E. Howard’s own hand-drawn map, which was both inspiring and a crucial reference point.
My research extended to exploring various artistic interpretations of the Hyborian Age lands by numerous talented artists. It was important for me to bring my unique perspective to this project while staying true to the essence of Howard’s stories, and the guidance from the Heroic Signatures team was invaluable in achieving this balance.
Once the team and I were satisfied with every detail in the drawing, I began the process of bringing the map to life with ink and watercolors. My approach to painting is very instinctual; I embrace the unpredictability of the mediums, allowing for ‘happy accidents’ that contribute to the map’s authenticity. Accompanied by Knut Avenstroup Haugen’s majestic Conan game soundtracks, the map gradually took shape, evolving into a vivid representation of the Hyborian Age.
3. How did you decide on the visual style and color palette for the map?
I did a lot of research, there are so many different and great Conan maps out there. But ultimately I did what I always try to do when approaching a new map: I imagined being a cartographer living and drawing the lands I explored. My ultimate aim is to do my best to make the map feel authentic and real, so that readers and players may use it as a portal to new worlds.
Choosing the color palette came quite naturally. Conan and the Hyborian age setting colors have been forged by decades of books, comics, video games and films. People and fans already have an idea of what they expect from a Conan map. In my mind Conan is fire, stone, leather and metal, so I started from those raw, primeval elements. I wanted to give my personal vision to the map, but also stay true to what so many artists before me did to evolve the world of Conan into what it is today.
4. What materials and techniques did you use to achieve the hand-painted effect, and how long did it take to complete the map?
It took me approximately two months to complete the map, from start to finish. I paint all of my maps with inks and watercolors, on a special 100% cotton paper. For big works like this one I have to cut and stretch paper from big rolls of paper that are milled in old paper mills.
Working with traditional media you cannot rush things too much, because there are some technical times you cannot cut. But I think this only helps in making the final work more authentic.
5. How did you ensure the map’s accuracy and consistency with the lore of Robert E. Howard’s world?
I did my best to recollect all my knowledge of the Hyborian Age and study other previously published maps, but I must say this was 100% thanks to the Heroic Signatures team and historian Jeffrey Shanks, who know in depth each inch of the lands walked and described by Conan.
As we journey through the intricate pathways of Francesca’s creation, it’s time to turn our ears to the whispers of the past, brought forth by Jeffrey Shanks, a sage in the realm of Howard’s lore. His words are not just insights; they are the very echoes of Howard’s vision, a guiding light in the quest to remain true to the Hyborian Age’s roots. Here, Jeffrey Shanks, historian and custodian of Howard’s legacy, shares his profound reflections:
“I think it is incredibly significant to acknowledge that our first glimpse of Conan, in the very first story he appears in, does not have him fighting in battle or struggling against some Eldritch horror. Rather, he is seated at a desk — armed with a quill, not a sword — filling in details on the blank areas of a map,” Shanks says.
“The creation of fantastic geographies was central to Robert E. Howard’s world-building and as he was finalizing that first story, he was drawing his own maps of the Hyborian Age, which fortunately still survive for us to consult. I mentioned this to emphasize just how important maps were to Howard, and how important it is for anyone creating a modern map of the Hyborian Age to respect that original vision,” he continues.
“I am humbled and honored to have been able to work with the legendary Francesca Baerald in developing what I feel is not only the most accurate, but also the most visually stunning maps of the Hyborian Age ever created. Building on the research that I and several other Howard experts have done over the years on previous maps, Francesca took it to the next level. She quizzed me relentlessly on details, clearly wanting to make sure that accuracy and faithfulness to Howard’s vision was her priority. And then she took that information, and rendered it in her own unique antiquarian aesthetic, creating a cartographic masterpiece that would be perfectly appropriate hanging on the wall of the Royal Library of Aquilonia”
6. Were there any real-world historical or geographical inspirations behind the design of certain regions in the Hyborian Age?
There is no specific place I researched. However, as you may notice from REH’s own Hyborian age map, he was inspired by ancient cultures that lived on Earth centuries ago, so there was a lot to get inspiration from.
I was lucky to be born in Italy, a place full of history and a crossroad for cultures, so many of the Mediterranean references are simply part of my culture and heritage. I also love to travel and I’ve visited a lot of Europe. I’ve always been attracted by different cultures and remember fondly all the time spent on books and school research papers on ancient civilizations when I was a child and teenager. I did my best to blend all this with REH’s ideas and create lands that would feel true to Conan fans.
7. How did you approach the scale and geography of the map to make it feel authentic and immersive?
When crafting the map, I always remind myself that the magic of a map lies in its ability to bring a world to life, rather than in the precision of every drawn mile. As a cartographer of fantastical realms, I have the creative freedom to prioritize the feel of the world over exact measurements.
My experience in mapping various lands over the years has honed my instincts for geography and scale. When I start sketching the main landmasses and key locations, I can sense if an element feels out of place. It’s a delicate balance of staying true to the lore while allowing for artistic interpretation.
For the Hyborian Age map, I made some controlled adjustments to enhance the overall impact. The goal was to create a map that not only adheres to the lore but also invites Conan fans to explore with their heart and soul.
8. What are some of the subtle details or easter eggs fans might find on the map that reference specific stories or events in the Conan universe?
Should I really write them down and take away from fans the chance to discover them by themselves?
Just kidding, but SPOILER ALERT, here are some of my favorites:
But that’s just scratching the surface.
There are more Easter eggs hidden throughout the map, waiting for keen-eyed fans to uncover them. Happy hunting!
9. What is your personal favorite area on the map, and why?
This is very difficult to say. I’ve spent hours on each area of the map, exploring every nook and cranny with my ink, so I can’t choose a favorite area.
If I had to highlight an area, it would be the regions where Conan’s presence is most felt – between Cimmeria, Aquilonia, and Stygia. These lands are so rich with memories from Conan’s adventures, making them incredibly fascinating to depict.
The challenge was to capture the essence of these storied places, and I hope I’ve done justice to them.
10. What were the biggest challenges you faced in bringing the Hyborian Age to life on this map?
Conan is a huge character! Not only physically, but also as a myth that has shaped the fantasies of so many of us. He has been a companion in countless adventures, each of us has a different vision on how the Hyborian lands should look and feel.
This certainly made me feel a lot of responsibility and from day one I wanted to do my best to create a map of the Hyborian age that could make all Conan readers and fans happy. I studied every detail, trying to balance my vision with those of others, to create something all of us could relate to.
After having decided with the rest of the team to have text hand-written in calligraphy on the map, to make everything more authentic, I did a lot of study, to find the correct approach to do it. Conan has some very recognizable fonts, so I wanted to write text in a way that would be faithful to Conan’s setting, but also give it a different twist, always keeping in mind that the final map should look like it had been drawn by a character that Conan could’ve met during his travels.
11. How do you hope this map will enhance the experience of Conan fans, especially those who are deeply involved in the lore?
One of the comments I hear most frequently from people who are passionate about books and games is that maps are a doorway to a new world. A glimpse to a well-made map can instantly take you to new places or ignite old memories of adventures already lived.
I really hope Conan fans from yesterday, today and future fans will discover a little piece of their adventures with Conan in my map and that it will help them find their way to explore and unravel the world of the Hyborian age for themselves.
But ultimately I wanted to create a map I would be proud of and that I hope would’ve put a smile on Robert E. Howard’s face.
Through her meticulous craft and deep reverence for Conan’s universe, Francesca has not just created a map; she has woven a tapestry that captures the very essence of this timeless saga.
Her dedication and skillful artistry remind us that the world of Conan is more than just stories and legends; it’s a living, breathing realm that continues to inspire and captivate. Francesca’s map is not merely a guide through the Hyborian Age; it’s an invitation to explore, to dream, and to embark on adventures as boundless as the imagination.
To Francesca, we extend our deepest gratitude for entrusting her vision and passion to the legacy of Conan the Barbarian. Her work stands as a testament to the enduring power of this legendary world and the endless possibilities that await those brave enough to traverse its lands.
For every fan of Conan, new and old, may this map serve as your compass to uncharted territories and forgotten tales. May it ignite a flame of adventure in your heart, as you journey through the Hyborian Age with the spirit of Conan by your side.
But why just read about this marvel when you can own a piece of the legend? Yes, you heard right.
Imagine, this map adorning your wall, a constant reminder of the wild, untamed lands that call to your spirit.
So, why wait? Grab your piece of this legendary world today, and let the map of the Hyborian Age be your guide to countless tales and adventures. Who knows what mysteries you’ll uncover?