BY KATHERINE JOVANOVIC
Lauren Stewart, 23-year-old owner and artist of bookstagram (book instagram) account @in.the.reads, greets J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth everyday as she walks into her office. The map aficionado recently completed her goal of creating a wall-sized map, which she estimated required fifty hours of painting. She said the most difficult aspects involved measuring and drawing straight lines to keep the map to scale. Stewart, awestruck with her new office, said, “Sometimes I walk in here, and I can’t believe I actually did that.”
Stewart also illustrated the map for the YA fantasy book “Chosen” by Sara Hanson, who reached out to Stewart via Etsy. Although accustomed to the Tolkien style of maps, Stewart welcomed the challenge of illustrating a large scale map with castles and boats. “I’m excited to be able to say I’m a published illustrator,” she said.
Stewart began her bookstagram account three years ago, but she only started selling merchandise last year. Moving from Salt Lake to Colorado Springs, Stewart explained that she did not want to settle for a minimum wage job that required a commute. She said she started making bookmarks by wood burning, which she sent to her bookstagram friends for fun.
Soon, people wanted to buy Stewart’s bookmarks, but she explained she needed a plausible way to produce them, since the woodcut ones took five hours. Now, Stewart sends her art to a printer, and the most labor intensive part is the packaging. Her bookmarks arrive wrapped in parchment, tied in string, and sealed in red wax, adding a warm personal touch. She owns twelve seals, one of which is the White Tree of Gondor. “People really love it, and I actually like doing it,” said Stewart. Stewart’s bookmarks feature art from “Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter,” “Outlander,” and “Game of Thrones.” Out of those, she admitted her favorite is “Lord of the Rings,” but in reality she loves them all.
Stewart’s creativity also shines outside her instagram. In June, Stewart attended Denver Comiccon as a blind Arya Stark from “Game of Thrones.” She said she achieved the look with blue contact lens, distressed linen pants and fabric, and straggly hair. Cosplay is just another example of Lauren Stewart’s attention to detail and creative drive.
The most challenging part of running @in.the.reads, said Stewart, is the customer service end of it. The most rewarding part, she said, is the bookstagram community because everyone is so nice and welcoming. She explained that family and friends offer constant support, but the bookstagram community also does that, with people commenting on her talent. Stewart especially enjoys seeing customer unboxings of her merchandise.
Stewart’s account recently reached 8,000 followers, which she celebrated through a giveaway. The winner will receive a custom map, which can be any location in the world drawn in a certain style or a replica of a fictional map. Stewart hopes @in.the.reads will reach 10,000 followers by the end of the year.