It’s a long time since I’ve talked about maps, a lifelong fascination. My love of maps is a tale I first told on my WordPress site a couple of years ago in my two-part blog post Geography and Maps. I later reproduced Part 1 and Part 2 on my website. Today I’m sharing the initial stages of a new map project brought about because of new technology and issues I’d run into with my old maps. After all, it’s nearly 15 years since my initial world building efforts and it was time to update and change the problems I’d never gotten around to correcting.
Don’t get me wrong…I’m proud of those first maps and will keep them forever.
I’ll begin with the original Ontyre Map that was created in Paint. I went pixel by pixel creating a map I had to keep small or my old PC locked-up. It’s resolution is poor and doesn’t hold up if I want to isolate a portion and use it for other purposes. Worse, it’s a flat image and difficult to alter. The color choices at the time were limited and many colors were created with two primary colors displayed in a checkerboard pattern. Layers weren’t available to me then so I can’t change one element without affecting many others.
I love the look of the Hartise Map and it’s quite large (the original is hanging on the wall behind me), but it’s also a flat map (no layers) and the 18 months it took to create was far too long. I’m first and foremost a writer. Mapmaking is a sideline. If I want to take years creating a regional map for fun that’s fine, but for writing purposes I need speed! Again, alterations were a pain (like the name Hartise, which was a ill-considered choice one that everyone mispronounces).
Thus, I’ve long wondered what I could do with Photoshop Elements on my Mac, keeping in mind that I’m not an expert so there’d be a learning curve? Could I make a descent map in, say, a week or less? Could I make an excellent map in a month? The key, I decided, was the ability to render land features quickly with brushes.
I began with researching what others had done (I already had a Map Board on Pinterest) and then started drawing features. True to form, for me, that took weeks. What would my style be? What would look good at different resolutions. I became numb after I drew what felt like my one millionth tree. I’ve seen forests created on other maps that looked great, but I needed forest that could be applied via brush. It had to be sufficiently versatile to fit into any space on regional maps, though on larger maps I may simply shade. That meant creating tree patterns in different sizes (different numbers of trees per brush).
Trees, though, aren’t scrutinized like the larger elements. For instance, I didn’t want to use one mountain range over and over. Thus, I drew many different ranges that face different directions, but always with consistent shading. Too, I created mountain clusters and individual mountains. Additionally, I drew untold special features like natural bridges/arches, spires, and volcanoes.
Before I was done I had two full sheets of miscellaneous map features. The next step was tedious at best, but not difficult: scanning the drawings into the computer (simple!) and creating the brushes. The brush creation went surprisingly well after my first session when I loaded the first 25% late at night, was tired, and failed to save them. Imagine my reaction the next morning when they weren’t there. Yeah, like that.
My first experiment was Test Map 1, a small, single layer map in black and white that was primarily me testing the brushes. The result is crude. More important, the entire process took 45 minutes! That was encouraging and told me I was on the right track.
I felt like a mapmaking athlete in training camp. Time for a more serious opponent.
Test Map 2 was several times larger, but still a single layer. It wasn’t until late in the process that I decided to experiment with shading (lots of trial and error). The result is again crude, sloppy even, but it looks like a map. The shading still makes me cringe, but my purpose was more about speed than finished product. My total time? Six hours.
Extended happy dance!
My one failure was settlement symbols. Initially I’d drawn some and loaded them with the land features. The first one I placed on Test Map 2 told me everything I needed to know: they were awful. I experimented with other existing brush shapes (shown), but none satisfied.
Back to the settlement drawing board (sort of). I ultimately decided I wanted more icon-like detail and consistency. Thus, I created them in the computer. Pictured here are a fortified home, castle, and large ruin. The surrounding wall became a theme. In addition there’s a small ruin, village, town, city, fortress, and ora’ean settlement. I’ll either use them as is or experiment with rendering them more hand drawn in appearance.
So, that’s where I am at present. I’m taking a break to work on two other short-term projects: stripping the graphics from a copy of the original Ontyre map so I can retain the shape, and writing Ontyre short stories (I have a first draft of one and the other is nearly complete).
Anyway, those are my latest map adventures. If anyone has questions please feel free to ask. I’ll answer as best as I’m able. Too, if anyone has map tales to tell please share. I know there are some extremely accomplished mapmakers out there.