A Q + A with the Artist Behind These Intricate Maze Landscapes
Sean C. Jackson, a New York–based broadcast designer and art director, has been illustrating and exploring mazes for his own enjoyment for more than 30 years. Inspired by art, architecture, and the natural world, his colorfully detailed mazes offer imaginative and meditative journeys through village streets, garden vistas, island habitats, castle grounds, scenic towns, and gravity-defying surreal situations—each encouraging the mind to wander while following the paths.
In his new book, From Here to There: A Book of Mazes to Wander and Explore, there are 50 hand drawn single-page and full-spread mazes, sequenced with increasing complexity.
We asked Jackson a few questions about his maze-drawing expertise, so read on to learn how the mighty maze is made.
Oh, and side node: he highly recommends following the paths of the mazes with your finger, or the non-writing end of a pencil or pen used as a stylus—that way you can follow the paths again and again.
Q: How long have you been drawing mazes? What began the obsession?
A: I’ve been drawing mazes since I was very young, when I discovered the 3-Dimensional Mazes books by Larry Evans, published by Troubadour in 1976/77. I also had access to an Escher book or two, so early on I began mimicking the wild architecture and intricate puzzles of their work.
Everyone doodles. The obsession is my desire to take my doodles—this language of stairs, buildings and plants—and complete them. Give them a purpose. There is joy from creating the puzzles, and a different kind of joy running them, solving them. I continue to run them long after I make them.
Q: How do you go about drawing a maze? Where do you begin the illustration?
A: I will have an idea of the type of structures or texture I want the maze to have—I may have an idea of a theme as well. Instinct takes over once the drawing starts. One form fits to the next, and the growth of the maze is very organic across the page. Once enough path branches have formed, I select the path and forks that will eventually become the solution path, but still allow the remainder of the maze to grow in an organic fashion.
I always start at the beginning, but make sure to have a few false paths leading from the end to keep things interesting.
The beginnings of a maze
Although the mazes are often free-form and doodle-like, I need to keep track of the paths. Here is an example of my notations tracking paths alongside the final pencil drawing. Arrows are typically the “hero” path that will lead to the end. O’s are paths open on both ends that I will eventually attach to a hero or false path. Letters or numbers refer to a specific fork, usually close to the start, so I know where to reconnect looping false paths or eventual solution paths.
Q: How do you make sure a maze is the right level of challenging?
A: I make the mazes enjoyable for me to solve, but someone who hasn’t played with mazes since childhood may find even the easiest mazes frustrating. Others may find the hardest mazes in the book a breeze. In organizing the mazes by difficulty, I hope that readers gently learn how to solve them, and will have as much fun with the complex pieces as the simpler ones in the beginning of the book.
In the more complex mazes, I make sure there are plenty of landmarks to help orient the reader. The mix of styles throughout the book help make each new puzzle a small, self-contained adventure, and not just a retread of what has come before.
I have someone run all my mazes to help gauge the difficulty and point out any spots that might be confusing.
Q: What has been the most challenging maze you have ever drawn?
A: The most challenging maze for me to create was a double maze that included both pipes and stairs. I am currently working on some new ones in that style. Keeping track of the different paths and space is demanding. For readers, I think the last maze in this book, where the paths wrap from one side of a large cube to the other may be the most challenging. Some people have suggested that the double page, path-only mazes (like Solstice, pictured below) are more challenging. I am working on some future pieces that are extra dense and detailed for folks who like that sort of thing.
Q: What and/or who are your artistic influences?
A: Artists I like include Richard Diebenkorn, Lucian Freud and Richard Serra. I love Keith Haring and think his work has influenced me a great deal. I was certainly drawn to the comic book artists of the eighties: Barry Windsor Smith, Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, and Brothers Hernandez. Most directly of all, the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Villages and rooftops stacked upon hills in subdued, lonely palettes? That’s the best.
I follow several contemporary illustrators, including Meg Hunt, Vera Brosgol, and Loish. When kicking around Pinterest, I appreciate a lot of concept landscape work, like Thierry Doizon and Simon Stalenhag. I also have a soft spot for low-poly 3d work, some of which is quite beautiful. I make sure to keep the most recent copy of Hi-Fructose around, too. My work can be so inwardly focused, I need to refresh my outlook sometimes!
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