A Map Comes Alive!

It’s map time! In case you haven’t guessed maps are one of my favorite topics. I dearly love writing—there’s no finer main course—but I love my map making dessert, too, because it provides the opportunity to explore my visually artistic side. My fascination with maps extends back to childhood when I’d curl up in an isolated spot on the floor and imagine the places a map depicted (I was a different kind of kid).

The Tremjara map has long been a work-in-progress. The last major overhaul was in 2015 when I started from scratch and rebuilt it in the computer using Photoshop Elements. I retained the continent’s original shape, but increased the map’s size many times over. Bigger means zooming doesn’t sacrifice as much definition.

Now, it’s 2017 and I’m at it again.

Geographically, the changes will be minor, and some are already made, but the significant change is…

Color! Yes, color!

Test Map 2. Map: CA Hawthorne

Test Map 2. Map: CA Hawthorne

Back in 2015 when I created brushes allowing me to easily add geographical features, I made a small test map that took a couple of days to complete. Just for fun I added some color. Wow! At the time, though, I didn’t have the time to add color to the 2015 version and wasn’t sure I’d ever want to invest the effort.

So much for that decision. Ever since, I’ve daydreamed about colorizing Ontyre’s biggest continent, Tremjara.

It’s happening now, as we speak. Progress is slow and I refuse to ignore my writing while I work on it, but I’m making headway. I devote about an hour per day to the project and, at present, 20-25% of the painting is done. I’ve been working on it for well over a week.

I’m especially proud that I chose to paint the map using multiple layers in Photoshop Elements instead of just one layer. For those unfamiliar, each layer is like a clear sheet set one on top of another, each containing specific visual elements. Thus, there’s one for hills/mountains, another for forest, and so on. If two layers contain information in the same location then the one that’s visible is the one on top—unless the upper layer’s opacity is set to allow that which is beneath to show through.

Enough about that. This isn’t a lesson.

I used multiple layers because I wanted to be able to highlight specific geographic regions, one at a time, if desired. In other words, I can turn on and turn off specified regions on the map if I want. I’m not sure if this will be important in the long-term, but it seems like a fun idea now.


Let me demonstrate.

The two novels I’ve so far drafted both take place in Carrdia, which is near the center of the continent. Thus, in a moment of uncharacteristic logic, I focused my efforts there when I started.

Tremjara map, Carrdia painted. Map: CA Hawthorne

Tremjara map, Carrdia painted. Map: CA Hawthorne

So, let’s say I want to highlight Carrdia at some point, make it stand out from the rest of the map. Well, now I can drop the rest of the map into black and white while retaining the color in Carrdia (or the opposite, depending on need). Like I say, I don’t know how handy this will prove to be in the future, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

After Carrdia I moved on to Forstava, the ora’ean homeland. It’s located directly west of Carrdia, but is B&W in the Carrdia picture (as is Carrdia in the Forstava picture).

Tremjara map, Forstava painted. Map: CA Hawthorne

Tremjara map, Forstava painted. Map: CA Hawthorne

Forstava consists of four unique woods, a feature that isn’t nearly as apparent in black and white as it is in color. Bringing those unique qualities to life was rewarding. It was also fun to do. In a way, each wood possesses a unique personality and I wanted to convey that visually.

It’s slow going, but it’s fun. It’s also relaxing. It’s like my own adult coloring book where I’ve created the picture I’m coloring. I can be obsessive with projects, but thus far I’ve painted in moderation (the stories also call to me). Besides, map making isn’t—at least for me— a project worth rushing through. Whenever I become obsessive and hurry the mistakes are glaring.

After I completed Forstava I headed south to Mythwyll, but it isn’t quite done. After that? I have no idea. Probably central Tremjara. That region, coupled with Carrdia, once constituted the Kingdom of Aramon. Therefore, leaving on the color to both those areas would recreate the kingdom. Pretty cool, and all kinds of fun.

Keep in mind that all this effort and time is worth it to me because map making is also a hobby. Fancy, color maps are great, but not necessary for satisfying readers. They’re looking for satisfying stories.

5 Replies to “A Map Comes Alive!”

  1. Pingback: A Map Comes Alive! | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. Cool!

    I like the color vs. B&W combinations. They really draw the eye to the important sections. It’s sometimes hard to eyeball a typical B&W fantasy map and hunt down the areas that are actually relevant to the story; everything looks equally significant.

    Have tried mastering layers off and on with Campaign Cartographer, but haven’t gotten very far as yet. One of these days . . .

    • While simple B&W can aid identifying specific locations, I have to agree that color does a lot to draw attention to land features that are worthy of the attention. That was a huge surprise for me when I worked on the 7 Woods of Forstava and Mythwyll.

      In the post I mention “glaring” mistakes. Often those were associated with layers, especially losing track of which one I was working on. This is the only app I’ve used that has layer capability so I can’t comment on the ease/difficulty of others, but in PE using layers appears more simple than it is. I’m still learning.

  3. Those maps look awesome! There is something very special (and integral) about maps to fantasy writing. I’ve dabbled with Photoshop layers for my own map-making. I used them to generate different layers for different aspects of the map, e.g. the placenames, towns, roads and so forth, largely so I could edit them independently if needed (names are notoriously fluid). It’s such a flexible system – your method of using it to highlight regions is great. I couldn’t do that with my maps because there never was a b/w original, I painted the whole lot in colour with Photoshop. It wasn’t easy – there are amoeba on Saturn with better artistic skills than mine (and that’s why I won’t ever publish the maps…) But they are such a great writing tool! I have a short fantasy story appearing in a couple of months in an Australian anthology for which the editor commented that my world-building was excellent. That was because I had a map…

    • “Because I had a map.” So true. It’s more than about locations, it’s also about geography, geology, weather, etc. and how those influence culture. And that’s just the beginning. Artistic skill? There’s a reason I paint maps, but don’t appear in galleries. One aspect of layers I’m still working out is related to names, which, I agree, are fluid. I end up with a mind boggling number of layers. I’ve learned how to consolidate, but then they’re difficult to edit. Still working that out.

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