Let's Start a Conversation About Maps

World Map of Trist version unknown
Trist World Map Version 4?  Version 5?  I lost count.

One of the first things I had to do when we decided to reboot Trist was to get a usable world map that we could cut up and use in our story writing and campaigns.  I had zero background in cartography, limited background in digital painting and (what I naively believed to be) a simple goal.  My husband always made the battle maps, since he was far more experienced in the choreography of a good battle.  The world map was mine to ruin create, so I decided to hit Pinterest to figure out what I wanted our map to look like.  It is always important to have some un-achievable goals to burn yourself out. ideas in mind about what you like about certain maps so you can figure out what skills to master.

Of course, now that I have a few maps on my belt, there are so many things I want to do over.  There are so many things I need to learn.  Illustrating a map is as simple and complex as you decide to make it.  There are quite a few very good educational resources that I discovered along the way to make things go much smoother.  I am going to start with a very basic things I wish I knew before I started list.

Cartographers Guild

This is where I wish I would have gone before I started doing anything.  While I won't knock the tutorials on YouTube, the problem with diving right in is that most of them describe how, without the why you arrange land masses on world maps.  The battle maps are a little less scientifically involved.  Had I understood geology a little better and societal systems a little more, the beginning of my maps would have been so much more organized and make sense in that realistic world sort of way.  As it is, we are going to have to just plan on our players to forgive the unrealistic placement of a few things and go with it.

My disclaimer is that I am a huge lurker and not much of a poster on this board.  I am somewhat of a shy person and I don't feel confident enough to hand out advice on the level that the real masters of this board do.  I am still so new to Cartography that it is easy to spot some of my problem areas.  All the advice one could consume for a year are on this board.  With that being said, this is a very newbie friendly group and there are maps shared that run the gamut from crude to drool worthy.  It is worth a look.

Observations of the Fox: Map Tutorials

If you spend any time on Pinterest looking up fantasy cartography, this blog will pop up.  The simple -one thing at a time- method this artist uses to make his tutorials are a wonderful gift of freeness.  He boils each item to a simple form, gives a small set of examples and if you are smart, you will go practice them.

Fantastic Maps

It would be completely wrong of me not to mention this site.  Like Observations of the Fox, he puts out simple, easy to digest, tutorials that take a lot of practice to master.  His tutorials often come with a longer YouTube tutorial that are a great resource to play and replay.  I really love his clean watercolor style maps.  

Moving forward - My biggest challenges

As I move forward, my biggest challenges are keeping within my perspective, mastering my tools and putting a proper finish to my maps.

Keeping my perspective seems easy enough, but it's a lot harder than I first imagined.  I am honestly struggling with this harder than any other skill.  Thinking of things from the top down is easy when I look at a map, but when I am actually drawing it, I keep trying to slip into 3/4 or a convoluted mess of cubism that makes everything messed up.  Battlemaps on a grid are quite easy.  The furniture and objects inside them are not.  Mountains and elevation shifts are a real challenge.  I am assuming this will take practice and I have just the project to practice that on.

Mastering my tools is a given in anything artistic, but I don't see a lot of people using Clip Studio Paint for maps.  Quite honestly, I don't understand why.  When it comes to maps, the pen tools and watercolor tools are a fantastic match to what I see out there.  Importing textures is a cinch, if you like that kind of map, and there is such a fantastic brush engine it's hard to imagine needing one you couldn't make yourself.  Because there are very few, if any, tutorials on making maps with Clip Studio Paint, I have to watch tutorials made for other programs and figure it out.  That is both a blessing and a curse.

Putting a proper finish to my maps is more important than I first understood.  Sometimes the biggest difference between a nice map and an amazing map are the details in the borders, or the organization of the key.  The font selection is very important.  This is going to take some doodling and some experimenting to come up with the look that I both enjoy and that make me feel proud.  As a fan of illuminated manuscripts, I can look to them for those beautiful details for my initial inspiration.

Map with Details
Adding just the right details to a make makes a huge difference.

These three things are my biggest priorities.  Dear Hubby is more than happy to let me take on the Battle Maps as he continues to get more of the writing done.  There is something to the collaboration of a husband and wife team on a project such as this.  .. but that's a different blog post.

I will continue to add links to tutorials and info sites on the subjects of illustration in an RPG.  Maps are just one of a long list of skills it takes to making a fun campaign.


danceswithyarns said…
And all of this with a sense of humor. Husband and wife teams are so good to see. What a wonderful journey you have both begun. I can’t wait for the next installment.