Category Archives: Art

Building Better Mountains

Making Magnificent Mountains

Coal Belly, my current project, is a sprawling steampunk-ish adventure novel that spans the mountains, cliffs, and ridges in a world of interlocking rivers. To keep track of characters and locations, I began maintaining a map. The story takes places in a technological era similar to the post-reconstruction United States, around the 1890s. Because of that, I wanted my map to capture the styles of maps from that period. The sort of thing a cowboy would have in their saddlebag. Which meant I spent some time on Old Maps Online.

While researching, I noticed there was a shift in the late 1800s in how cartographers drew mountains. Earlier in the century, most mountains were rendered as illustrations. Cartographers would draw little adorable ranges as a representative of the mountains. It’s a common enough style, and one I’m sure you’ll recognize. You can see this style in this map from 1832.

Map of the Western State (Detail), Daniel Adams, 1832
Western States (Detail), Daniel Adams, 1832

This is a standard approach and one appropriated by most fantasy cartographers today. It’s a style I’ve used in past maps. It works well and definitely lends a touch of antiquity to a piece. But, Coal Belly is more modern than that. When I started looking at mountains in maps made later in the century, I noticed there was a shift. Cartographers moved away from the illustrated ranges and towards an early topographical style. You can see the shift in the maps below.

United States (Detail), David Burr, 1875
United States (Detail), David Burr, 1875
Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia (Detail), A. J. Johnson, 1886
Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia (Detail), A. J. Johnson, 1886
Kentucky, Tennessee (Detail), Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1886
Kentucky, Tennessee (Detail), Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1886

It’s a fascinating change and one I really liked. Since most of my own fantastical cartography work is done in Adobe Illustrator, I began experimenting with creating brushes. Each of the maps above was drawn by hand so recreating a similar feel took a lot of experimentation. Different brush styles and widths. Eventually, I settled on pattern brushes based off a series of random strokes. I feel like I got really close. You can see my handiwork below.

Sample of my 19th Century Mountains brushes in use.
Sample of my 19th Century Mountains brushes in use.

I made twenty brushes, with a variety of line styles and densities. They tend to work best as separate strokes and then tightly grouped together. And because they’re vector based they can be adjusted for any size project. There’s a lot of ways to adjust the overlaps for corners and such. They’re quite versatile and can be blended and combined in numerous ways.

Quick sample using the brushes — with more time I'd focus on typography and color to give the map an antique look
Another quick sample made in Illustrator and Photoshop using the brushes

I ended up scrapping these mountains for the Coal Belly map, as they interfered with the map’s legibility, especially on eReaders. But, I think they would be the perfect fit for the right project. Which is why I’m giving them away for free. Just click the download button below and you can use these mountains brushes in your own project.

Download 19th Century Mountain Brushes

No Illustrator? Download the Photoshop Brush Set1

These brushes are designed for Adobe Illustrator and are licensed under a Creative Commons 4.0 International License. So they’re FREE to use for personal or commercial work, and I’m not looking for any attribution. That said, I would love to see how others end up using these brushes. So please reach out and let me know! I’m not looking for any payment, but if you want to support me consider buying one of my books.

[Update 11/27/2017] Thanks to some friendly help from cartographer and designer Martin von Wyss over at the Cartographer’s Guild I was informed this process is called hachuring. Hachure maps are still in use today, in fact. While my brushes don’t follow the rules necessary for informative real-world hachure maps, they still imitate hachuring enough to work for fantasy cartography.


1 It needs to be mentioned that the Photoshop brushes are significantly limited compared to the Illustrator version. These brushes were designed to work along paths so the mountains will look hand-drawn. While you can use the brushes in Photoshop there will be limitations. They’ll look more stamped and less custom.


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Kari-Lise Alexander's WAKE

WAKE [Update]

As I posted previously, I spent the weekend in Los Angeles, California for the launch of Kari-Lise’s latest body of work, WAKE. While I’ll have more to share about the trip in the future, I wanted to write a quick update letting everyone know that the whole show is now available to view online! Just click below and check it out. It’s incredible.


View WAKE at Thinkspace Gallery ↦


This was Kari-Lise’s first show in the L.A. market, and it was great to see so much support. The crew at the gallery were wonderful. The show looks amazing in the space. I was telling a friend this morning that it was nice to see the pieces hanging on a proper wall. A few fans even made treks from San Francisco and San Deigo to check out the show! Our trip was a blast and it was a whirlwind of a weekend.

Opening Night at Thinkspace Gallery
Opening night at Thinkspace Gallery

If you’re in LA, go check it out. The show will be on display until April 22nd. You can also read more about WAKE and Kari-Lise’s work at any of the links below:

Kari-Lise Alexander's WAKE

WAKE

This weekend, Kari-Lise and I will head to Los Angeles for the opening of her latest show, WAKE at Thinkspace Gallery. The show opens on Saturday, April 1st, and we’ll both be there. If you live in L.A. come on by and say hello. We’d love to see you. The opening reception is from 6pm–9pm. The exhibition will be on display through April 22, 2017, and it is both free and open to the public.

For the last year, I have watched Kari-Lise work through the creation of this show, and I have been amazed by the outcome. I couldn’t be more proud. After launch, you’ll be able to view the full show at Thinkspace Gallery’s website, feel free to contact the gallery directly to inquire about any particular piece. Kari-Lise is also sending out a collector preview to anyone subscribed to her newsletter, subscribe here. I’m excited for WAKE to finally launch so everyone else can enjoy the series. There’s a lot to love.

Night Garden in the Studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — “Night Garden” in the studio
[Left] <em>"Surface"</em> 2016, 12"x12", Oil on Panel [Right] "Wake" 2016, 36"x 36", Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander — [Left] “Surface” 12″x12″, Oil on Panel [Right] “Wake” 36″x 36″, Oil on Panel
Coyote in the Studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — “Coyote” in the studio
Kari-Lise Alexander "The Arrow" 24"x12", Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander — “The Arrow” 24″x12″, Oil on Panel

If you’re interested in the work from Kari-Lise’s previous shows, I’ve written about them before, and I’d encourage you to check them out. In late 2015 she released A Lovelorn Theft, earlier that year she shared her 2014 work in Inflorescence. She’s had other shows as well, and you can see these and more of her past work at her website, kari-lise.com.


If you haven’t taken the time, make sure to watch Overlooked Details, An Artist’s Journey, it’s the short documentary about her work, filmed by Scott R. Wilson. (It partially documents her work on Inflorescence.) It’s very much with your time and is an amazing glimpse into her journey. I’ve embedded it below, and I recommend watching it full screen. You can view the full credits here.

Art Happened

Art Happened

It was a busy weekend in the Alexander household, but a fun one. In a wild convergence of entertainment, an enormous collection of events happened in Seattle. Griffey’s number was retired (24EVER!), Seafair—the annual hydroplane races and Blue Angels air show—were going on right outside my backdoor, and art was happening, a lot of art.

Longtime readers know that my amazing wife and partner in this life, Kari-Lise Alexander, is a painter, so art and art-related things were on our agenda for most of the weekend. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw my Instagram Stories over the weekend. But, I am a writer, not a photographer, and I wanted to expand on everything a bit more.


THURSDAY

Stars on Her Eyes - Kari-Lise Alexander, 2016
Stars on Her Eyes – Kari-Lise Alexander

It was the first Thursday of August, which meant it was also the First Thursday Art Walk. Kari-Lise had a piece in the Seattle Squared show (this one) at a gallery called Axis. It was a fun little event. It was a good start to our art weekend, and it’s nice to see the neighborhood buzzing with life. I went and hit up another show across the street at a relatively new gallery, and then we bopped over to check out The Drawnk Show. I ended up hanging out with folks until late and arguing why Mad Max was one of the best movies ever made.

 


FRIDAY

The second Seattle Art Fair was taking place, and we made it a point to attend. This year’s event was even better than the last. A ton of amazing work ranging from sculpture to installation was displayed. Choosing a favorite piece was tough, but I think the highlight for me was Hew Locke‘s The Wine Dark Sea, Group 4. What I saw was just a small selection of his full series, but the works were fascinating, intricate, and carried a lot of meaning. There was a lot to unpack.

Hew Locke, The Wine Dark Sea
The Wine Dark Sea, Group 4 – Hew Locke

After spending three hours browsing the fair, we checked out Juxtapoz x Superflat, curated by Takashi Murakami. It was incredible. It was nice to see a new venue in Seattle focusing on new contemporary and pop-surrealist artists. The artists participating are all well established names and it was good to see another presence like that in Seattle.

superflat
Left to right: Selected Sculpture – Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Daybreak – Paco Poment

SATURDAY

DeathandtheMaiden
Left to Right: The Arsenic Waltz (Detail) – Redd Walitzki, Abby’s Ghost (Detail) – Travis Louie, Nosto (Detail) – Syd Bee

Roq La Rue has been a mainstay of the Seattle art scene for a long time, and it has become a keystone in the low-brow and pop-surrealism movements. It was the first gallery I ever visited when I moved to Seattle, and I’ve been hitting its events regularly for the last eight years.

PickingthePerfectPoison
Picking the Perfect Poison – Kari-Lise Alexander

Saturday was the launch party for its final show, Death and the Maiden 2. Kari-Lise had a piece in that show as well. Picking the Perfect Poison (pictured right) is one of my favorites and lucky for you prints are available. We spent a majority of the evening at the gallery hanging out with everyone who came out to see the show. It was great to see such a wide selection of Seattle artists represented.

It was also bittersweet. After the pieces come down, Roq La Rue is going away. It closes its doors this September. During the show and at the afterparty, a lot of locals—artists and fans alike—were sharing memories of the gallery and reflecting on how it had impacted our lives. It’s been a focal point of art walks for both Kari-Lise and me, and its exodus will be felt.


So, yeah, art happened and it was amazing. There were a few shows I missed, in particular, the Out of Sight show, which I regret. Our Sunday ended up being much quieter. We didn’t go to any galleries. I did some reading and spent a little time researching. I couldn’t get my brain in a space to write properly (despite my grand intent earlier in the week). Seafair was winding down. The Olympics were on. The Mariners swept the Angels.

It was a good weekend.

A Lovelorn Theft

A Lovelorn Theft

This weekend Kari-Lise and I are heading down to sunny San Francisco to attend the opening of her latest series: A Lovelorn Theft, at Modern Eden Gallery. The show opens on Saturday, September 12th, and we’ll both be there. If you live in the area come on by and say hello. The opening reception is from 6pm–9pm. The exhibition will be on display through October 3, 2015, and it is both free and open to the public.

Kari-Lise Alexander's "The Bathing Silver Swan" in the studio
Kari-Lise Alexander’s “The Bathing Silver Swan” in the studio

I absolutely love this series. A Lovelorn Theft was inspired by the swan maidens and selkies of Nordic folklore. Each piece places the viewer in the intimate role of a lovelorn voyeur, who spies these beautiful creatures for the first time. The work itself is stunning combining the styles of the Pre-Raphaelite movement with new contemporary and pop surrealism. It’s been fascinating to watch Kari-Lise develop this series over the last year, I’m so excited the public is now getting a chance to see them together. In my opinion, it’s her best work yet.

Like her last show, Inflorescence, this series has also been garnering a lot of great press all over the internet. Kari-Lise was once again featured on High Fructose, and This Isn’t Happiness. For those interested, she was also interviewed by Modern Eden, she talks about her work, her inspirations, and you can see a picture of our two bunnies cuddling.

You can see the full show on Modern Eden’s website after it opens, or email Kim at Modern Eden and request a collectors preview. The links above also has a majority of the work. I’ve posted a few of my favorites below. Which is your favorite?

Stealing Softly Forth
Kari-Lise Alexander —”Stealing Softly Forth” 2015, Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander —"The Reveal" 2015, Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander —”The Reveal” 2015, Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander —"Lady of the River" 2015, Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander —”Lady of the River” 2015, Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander —"Waterborne" 2015, Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander —”Waterborne” 2015, Oil on Panel

 

Visual Inspiration by Yuri Shwedoff

Visual Inspiration: Yuri Shwedoff

It’s been too long since I’ve done a visual inspiration post on here, so let’s fix that. I’ve long been a fan of the stunning atmospheric work of Russian artist Yuri Shwedoff, but when a friend of mine mentioned him today, I figured it’d be the perfect time to share his work with you. (So, you can all thank Chris.)

There is something very evocative about Shwedoff’s work and it’s more than his incredible compositions. Each piece tells a story and leaves the viewer hungering for more. That’s why I find it so inspiring. You can hear the howl of the wind moan across vast expanses. You’re there as his figures stare at immense landscapes of ancient monoliths. You can feel the energy present as an unlikely warrior steels herself for the coming of a terrible monster. It’s incredible work.

Dragons by Yrui Shwedoff
Dragons by Yuri Shwedoff
The Sun by Yuri Shwedoff
The Sun by Yuri Shwedoff
Werewolf by Yuri Shwedoff
Werewolf by Yuri Shwedoff
Excalibur by Yuri Shwedoff
Excalibur by Yuri Shwedoff (Also, featured at the top of this post._

Shwedoff is active all over the internet and I highly recommend following him. Start by checking him out on Twitter and Instagram. You can buy your favorite piece from his shop on Society6 and you can also support his work via Paetron and get exclusive HD images, process videos, and PSDs. If you want to see more of his work check it out at Behance or at Art Station. There are a lot of great pieces, it’s hard to pick a favorite. If I had to decide I’d probably settle on Dragons (featured above). There’s a lot going in that single image and clearly more to the story. Which of Yuri Shwedoff’s work is your favorite?