More Adventures in Map Making

More Adventures in Map Making

Last year I published 4 brand new books (across two different series). Which feels like a lot when you consider that in 2019 I published absolutely nothing new.

For each of my new releases, I try to devote blog time to the project’s development. I like allowing readers to glimpse inside my brain at various points in the process. But things got so hectic at the end of last year, some of the development notes I meant to share for Life is But a Dream got lost in the mix.

For Life is But a Dream’s companion (Dreamers Do Lie), I talked about how I developed the setting, set out the rules that governed the world and even made my very first map. As a fantasy author, having maps in my books has always been a dream. But until last year, I never considered developing the skills to make them myself. My idea for the Dreamers Do Lie map was so hard to describe, though, I didn’t see any other option.

I used a lot of map making tutorials

To create my first map, I started with a ruler and a lot of Pinterest posts for guidance. I sketched the entirety of the map, working my way through each different type of landscape until I was satisfied with my work. Then I used an elaborate set up involving a lamp and a glass table to trace the map so I’d have clean, crisp lines. But even after transferring the entire map to a fresh page devoid of eraser marks, the pencil was still smudged from contact with my hands.

I didn’t want to trace over the entire map a second time with pen. So at that point, I took a photo with my ipad and started working with the map digitally. Ultimately, I was happy with the results, and readers have sent many compliments. The map looks clean and crisp, especially in the paperback.

But cleaning the map of all the pencil marks was a huge hassle. It took hours, and slightly delayed my original release date. I have a lot more maps to make, but I knew I couldn’t stomach tracing all the white spaces in a second map. I needed a new plan.

This map presented new challenges

The Dreamers Do Lie map is a sort of pie slice representing the circles of my imaginary Hell. It started with the slice shape and that made it really easy to mark off each of the other sections. Life is But a Dream, on the other hand, features a continent. I was eager to give this new type of map making a try because I believed it would be much easier than some of the circle sections in the Dreamers Do Lie Map.

The hardest parts of my Hell map were the ones that involved buildings. The city ring was particularly onerous. But the prison ring was also frustrating because getting the buildings to look uniform is difficult when you have shaky hands like I do. The continental map would simply mark each kingdom’s capital and relevant cities with dots, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that.

What I didn’t anticipate was that the most difficult part of the continental map would be establishing the continent’s shape. I had one in mind, of course. I had been picturing it for a long time. But it took several tries to create a shape that matched my vision but also seemed both organic and visually pleasing. I started with several small sketches on a piece of lined paper. Once I found one I was happy with, I moved on to a full size map with a proper coastline.

I also learned a lot about geography

I’ve read a lot about mapmaking over the years, so I was prepared for some of the fiddly tasks involved in making this continental map. One of the big ones is coastline. If you look at any map of the real world, you’ll instantly notice that the edges of continents aren’t smooth. They’re pitted and jagged due to erosion and plate tectonics and all the natural forces at work in the world. In order to create a continent that looked organic, I knew I had to imitate that style. So I spent hours tracing back over my smooth lines, creating bays and inlets and lots of different shaped grooves.

It was strangely relaxing.

Once I had my basic outline finished, I traced borders for each of my kingdoms. This was easy since there were only 5, and the layout had already been established in the previous book: north, east, south, west and middle. I marked where I wanted each of my capitals to be located next.

Then came landmarks. I had learned to do a few of these on my hell map, so I hoped they would go quickly. I first filled in my mountain ranges. Water, after all, flows from high points to low points. So I needed to know where my mountains were before I could pencil in my rivers and lakes. I also decided to add hills to the map to give it a bit more texture. Finally, I found some symbols I could use to represent desert.

At each stage in the process, I snapped a digital picture of the map, just in case I ever made a mistake that couldn’t be corrected. Then I wouldn’t have to go back and start at the beginning or re-trace everything.

I wanted the final product to feel organic

The most challenging thing about the continental map, aside from its initial shape, was trying to get all of my landmarks to look somewhat uniform. The mountains were a bit of a pain, but what really tripped me up were the trees in my forests. This involved a lot of fiddly little shape placement. The only saving grace was that I didn’t have to draw the entire tree shape. I could just draw some trees poking out over other trees. So as long as I got the trees on the edges right, everything else fell into place.

I saved the rivers for last because I was most nervous about them. I traced a few dim outlines, then ran them past my husband. My husband is both a huge history nerd and a huge map nerd. For our 10th wedding anniversary, I bought him a book about unique maps throughout history. After adjusting based on his feedback, I carefully filled my rivers in. (And learned that it would be easier to do them before my forests next time.)

With my completed project in hand, it was time to go digital. Rather than using an elaborate light table set up to retrace all those tiny trees, I decided to simply go digital at this point. I snapped another picture with my ipad and tried my hand at tracing my lines using my ipad stylus.

My process was far from perfect

Once again, I learned a lot from the process I used to make this map. For one, I learned that drawing all those tiny little tree lines twice was probably one time too many. Getting my stylus strokes to match my pencil strokes was incredibly difficult, so I actually ended up re-drawing a lot of the little landmarks digitally.

But this still took less time than erasing all the smears like I did the first time. So this method feels one step closer to the one I should use in the future.

There was one last roadblock on the way to finishing this map, however. My finished drawing had too many markings for me to accurately trace some of my coastlines and rivers. So I used an older version of the map to establish my crisp, clean lines for the backgrounds and mountains. I then tried to align the finished hand drawing as a new layer so that I could trace the rivers and trees.

It didn’t work. No matter how much I fiddled with sizes in the program I was using, I couldn’t make my maps line up. I took new pictures and tried to hold the camera in the exact same place I had with the older pictures. No luck. I tried transferring the layered image into Photoshop on my PC, but couldn’t complete the transfer without flattening all my layers.

So in the end, I traced each river, then moved my bottom layer to align with the new space. I had to do this with each of my forests as well. It was less than ideal.

But the end result is an image I’m proud of! For a first crack at this type of image, I think I did pretty well. I’m already hard at work on my next map, and the lessons I learned from this one have gone a long way!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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