Perils of Doodling in Geography Class

Making maps for fantasy novels seems to be a bit of a norm, especially when there’s heavy world-building involved and even more so when characters don’t like to sit still.

It’s no walk in the park. You have a vague idea in your head about what goes where, but when you put it down into a map, a whole slew of other factors come into play. Suddenly, there’s real geography looming over your head and reminding you of all the times you snoozed in class while everyone else was learning about how mountains and rivers work in different climates, what plants and trees goes where, and the difference between a ‘ford’ and a ‘fjord’ besides the extra letter.

Some writers work with a proper cartographer to do this, people who make those amazing maps that come in books, games…especially games. Some of those are just mind-blowing.

And then there are those, like yours truly, who decide to do it themselves.

So, you sit down, take a breath, an extra mug of coffee, and start marking it out. A couple of wastebaskets of crumpled papers later, you have a vague layout. Mine was mostly a bunch of circles, squiggles, and triangles that I called mountains.

Then, if you don’t want to go the pencil or pen-and-ink route, comes the software. There are a number of tools you can use to touch up your map. When I started, my first choice was Adobe Illustrator. I suppose I should probably be a little ashamed of myself for not knowing how to use it. I mean, I’m an architect working as a UX designer, dabbling in artsy software day in and day out, but vectors still boggle me. And I’ve been telling myself I’d learn it for almost a year now.

Still, when it comes to cartography, Photoshop brushes are easier to come by than vector brushes. That’s a whole other ball game.

So, you scan and touch up on Photoshop (I cheated a bit, and bitmapped on AutoCAD), and you draw and redraw and redraw again. Mark out your mountains, forests, rivers, grasslands, towns, ruins, meteor craters, dragonfire wasteland, everything. There are so many brilliant artists all over the net who have Photoshop brushes made especially for maps, divided in terms of genre as well. What more could you ask for? All you have to do is credit them in return. Seriously, you should. It’s their hard work and they’re giving it out for free, so whoever you borrow from, give them credit.

Then, once you choose a couple of good fonts and get all the names down, voila! Not just squiggles and circles anymore. And damn, it feels good.

So yeah, I finished my map today. And a shoutout to mawstock, StarRaven, and calthyechild, three brilliant artists on DeviantArt whose brushes I borrowed. These guys have great stuff. Look them up if you’re scouting for Photoshop brushes for fantasy maps.



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