Saturday, April 16, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Maps

So... it seems no one wanted to let me draw their maps for them, which means that I will have to rely on my own world.

Just so you know, this map (as with everything written on this blog unless otherwise stated) is my property and as such, it may not be used without my permission.

Right... let's get down to business.

Rather than to redraw my entire map again, I decided that I will rather focus on an obscure bit of land on it. So on my already drawn map, there are three islands. I will be drawing one of them.

But before I can actually draw the map, I like to make sure about what I want and where.

So Step 1 is to make a list of things and places that you want on the map. Step two is to do a rough sketch of where you want those things. (I warn in advance that my handwriting sucks.)

Now with that done, I can start with Step 3: The outline. Use a pencil for this and please, for the love of my aunt Macy. PLEASE DO NOT MAKE YOUR MAP SQUARE!!! 
Note the squiggly lines, bays and capes. Looks a lot more natural than a lot of fantasy maps I've seen, if I say so myself. 

Step 4 are what I call the immovables on my map. The stuff around which I draw everything else. For me that will be things like mountains, rivers  and deserts. But no deserts today only mountains and rivers. Now. I know that this island is very mountainous, so I'm putting a lot of peaks on my map/ Also, I'm having my mountains start in hills so that I can have an indication of the shape of the topography... I decided not to draw features to scale for the simple reason that it's unnecessarily finicky for my purposes. I want to know where I can find stuff and why. I'm leaving size up to my imagination. Anyway. Here are my mountains....

Now for the rivers. Always note that rivers start in high places and flow away to the coasts. Also, rivers tend to branch off - especially as the ground flattens. River branches also flow into each other sometimes. Remember to keep them squiggly but flowing...

Also note, there are two major rivers at the lower half of the island. When they run into the sea, the border is erased between their banks. And yes. I know I have a lot of rivers. But that has to do the the geography of the area. It gets lots of rain and even more snow. 

Moving on... Step 5 will be putting in features. So cove, forests, waterfalls, monastery and towns are put in now. Generally, I keep it down on the details, using dots and names, but it can be rather boring, so I'll be doing some drawing... I moved the monastery a bit, because a monastery in the mountains seems a bit more... suited. So I'm putting it in the valley. 

Almost done, then. Next step is the Compass Rose. But I decided to cheat a little, so I'm going to skip this step to later. So if you're completely hand-drawing, you must draw the compass rose first. But today I felt like  experimenting, so I'm going to use the paint application on my computer. 

So... Step 6 is going to be coloring. If you're using pencils, I dipped the points into water, colored a small area and spread it with cotton before it dried. The effect was a lovely wash effect that I love. There are two things about this though: 
1) It's killer to pencils as the water softens the wood. 
2) It takes FOREVER. 

OK... so one thing I learned about this experiment: Filling colors on computer takes even longer. I don't really like the effect it gave, either. So... I am not going to feel guilty about copping out and stopping now. It should give you an idea anyway. The top right hand corner is complete and now feels like a child's drawing. On the other hand, I like the way most of the mountains turned out. So I will probably go playing with my pencils to replicate the effect. But that is for another day. Also: I copy pasted an easy compass rose so that those of you who (wisely in my opinion) want to keep things hand drawn can copy it easily. 

One last thing about the compass rose. Use a ruler to create a (imaginary if you want a circle in the center) cross with legs that are equally long. Mark out where that cross ends as those are the widest points of the N-S E-W diamonds. Then extend the legs by an equal amount. The ends of those lines are the points. That is the foundation for any compass rose I've ever found. 

Because I'm awesome, I copied a small bit of my main map so that you can see my hand-drawn compass rose as well as how the water-pencil method looks...

I hope you found this post helpful. One last tip. If you are going to use my wet pencil method and have never done it before, practice before you use it on your map as too much water can soak through the paper and ruin it. The edges of the map WILL curl. Wait for the colors to dry, straighten the paper and put weight on it overnight.

There are certain geographical considerations these are the ones I tend to focus on:

  • Latitude: No rain forests unless your country is at the equator of your world. No snowy tundras at the equator. 
  • Deserts don't just appear out of nowhere. They fade in from miles away. So no forests or moors next to the desert. Those take lots of water. 
  • Mountains tend to lie in ranges based on where the tectonic plates meet. If there are no plates, there are no mountains - unless your story has a god that likes sculpting, but mention that in your book.
  • Towns will be most likely to be where the resources are. Think WATER, FOOD, FUEL. 
  • Remember to think of watersheds when drawing rivers. Watersheds are the places (tend to be mountain ranges) where to one side, water flows to one direction and to the other side, another direction. All rivers won't flow to one side of the country. If you have a river flowing cross country, you better have a good reason for this. 
  • If mountains run with coasts, the coasts tend to be smoother. If they run perpendicular to the coasts, there will be more capes and bays or fjords. (See topographical map of Norway).
  • Keep scale in mind when  putting down towns according to the story. Stories and maps must correspond.

What other considerations can you think of?


  1. Ahh~ that's such a good job! That's so awesome. :) I'm jealous of your map drawing skills.

  2. You covered quite a lot there!

    I'm currently reading Robert Jordan's "The Eye of the World" and I love the maps at the front. Without one of these maps, not only the author, but the reader would be totally lost!

    Duncan In Kuantan

  3. It is a great skill, drawing a map---I thought only the illustrators could do it! thanks for sharing!

  4. I have just started this for my first book. Your instructions are great I'll be book marking it for future reference, THANKYOU!!

  5. The first time I ever drew a map I inked in rivers that branched toward the mountains. So funny. I had no clue about geography back then. Wish I'd seen this post before I wasted a gazillion hours. ;)

  6. I'm geographically challenged and find his pretty fabulous. My brain is one of those which switches off to languages, maths, maps! I'm writing my first book but it doesn't require a map - perhaps because if it did I'd be stumped! Although now I have this bookmarked I MIGHT deal with it better. Many thanks. Found you because you followed and did the poll too - Hurrah! ;D Shah from 0 following back! X

  7. Wow, This instructions are great! I am not planning on drawing an island or a map in the near future, but when I do, for sure I will come back to read this post!
    Actually, I feel like drawing now one, even if is just for fun.
    By the way thank you for stopping by my blog.

  8. Wow such beautiful drawings and an interesting post.

  9. Hey Misha ~~ nice piece of art work ~~ so you can draw as well as write ? An artist in more than one sense of the word ... great stuff !!
    Enjoy the rest of the challenge & thanks for popping by my blog !!


  10. Very nicely done!

    I've always enjoyed drawing maps. There are some from novels that will never see the light of day, and though I might burn the words, I'll keep the maps, like pieces of art work.

  11. Awesome. Thanks. Great instructions.

  12. this is quite an informative and helpful post. You're really talented as well.

  13. Very helpful post. If it wasn't for amazing posts like these, I wouldn't realize about all of the technical aspects that go into writing.


  14. That's a pretty impresive map. Mine always look like the geographical equivalent of stick figures. Very good job.

  15. Holy cow! How detailed and amazing! Your map - the one colored with pencils and using the water technique - is so pretty! That alone would inspire me to write!

    I really am terrible with drawing. But if I ever do attempt a map, I will definitely reference this post! It's so informative. Thank you for taking the time to do this and share!

  16. Your map is awesome! I love the instructions, WOW! I never thought about the geographical locations of deserts, towns, which way the river flows on a map...excellent and inforamtive. You are quite the artist. I look forward to following you on this journey.

  17. I love making maps. A quick sketch helps me when I’m writing. I love your tips for planning out a map.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.

  18. This is so cool! Stupid thing is: this week I went back to an old project of mine that I need a map for, figured you already had a candidate lined up!

  19. Really cool post, Misha. I love maps!...and draw them out on a regular basis to figure out what's where in the world I'm creating. I've never done a color version before, thought, so am definitely going to try you water pencil technique.

  20. Brilliant post! I love maps in books. Makes me wish I was writing a fantasy so you could draw the map for me... As it is, I get a kick out of looking at maps of the Mediterranean as my character travels from Spain to Turkey (in 1492).

  21. I'm awed by someone who can put together that kind of detail. I started to work on a map for a pre-medieval fantasy story, but then lost the focus for the project, and anyway I was mostly just adapting the local geography.

    Good luck with your maps!

    I'm starting up a 'Critiquing Crusaders' program, where participants in the Second Crusade can find other writers to exchange critiques with or form critiquing circles. If you're interested, come by The Kelworth Files to check it out!

  22. Thanks so much for this post! I'm not working on fantasy right now, but when I am I often have trouble with laying out my maps. Really enjoyed reading this!

  23. I adore the black and white version. Then again I really prefer the JRR Tolkien style map where it is just black on paper. Nothing fancy, just a good map.

  24. Thanks Devin! :-D

    Duncan, I hope I didn't cover too much at the same time. My story can probably be read without the map, although I think that readers might prefer to have one on hand for own reference. But none of my CPs have a map and none of them got lost so far. :-)

    Damyanti, anyone can draw the map. But illustrators are the ones that draw the maps in front of books.

    Mercy, I'm glad I could help.

    Hehe Lynda, that's why I did a day's worth of research to find out how illustrators draw their maps. I didn't want to have to do it again.

    Hehehe Shah, if you ever need help with a map, just let me know. :-)

    Noemi, drawing maps are a lot of fun. Just make sure you have hours free. Particularly if you want to color it in.

    Thanks Jack! :-D

    Yes, Mish, I draw and paint as well, although this took a serious step down in priorities when I started to write. In fact, I haven't touched a paint brush in about four years.

    Bish maps are a lot of fun. :-) I'll probably keep my maps as well. Although. The odds of me shelving my story now is pretty low. I've come too far.

    Thanks Rhonda! :-)

    Thanks Varmint!

    Thanks Dafeena. :-)

    Lol Taryn that's an interesting description. :-D

    Brianna, thanks for the compliment. I'm glad you found it informative. :-)

    Thanks Rasz! Many people tend not to think about things like that when they make maps. Which is why fantasy maps are infamous for their inaccuracy. I knew that it would be super stupid if my more realistic fantasy story was accompanied by an unrealistic map, so I did some research. ;-)

    Holly, I worked in the opposite direction. My writing gave me an idea about what my map should have to look like. I actually procrastinated on the drawing.

    Hehehe Sylvia, that is such a pity. :-)

    Let me know how it goes, E.C. :-)

    Deniz, that sounds like an awesome story. ^_^

    Thanks for the heads-up, Chris! I will definitely go check it out. :-)

    Caitlin, I hope you found it to be of some help for the next time you have to draw the map.

    Steph, so do I actually. Of course, there's another option I didn't mention. Tea. Draw over with black pen. Make strong tea. Pour into a flat container. Dip in page. Remove to dry. Repeat process until browned. Burn edges for extra distress effect. Of course, I don't go through that much agony for the simple reason that the map is purely functional for me. It doesn't exist so that I could frame it. ;-)

  25. My 2 oldest boys love making maps. I am going to share this post with them as it will only make their maps cooler! :)

  26. Great idea, L&L! I hope they enjoy it. :-D


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