Meet Isaac Dushku — Lord of Maps

This artist and Tolkien fan makes the coolest maps you've ever seen

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Image Credit: Isaac Dushku

They say good things come in threes, and for Isaac Dushku, that's certainly been the case. The Utah native combined his love of drawing, geography and J.R.R. Tolkien, transforming himself into the Lord of Maps, an Instagram star with 205K followers who sells prints of his hand-drawn maps, books and even blankets featuring American states as well as countries around the world. They're all drawn in a charming style inspired by medieval maps and those found in Tolkien's ‌Lord of the Rings‌ book series.


Picture a hobbit-sized guy happily spending his days teasing mountains, rivers and puffy trees out of pen and paper, making funny Monty Python–esque promo reels while dressed in Frodo capri pants and occasionally opening Amazon boxes with a replica of Aragorn's sword, and you've captured the vibe exactly.

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Video of the Day

"I'm literally looking at a closet full of chain mail, tunics, boots and belts as we speak," said Dushku during a recent phone interview. "And I'm planning to make my little studio like the interior of Bilbo's home, with beautiful wood paneling."

Dushku may be living the dream we've all had—working from home doing something he loves—but make no mistake, this is more than fun times. Dushku built Lord of Maps into a geeky gold mine, a Venn diagram sweet spot where atlas-addicted, cosplaying, nature-loving fantasy fans could gather and collect his beautifully detailed maps.


He also recently branched out to make posters featuring side-by-side depictions of the tallest U.S. buildings, the tallest mountains in each state, etc., as well as stickers with hippie-nerd energy, featuring cute animals, Volkswagen Beetles and positive slogans.


"I love the world, and I love maps," Dushku says. "I come from a beautiful but relatively simple, boring place. So thinking about all the crazy stuff that's out there, and the fact that there are still adventures to be had—whether on random, tiny islands in the middle of nowhere, or Africa, or the Himalayas, or Kansas—there's something about it that sparks my imagination."


We talked with Dushku—a 25-year-old married dad of two whose shaggy brown hair and mustache is giving ‌Mandalorian‌ actor Pedro Pascal vibes—about the joy of making maps with Walmart supplies, his run-in with Chinese censorship and the religion that is ‌Lord of the Rings‌ fandom. And we of course asked him if anyone had ever told him he kinda looks like a nerdier Pascal, the pop culture fave and zaddy sex symbol. "Just one other person," he said with a laugh. "Maybe I should do a ‌Mandalorian‌ map!"



We're pretty sure Dushku would find a market for that.

How did Lord of Maps come about?


I've been drawing since I was little. As I got older, I became more nerdy and started to love fantasy and geography. I was in college when the pandemic happened and everything went to Zoom, which I thought was brutal. I had already been thinking it would be so cool if someone made fantasy-style maps of real places, so I finally said, ‌I'll‌ do it. I took a year off to pursue mapmaking, and now it's what I do full-time.


What was your first map?

I'm in Utah, so it had to be my home state. There are tons of nerds here and tons of mountains—and mountains make maps. I bought the largest piece of paper I could find, for $2, and normal pens I had in my backpack: black for drawing the map, red to label things. Now I have fancier stuff, but I don't tell people that because I made like 50 maps with normal crappy pens that I bought at Walmart, and I don't want to discourage anyone who wants to make maps. You can use a crappy pen!

Is your process pretty much the same as then?


Yes. First, I make a grid with a pencil, then look on Google maps for the place I'm drawing, then draw the general outline and physical features. Then I label it. I do it in just one take. It's freeform, like jazz. If there's a mistake—like the time my baby put her slobbery hand on my map of Mississippi—I'll scan it to my iPad and correct things.

You have a very niche yet very successful business. How did you achieve that?

My oldest brother, Alexander—I am the fifth of eight siblings—works in machine learning and data analysis. He's a total genius, a Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. He helps me with strategy.


We had a very strategic marketing plan. Ads have been the single biggest contributing factor to my audience and sales growth, though it's not as sexy as being discovered out of nowhere. There are a lot of incredible artists online, and 90 percent of them are not successful, while others who may not be as great are. I am not a Michelangelo-level talent, but I had a product that resonated with people. However, we couldn't rely on the algorithm alone to get the exposure we needed.

What has been your favorite place to map so far?

Ireland. I posted progress pictures, and two Irish dudes were like, 'You're using only English place names. You gotta use Gaelic.' I reached out privately, and they helped me do the map. One of them ran a newspaper, and he promoted it for free and did a giveaway. It was such a cool experience, and it's still one of my best-selling maps.

Any not so great experiences?


My first coffee table book, ‌Lord of Maps,‌ was censored in China, which has become a badge of honor. The book is pretty straightforward, with the 50 states, 25 countries, and a world map. I was having it printed in China. People there were super helpful through the process, then refused to print it unless we removed the world map, which showed Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tibet, as well as individual maps of India, Japan, and Korea—basically politically sensitive places for China. I said, I can't bow down to this, then scrambled to find another printer (in Turkey) so orders would arrive in time for the holidays.

That's wild, but it tracks. What's your best-selling map of the land of the free?

Colorado, followed by Oregon. Residents there are fiercely loyal to their states. I have sold more of those than of the bottom 25 states combined. If you're in Colorado and not talking about mountains, you're probably not in Colorado. And people from Portland and all over Oregon are obsessed with nature, either in theory or actuality.

Your style of mapmaking is very inspired by maps from the ‌Lord of the Rings‌ series. Discuss.

Tolkien's son Christopher made the first map of Middle Earth. It's a humble-looking map, but I love it. I'm also a big fan of maps from the 1600s, back when they had no idea about what places really looked like, and they're drawn as big blobs, or things way skinnier than they really are. I love modern maps, but they don't have the same charm.

How big an LOTR fan are you?

It's risky to say 'I'm a huge fan—let me prove it,' because the depths to which LOTR fans will dive…like, I don't speak Elvish. I read the ‌Silmarillion‌ just once—which is super sacrilegious because there are people for whom it's scripture. I mean, if you started a church of the LOTR, lots of people would sign up. For me, it's just something that I think about every day and that brings me enormous joy.

What is your vision for expanding your business?

What I'm doing is cute, but I would love to get into large-format sculpture. In the U.S., we have no super tall sculptures. The Statue of Liberty is 151 feet, compared to the vastly taller, 300-foot statues of Hindu gods and Buddha in Asia. I'd love to build an epic statue in the middle of the desert in Utah—something beautiful that looks like it's been there forever, is cool to look at but also unifies people.