What I see a lot of from avid readers is an intense love of maps in fantasy books. They seem to collect them and talk about them and compare them. Which, to me, is like collecting, talking and comparing bits of chewing gum wrappers. I may occasionally feign interest in a fantasy map, but in truth I skip right past them with barely a second look. So when I saw an author on Twitter asking for fantasy map recommendations, I came up short. The last fantasy map I looked at with any kind of interest was the one in The Chronicles of Narnia, if only to baffle and say to myself, “So racist…so racist.”
But surely drawing a damn map couldn’t be that hard?
And just to prove it – I’m going to show you how.
Materials I’m using:
I used to have Photoshop but I got rid of that and I was too lazy to download and remember how to use Gimp.
I was also too lazy to go buy a blank piece of paper and some pencils. Forget all that scanning.
So instead I used my iPad, my finger and a (free) program called Paper53. Remember, I have an iPad 1 (like the oldest) so the iPad pen tool was way outta my league.
You want to start off by drawing rough landmasses. It’s certainly not going to be pretty but you can get idea of the landmass you’re going to be working with.
You want to go ahead and draw the rough outline of the land mass. In case you’re wondering if I’m going all the way with this gag? I am, I definitely am. It might be hard, but I’ve committed to it now. With the rough landmass, you want to make the lines dodgy. Just kind of scribble along like you truly don’t give a flying fuck.
Okay, so the first thing you want to do is roughly add in some mountains so you can get an idea of where everything is going to be. Mountains tend to occur in specific patterns, like along a coastline – but we’re going to forget about that here for the sake of ART. Because water is usually caught on mountains and flow down towards the ocean, you might want to go ahead and start adding in rivers and shit. And because greenery tends to grow where there’s an abundance of water, you’ll want to go ahead and generally add that in too. But there’s a whole lot of types of terrain to use, so don’t feel limited to just mountains, water and forest. The world comes with deserts, beaches, marshlands, savannahs, frozen tundra, jungle, hills, etc.
Now you can go head and remove all those rough sketch lines. Your map is starting to look a little more real now. You can definitely see it firming up. Go ahead and look at it, glorious! You might want to go along the coast and make sure you’ve got inlets for water to go in and start deciding what terrain you want in certain places. Expect it to still be rough and ugly looking. The beauty comes later.
Start to do in little details and swap things in the landscape around until you’re happy with how it geographically looks. Then you’re ready to start playing around with the visuals of how you want different things to look. What does your forest look like? How are you going to represent your desert? How are you going to justify having spent five hours drawing a dick, when your partner walks by and sees what you’ve done?
Now to start figuring out where your towns and cities go and what they’re going to look like. The towns are usually going to be close to water and resources. Place them strategically. Think about it like you’re playing a game of Catan. You want to be close to certain things to build a solid civilisation.
Yadda yadda yadda shading in, yadda yadda yadda, details of the map, yadda yadda yadda, “what have you created? Why are you doing this, Kat? Did you even feed the kids today?” Nope? But it doesn’t matter, you’re DONE!
OOOOOHHHHHHH, DAMN! It’s so beautiful!
I’d like to thank Brandon S. Pilcher for inspiration for the village icons, without this person, I would have been lost. And, of course, the best website to learn how to actually draw fantasy maps is Fantastic Maps where there are actual, real, skilled people doing an amazing job. This is a great resource for authors wanting to learn to draw their own maps for research and world building purposes. And I’d like to thank Steph for taking pictures of actual maps to use for this post. She did such a beautiful job!
Well, embarking on this endeavour has certainly given me a never-before-had appreciation of fantasy maps and the work that goes into making them. Like, I spent all day on that. That took time and effort. And it doesn’t even compare to the maps I have in my books. Of course, they can’t compare to the gloriousness that is Phallusy Island either, but what can?