Throughout history, we can find examples of cartography used as aspirational propaganda. After all, land can be easily claimed on the map where it might be more challenging to hold in person. Countries can seem more significant with slight projection adjustments, and colonies can appear more populated and robust. 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple is the perfect example of this—laying out the intent of the British Empire and her colonies in the New World, rather than the realities of the time.
I love this map. It’s a deviation from standard styles of the 18th century that I haven’t seen before. It manages to capture the wildness of a new frontier (to European eyes at least) in ways that cartography of the old continent hadn’t done before. The map itself was huge—nearly eight feet square when assembled, and the level of detail wasn’t something I could just ignore. It’d be perfect for fantasy maps.
With that in mind, I am releasing Popple an enormous brush set with all of these beautiful details ready to be used in your fictional cartography. I think you’ll dig it.
Variety is what sold me. Each mountain and forest is one-of-a-kind, giving each area its own unique look. Plus it has wetlands! Swamps! Interestingly enough swamplands seem to be a rarity among historical maps—despite their near-ubiquitous presence in fantasy maps. (Guess we “blame” Tolkien for that?) One thing of note, it was challenging to determine what constitutes a town, or a city, or a farm. Since there was no key or legend, I made my best guesses based on my research. That said, you can use any of these signs however you like, my system is more to keep the brushes organized so you can find what you’re looking for when browsing.
Within Popple, you’ll discover over 400 brushes, including:
- 20 Individual Habitations
- 10 Double Habitations
- 30 Grouped Habitations
- 20 Small Towns
- 3 Large Towns
- 10 Small Cities
- 30 Medium Cities
- 15 Large Cities
- 10 Huge Cities
- 20 Missions
- 20 Forts
- 5 Border Forts (the sort you’d find along rivers)
- 10 Tents
- 6 Random Habitations
- 30 Scrub Lands
- 30 “Round” Forests
- 30 “Tall” Forests
- 30 Swamps
- 40 Hills
- 40 Mountains
- 30 Mountain Ranges
The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) as well as a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. I’ve separated them by type, Settlements, Flora, Small Landforms, and Large Landforms. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.
As with all of my previous brush sets, Popple is free for any use. I distribute it with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. While attribution is technically a part of the license, I personally don’t give a damn. All I did was convert these into a modern brush format, Henry Popple and his crew did all the real work—so if you need to give someone credit, give it to them.
Enjoy Popple! Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.
🌏 Popple In Use
Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Popple. Just click on any of the images below to view them larger.
💸 Supporting This Work
If you like the Popple brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want 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 bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!
And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When Old Broken Road, the second book in the series, launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world of the Territories, you can check it out here.
🗺 More Map Brushes
Popple 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.
While not my most extensive set (a little over one hundred brushes) Donia boasts one of the more unique takes on settlements from the 17th century. If you’re looking for flora, I suggest checking out other sets, but if you want to pay attention to your map’s cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains then this is the right set for you.
Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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