Of Maps, Mud and Bones

Been working on an “artifact” for Gerhardt Rupp’s Skizzenbuch.  I wanted to create a map of the region where Jasta 77 was assigned during the events of Jack Hunter’s novel  “The Blue Max”.   I wanted the map to be one that Rupp drew by hand and is found folded up inside his sketchbook.  Here is a historical example.


I also wanted the map to be more than that.  I want the sketches and artifacts to be expressive of Rupp’s attitude towards the war and the world around him.  In the novel Rupp is not a good man.  He gathers the “dirt” on his squad mates to use for his own advantage.  The Captain and others use Rupp for getting things done outside of the rules. Rupp is surrounded my men who want to use the war to make them powerful or famous. Rupp does not see war as something you use, he sees it as something you survive.  He sees no heroes or villains in the war, only death.  His sole goal is his own survival and he will do anything to save himself.   I want his sketches to reflect that.

I’m not done with the map yet, but the journey has already been interesting.


I started with a cropped image of the map from the “Rise of Flight”  World War 1 flight sim. This is a high res image with layers for cities, airfields, roads, train tracks, forests, canals and of course the front and No Man’s Land.


My plan was to delete information to simplify the map and than turn all the layers to almost completely transparent to use as a sketch guide.  I added layers to replace fonts with the handwriting font I use in the Skizzenbuch so it looks like Rupp did the writing.  I added symbols for the Jastas and then printed the original on 11 x17 paper.  From there everything would be drafted by hand in ink.  Fold it, iron it, age it with tea or coffee and be well on my way to a map artifact.  I’m not going to publish the final since it is still a work in progress, but you can get a glimpse of how my test worked out in the image of the map folded up in the brown paper pocket above.

While working on this what I was stuck on was No Man’s Land.  This map used a gray hatched area for the battlefield.


Trench warfare is what defined World War 1.  Men marching into trenches, artillery was directed from the air to target those same men and they were pounded constantly.  Men die, more men are marched in, the lines move forward, the lines move back.  Over and over again all in the same area on the map.  The ground was churned up by constant bombardment creating a surreal landscape that was both battlefield and the burial site for hundreds of thousands of men.  This was not lost on Rupp.  He was a realist about the war and what it had become.  In my mind I could see Rupp, late at night, working on the map and getting lost in the sketch. I started thinking about a graphic for the front that reflected what it really represented and I started experimenting with using skeletons as a hatching pattern….and as happens sometimes, like Rupp, I became lost in the sketch as well.

I started with a Google Images search on skeletons

479814-skeletonAfter a few sketch attempts I remembered that I had an Ipad App by Dan Vulanovic that had a poseable skeleton.  You push and pull arms and legs and create views.

image1 I made multiple poses, saved screen shots and then pasted them together on a sheet in photoshop.

Bones Combined copy

I made the image almost 80% transparent and printed a hard copy at a small scale to sketch on top of.  I was trying to convert these into hand sketches that would be very small.  It was important to have the sketches not be too detailed so they looked like something that could be done at the scale of the map.  The vignettes were fun to do, quick, intuitive.  Almost looked like they were dancing ( I could almost hear the Grateful Dead tunes in the background).


In photoshop I made all the white transparent.  I left the skulls, pelvic area and ribs as solid.  I made this many views figuring I could rotate and flip the images to fill in the hatched area and have them appear as random and different.

Methodically I began stacking bodies, rotating, flipping, fitting them in.  Copy paste, copy paste, copy paste.  Strange things started to happen.  When you place objects on top of each other they stack above or under each other depending on the layer the image is on.  Arms fit under heads, legs crossed torsos. You get a sense of depth.

The sketch began to take on a life of its own.

As I layered the images with the skeletons, I started to slow down and think about what I was drawing.   I have read descriptions of the front, with layers of mud and bones.  Men in the trenches could see the victims of previous battles when they dug in and tried to sleep at night.  Like Rupp, I become a bit lost in the moment.

There are times in creative projects where the idea in your head becomes more than you expected on paper.  For me this was one of those moments.




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