All posts by K. M. Alexander

About K. M. Alexander

K. M. Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native and novelist living and working in Seattle with his wife and two dogs. He is an avid hiker, cold-weather enthusiast, world traveler, wannabe cyclist, and a self-proclaimed beer snob. His work explores non-traditional settings within speculative fiction, bending and blending genres to create rich worlds and unique, approachable characters.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Started with a Map

“I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit.”

J. R. R. Tolkien

And what a map it was…

See the Sketches J.R.R. Tolkien Used to Build Middle-earth

The map above is one of Tolkien’s original sketches and is a part of the Bodleian Libraries collection at the University of Oxford. Tolkien was a prolific sketcher, and many more of his drawings can be seen in Ethan Gilsdorf’s 2015 Wired article aptly named: See the Sketches J.R.R. Tolkien Used to Build Middle-earth. It’s worth checking out.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

When the British crown was restored in 1660, King Charles II received an enormous atlas as a gift from Professor Joannes Klencke. Enormous is not an understatement here. The Klencke Atlas is one of the largest books in the world, standing nearly six feet tall and over six feet wide when opened and weighing in at over four-hundred pounds. It’s impressive. But it’s not the atlas itself that we’re looking at today, it’s one of the copperplate maps tucked away inside. It’s the last map in the atlas that served as the source for my latest free brush set: Joan Blaeu’s beautiful Terræ Sanctæ.

As best I can tell, Terræ Sanctæ (“Holy Land” in Latin) is essentially a tourist map of what is now Israel and Palestine. With a unique style, Blaeu details events, sites, and cities made famous in the Bible and he does so with flair. Each city feels distinctive, and the mountains and hills are meticulously rendered. Each object fits within its family but each feels unique. Despite the difficulty of conversion I vowed to make this a useable brush set. After hours of labor, I’m happy to announce Blaeu: an enormous brush set (over 500 brushes in total) with a wide variety of options and variants.

Blaeu Sampler

Most of the symbolism on the map was clear. But there were a few ideograms I couldn’t figure out. Blaeu didn’t include a key or legend, so I had to do my best translating. I took Latin way back in High School and weirdly retained a lot of it so I was able to fumble through, but I know I missed a lot. There were also quite a few symbols never explained.

Be warned, there’s a lot here, and the list below is enormous with quite a few unique elements you don’t find in other sets. That said, inside Blaeu, you’ll discover:

  • 15 Wells
  • 15 Monuments/Sepulchers/Tombs
  • 3 Individual Tents
  • 8 Tent Camps
  • 10 Ruins
    (This is my best guess for these symbols based on my previous map research. It’s possible these could mean something else entirely.)
  • 10 Elevated Ruins
    (FWIW, going forward “elevated” means: on a hill/mountain.)
  • 3 Unique Ruins
  • 20 Small Towns
  • 3 Elevated Small Towns
  • 50 Basic Cities
  • 25 Elevated Basic Cities
  • 2 Unique Basic Cities
  • 20 Starred Cities
    (It’s possible the six-pointed star represents synagogues, but I haven’t been able to confirm that.)
  • 4 Elevated Starred Cities
  • 13 Imperial Cities
  • 3 Elevated Imperial Cities
  • 8 Ecclesiastical Cities
  • 4 Elevated Ecclesiastical Cities
  • 8 Mixed Cities
    (A combination of the above)
  • 7 Elevated Mixed Cities
  • 4 Large Walled Cities
    (Big boys)
  • 4 Destroyed Cities
    (I love the detail in these)
  • 15 Forts
  • 15 Elevated Forts
  • 4 River Crossings
  • 5 Unique Religious Settlements
  • 4 Leper Colonies
    (These would be useful for Inns as well.)
  • 3 Unique Buildings
  • 15 Scrub Bush
  • 7 Grape Vines
  • 3 Vineyards
  • 8 Palm Trees
  • 1 Palm “Forest”
  • 30 “Leafy” Trees
  • 4 “Leafy” Tree Forests
  • 2 Orchards
  • 25 Hills
  • 15 Ranges of Hills
  • 6 Caves
  • 20 Mountains
  • 40 Mountain Ranges
  • 3 Unique Mountain Ranges
  • 4 Tree Cartouches
    (Bigger than the flora tree.)
  • 25 People Cartouches
  • 5 Water Cartouches
  • 12 War (HUH) Cartouches
  • 1 Sheep Cartouche with a city on its head and another on its butt
    (It’s real weird.)

There is so much and it’s all rendered in Blaeu’s charming style. Plus the cartouches help add a touch of authenticity to a piece, and there are so many to choose from. This has quickly become one of my most favorite sets and it works really well with my other brushes. So don’t be afraid to mix and match.

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set  (works in GIMP as well) and a group of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. You can also view the PNGs in your browser. Because of the complexity, I’ve divided this set into four transparent images: Settlements, Flora, Landforms, and Cartouches—be warned, they’ll come up black if viewed in Chrome, but they’re all there.


As with all of my brush sets, Blaeu is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. All I did was convert it to brushes, Joan Blaeu did all the real work—so giving him credit would be fantastic, but it’s absolutely not necessary.

Enjoy Blaeu! It took a lot longer to put together than previous sets, but I couldn’t resist. I wanted to see the style live on. I think it’s unique in the world of maps, and it would give any fantasy maps a fresh yet grounded feel. As I say with all my brush sets, a connection to history can really make a project feel alive.

Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email! I love seeing how this stuff is used and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.

💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Blaeu brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my weird speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook.

You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When my 2nd book in the series launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world, you can check it out here.

🗺 More Map Brushes

Blaeu isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles all free and all open for personal or commercial use, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

Aubers: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: A Free 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

Lehmann: A Free Hachure Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lehmann: A Hatchure Brush Set

Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.

Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Did you think it was over?

What if I told you that everything that had come before was only the prelude? Grin at the sun all you want, it’s only a false dawn. Shadow dwells within the cracks and crevices of the worlds, and it can only be temporarily banished.

A letter has arrived for you, and you might find its contents familiar.

There are portents hidden in plain sight, revealing much to those brave fools willing to study the signs. The repository is the simplest way to track those elements which have come before, but there are other sources as well. Take heart, my friend, in time much will be revealed.

See you soon, roader.

Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

How to Understand the Image of a Black Hole

How to Understand the Image of a Black Hole

I thought this quick video from Veritasium was an excellent explanation on the “why” behind yesterday’s historical announcement. Being able to present such a complex topic so simply is a talent that I admire. So sit back, watch, learn, and join me in staring in awe.

Looking for more?


Vonda N. McIntyre

Her Own Successes

“All her life she had made her own mistakes and her own successes, both usually by trying what others said she could not do.”

Vonda N. McIntyre, Aztecs, 1977

Requiescat in pace, Vonda. Thank you for all of the incredible worlds. (For me personally, I discovered her work through 1981’s The Entropy Effect, one of the first Star Trek novels I’d ever read—though, I wouldn’t find it until the early 90s.)

Cyberpunk is Real

Cyberpunk is Reality

Yesterday, I came across a tweet from Carl Zha (okay, technically it’s from his auntie) that included a video clip of evening skyline above the city of Chongqing in southwestern China. There is a cyberpunk quality to the city that enthralled me. I felt as if Chongqing was plucked from the pages of William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neil Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Below the tweet, Zha also linked to the following video which goes even further, giving the viewer a close-up view of the city which only further cemented my opinion, check it out below.

The slick soundtrack and artistic jump-cuts only add a level of depth that expands the ultra-cool visuals of a city of the future. For a Westerner, it’s almost hard to imagine Chongquing as a real place. Our own cities are dull by comparison. This is the stuff of anime and Hollywood blockbusters, not reality.

It’s easy to become absorbed in the sleek aesthetic and forget that the cyberpunk genre was meant to serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unregulated capitalism, economic inequality, and the rampant abuse of technology. Warnings we’ve mostly ignored. I hesitate to prognosticate on the ramifications we’ll face. As Gibson once said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

At least Chongquing looks cool.