Posts by Iyo

I draw and world build as a way of engaging and understanding out world, and our place within it.


An incredibly belated happy new year. Belated because I totally had to hit the ground running to prepare for a busy January (I’ll be on the road for ten days starting later today fuuuuh). And the weather has been a bit crazy here in Australia, with some record breaking hot days and all…

A few things happened at the end of last year, and early this year that are going to shape the way I do things, and I thought I’ll kick off this year’s first post with that:

  • Finally settling on a colour pallet for the Shenraq – Blues, Green, Grey, Black and White. See my mood boards over here at Pinterest.
  • Have become the proud patron of Artifexian (world building videos) and Firelight Isle (comic and webcomic with a beautiful looking and intriguing world).
  • Discovered World Anvil, which I’m totally hoping to get more involved in.
  • Generally thinking about how to get more involved with other fellow world builders.
  • Prioritising finishing my PhD.
  • I worked a little on a world creation myth as told by the Itān, and that will come up soon.

The featured image for this post is a work in progress of an image, much like my tapestry picture, an image created by someone in the Shenraq. I’ll be working through parts of this image as a way of exploring my world: what kind of beliefs are held by whom in the Shenraq, and what kind of symbols do they use to explore these beliefs?

It’s going to be a big year, mostly with the trying to finish my PhD thing, but I’m looking forward to tinkering on the Shenraq as I go.

Happy Year of the Dog!



Planet Building Was Not My Thing, Until I Found This Guy

I assume people get into world building for all sorts of reasons, and I can confidently say that an interest in space was NOT my way in. I’m much more of a human ecology type world builder, interested in how different geographic environments might shape and influence human behaviours and cultures. I’m not an astronomy oriented world builder:
The thought of reading up on orbital physics, planetary science kind of jargon intimidated me (Tidal locking?? Lagrange points??). Until! I found the glorious Artifexian YouTube channel.

ARTIFEXIAN: Build your Own Terrestrial Planet: Physical Characteristics

I’m a total Ravenclaw and love learning new things, so the channel was a great because it kind of felt like walking through a workbook of astro calculations for world builders. And that’s ultimately the best thing about these guys, it’s that they communicate to fellow world builders who want to know how our world’s physics work in order to build hypothetical fictional worlds.

So I had three physical conditions for my world:

  1. Have a habitable planet or moon where it’s closest satellite looks really large and impressive like in those SciFi illustrations.
  2. Maybe have two moons?
  3. Have the world made mostly of cold climate dry biomes.

Point three I’ll talk about in another post, so let’s talk about the satellites. The main reason I wanted the large Moon was because it looks cool (1 point to the rule of cool vs realism). Additionally I like how it instantly makes things more alien and vast. The reason for having a secondary moon is also basically the same, but I got sold on the idea of cultures building systems of meaning around two moons… gets my creative gears heard in motion!!

ARTIFEXIAN: Terrestrial Moons

So then my quest to calculate how this would work… Being the kind of person who likes to have some basic understanding of fundamentals and how things are built up, I started with building the sun, a so long at system, then my habitable planet, then it’s satellites. B that took a while weekend haha NO REGRETS. I got a great intro into basics of orbital physics, interest and appreciation of space etc. The sad thing is though probably that the calculations I did have small errors on my part, and ultimately the very large moon-thing wouldn’t really work with real gravity and physics BUT WORLD BUILDING 😀 At least there’s some kind of conceptual logic that I can accept, which is maybe all that really matters from a world-building-for-story point of view.

I also built some calendars based on the oribtal particulars of this planet. Will put that up next time 😀

Artifexian Links

How to Build A Star

Gas Giant Moon Systems and Habitable Moons

Artifexian on Reddit


Familiar but Unfamiliar: Elements of Making A Fantasy World

“Asian” civilisations. I want to make an unfamiliar familiar world in part to

  1. Break overly familiar styles to make world truly “inspired by”, not “appropriated.
  2. To flag explicitly that this is NOT based off our world’s history.

Because I draw heavily on the Mongol conquest of Eurasia, there’s a real danger that this world will look and feel too much like commentary on that period in our history . If that’s what I wanted to do, I would do a historical fiction. As much as I love historical fiction, I find it too restrictive because I feel honour-bound to get historical details accurate. Which would necessarily mean that I couldn’t explore ideas such as “how would a non-patriarchal society organise it’s self?”.

There are many ways for one to distance their world from their source material. In my case the visually easiest (ha!) way to do it seemed to be “have two moons”. Evident that it is not on our earth. Plus, from a world building perspective there is a lot you can play around with if you have two moons… the calendar system would be entirely different, societies would attribute different significances to the two moons, have totally different mythologies to ours… Makes things instantly more complex, but that’s also very exciting!

The next couple of posts will be about how I went about building a coherent(-ish) orbital system. It’s a pretty labour intensive process, but  absolutely worth it!

~ iyo

PS. After that I’ll go into some thoughts about the difference between cultural inspiration vs cultural appropriation. It’s something I think about and talk about with others often, is topical, and relevant for projects like this. That’s unlikely to be until 2018 (!!).

The “What If” Foundation of the Shenraq World

I was going to do a post jotting out my thoughts about building up the image of the tapestry that will be my header image, but I realised that  in order to to explain why the weaver would weave a certain tapestry, the context in which she weaves needs explaining. The context, in this case, means the world she inhabits.

For me, the whole purpose of world building and the fantasy/speculative fiction genre is to explore the possibilities of a “what if”. What kind of challenges will you face if you were a reincarnating saviour of the world? (Avatar: The Legend of Korra) What would you do if you learn that the world we inhabit is not physically real but a virtual reality to placate us? (The Matrix) What if Gods travel with their believers, and their power is based on how fervently they are believed in? (American Gods)

Having said all of that, I’m cheating slightly by altering the question to a “how can”.

“How can we tell stories about the genuine complexities of cultural contact, and the various dynamics found within cultural contact?”

Cultural contact sounds like a fancy term, but it just means “when peoples from different cultures start mingling and living with each other to greater or lesser extents”.

Cultural contact can take many forms. In our day and age, things like temporary migration for work or study are not uncommon. Historically there are plenty more:

  • Trade between two centralised states of different linguistic and/or cultural groups equally (e.g.) or unequally
  • Trade between two centralised states of the same linguistic and/or cultural groups equally (e.g.) or unequally (e.g.)
  • Technologically advanced but numerically inferior group of people conquer a numerically superior group of people in the Old World (e.g. European imperial conquests of India, Egypt )
  • Conquest of non-centralised states by centralised states (e.g. Rome over the Celts,
  • Conquest of centralised states by traditionally less-centralised states (e.g. Manchu over the Han, Mongols over the Khwarezmia)

And the relationship dynamics to be found in these contexts are clearly many. And an extension from that, the types of lived experiences are just… vast.

Basically I’m wanting to tell stories about intercultural co-existence, and historical memory. That’s just a fancy way of saying “stories about people from different cultures living together, and exploring how those cultures’ histories affects the people’s present.” A lofty sounding topic, right?  It’s the kind of stuff that historians, sociologists, anthropologists talk about… but I think they are fascinating and really important topics that can be and should be explored in fiction.

The world I’m building:

The Shenraq: A cultural contact zone of four major civilizations, each drawing inspiration from “Asian” civilizations in our world. My current official blurb goes something like this:

At the cross-roads of civilizations stands a vast dynasty built on conquest. One hundred years after its foundation the conquerors are once more poised for invasion of foreign lands. But murmurings of rebellion can be heard throughout the empire, and the descendants of the conquerors are dying of a mysterious wasting illness. Traverse the vast worlds of secretive deserts and howling plains, the corridors of power and humble peasant villages. You will then piece together a picture of the events that will sway the future of this diverse world.

If you are a world builder, what is your “what if”? If you are a fiction lover, what “what ifs” tickle your fancy?

Concept: Inferring a fictive world from a tapestry

In my quest to design and make an appropriate header for this blog, I finished off my last post by musing about what pattern would be depicted by the weaver in the image. The tapestry should represent the inner world of the weaver, and also serve to flag a few things about the world to the viewer. So in this post I’ll plot out a few thoughts I had in this process.

What is it that I want the viewer to infer about the world?

  • It is a world that was conquered, has a complex cultural coalescence happening.

The main reason why I began world building was to build a fictive space in order to explore stories of cultural contact under certain circumstances, namely of conquest and being conquered. So the first question that came to mind was “How does the weaver feel about the conquest?” but the answer actually depends more “Who is the weaver?” Is she from the conquering side, or the conquered side? How does she personally view the historical conquest? This might seem like some indulgent naval gazing, but is actually fundamental because… what does the viewer herself look like? What does her dress tell us about who she is? Is she from the conquering side, or the conquered side? (since the two groups historically dressed differently.)

But I as the artist also want to communicate a specific image of the world to the viewer, I decided to have my wants limit who the weaver might be. I want the image of the world to be exiting, vivid, and complex, with evidence of cultural mixture. Working from that starting point, it could be inferred that the weaver is probably, at a minimum, philosophical about the conquest; not completely hostile towards the conquerors, but perhaps weary of depicting it as something completely glorious and amazing.

High chance she’s a person of mixed heritage (both conqueror and conquered), a közluqi. They dress a certain way, so the outfit of the weaver should reflect that. I also decided that the tapestry should have visual elements from both the conqueror and conquered cultures. This naturally led to the decision that the tapestry should be an intricate and colourful one with various symbols, motifs, and patterns.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 9.57.09 pm

Progress shot. I kind of like these colours, but maybe a bit dull for a header?

Of course, this ground work is all invisible to the viewer who knows nothing about the world, or it’s component parts. But this is what I love about world building: the opportunity to think about how a world is made up socially and environmentally, but also how to weave in those elements into a visual piece to create the image of a world that feels real enough that it may exist. Whether I’ve succeeded int his case is, well, up for debate but…


The more-or-less finished piece. Opted for flashier colours because a header should grab people’s attention, or something.

I’ve still got to tweak things before this picture is more complete, but here we have the bulk of the tapestry. In the next post I’m going to share the basic premise of the world, and begin introducing the two civilisations that are represented in this tapestry.

Concept: Pattern and Weaving

Step one in my quest to art a blog header! (The post that got me going on this process.)

It may sound superficial to some, but I honestly feel that objects of beauty are one way of having your interest piqued re: foreign cultures. For me, textiles and wearable art (head gear, masks, jewellry) are that thing. Music and food are also good, but my personal tastes interfere on this front; I’m much more drawn to certain parts of the world than others. But textiles and wearable art, I find all forms fascinating and exquisite.

What makes textiles particularly special in my eyes is that there is ample space to play with colour and patterns. Being a 2D art kind of person, I find patterns a fascinating glimpse into the worldview of a different culture. You get a sense of what’s important to a culture, and also their sensibilities.

So for my header I want to have some patterns. But just having abstract patterns by itself is a bit contextless… I want the fictive world to feel as real, so there has to be a character in the image.

So I started searching for images of people weaving. There are many different ways of weaving, but I decided to go for the very dramatic looking vertical loom-based techniques like those used in the Turkic world. So off I went to Google Images (bless this tech), and started sketching.  Some thoughts I jotted down while doing research:

  • Just hands is mysterious and nice, plus getting up close and personal with the textile is kind of appealing. But just a hand is a bit too devoid. So more mystery, like a full figure weaving would be good.
  • A one-point perspective pic that has the tapestry at a slight angle might be nice, makes a more interesting composition, but I want the tapestry to take centre stage. So no skewing.
  • Checked out vertical looms from Turkey, Australia, Navajo, India, and they more or less have the same basic structure. Probably don’t need to spend too much detail on the loom itself for the picture.

So at the moment the rough looks something like this (pretty anticlimactic, actually):


So now the tricky (but fun) part! What pattern is the weaver weaving? Is it a pattern? If so what kind of symbolism will it display? Or is it a depiction of a scene? How does the weaver feel about the subject matter? This will have to go on to another post where I nut out my thought process of how to infer a world via the tapestry and its weaver.

Reference Links

Images that are not mine are licensed under  Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication or are in the public domain.

To Make A Home, Make the Decor Yours

I’ve always been a bit of a digital wanderer, relatively happy to stay put in a space for a bit, but then eventually moving on to some other space to see what people are doing there. Never been good at the “setting up a home thing”, maybe a reflection of my wandering twenties. But things seem right in life now that I’m liking this idea of setting up a digital home, and this seems like a good place to start.

Setting up house in any new space is a bit strange, especially in that stage where you’re settling in and getting used to your new surroundings; figuring out where’s the best place to put life’s essentials, learning the particularities of how you move in a space. Part of settling in just that brute passing of time (read: familiarity), but another big part is  adding your personal touches and making a space your own. So I’m going to do that for this digital space.

The current header won’t do. I have an idea for a picture, but that’s going to take some time and research and planning. I’ll post up my research + creation process as part of the “settling in” phase, and by the end of it I should have, at least, an appropriate header to make this template more “imaginary yonder”.