Tag Archives: fantasy

Braun: A Free 16th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy City Maps

Braun: A Free 16th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy City Maps

Many fantasy cartographers were excited when I launched Gomboust, my first brush set focused on the urban environment. I immediately starting making plans to release a second set. After all, what’s a fantasy setting without a wondrous city to explore?

Today I’m proud to release Braun, a 16th-century urban cartography brush set based on the incredible work of Georg Braun take from Civitates orbis terrarum—easily one of the most significant volumes of cartographic antiquity featuring bird’s eye maps of over five hundred and forty Renaissance cities. As you can imagine, this was a massive project, and it involved many more artists and cartographers. (A more extensive list is on Braun’s wiki page.) Georg Braun was the principle on the project, so the naming honor goes to him. Most of the signs extracted for this set came from the prints of Lyon, GhentUtrecht, and a bit from Paris. Every map was a little different, and I focused on making sure the size, print quality, and line work all worked seamlessly together. With so much more out there, I could see a Braun supplement coming in the future as well.

A sample of Braun's brushes

I really like the density represented in these symbols. Every little building is rendered no matter how mundane, and the added detail gives an extra layer of texture to a map. It feels vibrant and alive and has a “lived-in” quality that’s perfect for the right fantastical city map.

As I mentioned when I launched Gomboust, wielding these brushes is more advanced than topographical sets. To capture your vision, you’ll want to plan or at least have a decent knowledge of your tools. Spend some time with the brushes, learn what’s available. Be willing to edit and adjust them, it’ll allow you to make critical decisions and help fully realize your vision.

A second sample of the Braun set

Braun isn’t enormous, but it’s effective. Its simple style and strong linework make repetition harder to spot, especially if symbols are merged and edited together. It includes the following:

  • 20 Single Homes
  • 20 Groups of Homes
  • 40 Small Blocks
  • 30 Large Blocks
  • 35 Unique Blocks
  • 20 Churches
  • 10 Small Bridges
  • 5 Large Bridges
  • 20 Dead Trees
  • 30 Leafy Trees
  • 20 Unique Points of Interest
  • 20 Windmills
  • 10 Crosses
  • 10 Walls
  • 10 Wells
  • 10 Fountains
  • 10 Shadoofs
  • 10 Boats

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work in GIMP) 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: City Blocks and Points of Interest & Flora. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD BRAUN


As with all of my previous brush sets, Braun is free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Braun? 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. Let me see what you make!


🌏 Braun In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Braun. There are three versions, a black and white version, one colored, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger. Perhaps this will inspire you in your projects!

Braun - Example    Braun - Colored    Braun - Decorated


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Braun brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging CycleNot interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Braun isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. You can find other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles over on my Free Stuff page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project.

Ogilby - DecoratedOgilby: A Free 17th Century Road Atlas Brush Set

Taken from John Ogilby’s 1675 book Britannia, Volume the First, this set allows the creator to recreate road atlas from the 17th century in stunning detail, placing the traveler’s experience front and center. With over 800 brushes, this is my most extensive set to date and useful for a variety of projects. Several bonus downloads are also available, as well.

Van der Aa Sample Map - DecoratedVan der Aa: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This regional map set is based on a map by Dutch cartographer and publisher, Pieter Van der Aa. It’s a beautifully rendered version of the Mingrelia region of northwest Georgia. While not as extensive as other sets, the size of the map allowed for larger brushes that helps highlight the uniqueness of each symbol. It also features a failed wall!

Gomboust: A 17th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set

My first brush set to focus on creating realistic maps for fantastical urban environments! Gomboust is a huge set, and its symbols are extracted from Jacques Gomboust’s beautiful 1652 map of Paris, France. His style is detailed yet quirky, isometric yet off-kilter, packed with intricacies, and it brings a lot of personality to a project.

Harrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetHarrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Eugene Henry Fricx’s “Cartes des Paysbas et des Frontieres de France,” this set leans into its 1727 gothic styling and its focus on the developed rather than the natural. It’s hauntingly familiar yet strikingly different. If you’re looking for more natural elements, Harrewyn works well alongside other sets as well.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush SetPopple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This set has quickly become a favorite, and it’s perfect for a wide variety of projects. The brushes are taken from 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple, and it has a fresh style that does a fantastic job capturing the wildness of a frontier. Plus, it has swamps! And we know swamps have become a necessity in fantasy cartography.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush SetDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

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.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush SetBlaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

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.

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetAubers: 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: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush SetL’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 for mapping out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush SetWidman: 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 SetWalser: 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 robust set of mountains 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 Sketchy Cartography Brush SetLumbia: 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 Hatchure Brush SetLehmann: 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. This set works perfectly in conjunction with my other sets from the late 18th century.


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 →

Crafting Cuttac, Part One

Crafting Cuttac, Part 1

My free map brushes for fantasy maps are designed to replicate specific eras of cartographic development—usually aping styles from the 16th or 17th centuries. As a result, they tend to be focused on line art, which works quite well with early printmaking. While I love those old styles of maps dearly, I’ve wanted to try something a little different. Stretch my creative muscle as it were. I’ve recently hit a few knots in my revisions of Gleam Upon the Waves, and I find that I brainstorm better when I can channel some of my energy into something creative, and it’s not uncommon for me to make random maps.

I’ve been kicking around some ideas for a new writing project. So I decided to work on a map for that setting. For now, I’ve given it the working title, Cuttac—mainly because it sounded cool in my head. I thought it’d be fun to do all this worldbuilding publically, so welcome to Crafting Cuttac, a new series where I reveal the process of how I develop a fictional world.


✏️ Stage One – Continents & Islands

Using my tablet, I sketched out the continents and islands of the world of Cuttac. I focused on vast oceans and fewer chunky continents in favor of something a little more dynamic and fluid. I kept the brush small (2px, Soft Round) to highlight the details within the world. (You can click on any of these images to view them larger.)

Crafting Cuttac, Stage One - The World Outlined
The basic outline of the landmasses on Cuttac.

🏗 Stage Two – Structural Work

I decided on foresty green as the base color for the ocean—mainly to be different, but I have some ideas that it’s referencing as well. (More on that in the future.) After that, I filled the outlined continents and islands with a base of white. As of now, I have three layers: the outline, the white landmasses, and the green ocean background. This is all structure, as I can down hide objects and patterns behind the white shapes and use each as a base for image masks. It’ll make trying different effects really easy and non-destructive—helpful in experimentation.

Crafting Cuttac, Stage Two - Structural Work
The islands and continents pop a lot more when placed against a darker background. After seeing the continents rendered like this, I’m really like these landforms. Feels very natural.

🌊 Stage Three – Ocean Depth

With the structure work done, it was time to move onto the topography. Mountains influence rivers, rivers influence settlements, and settlements create civilization and so on—so it’s fairly essential! Since it’s big and bold, I figured I’d start by doing some testing on the ocean floor. Primarily working in transparent layers to simulate depth. For this, I started using the cloud brushes from Kyle’s Concept Brushes (now apparently included with Adobe Creative Cloud) and just swirled ’em around using my cheap tablet.

Crafting Cuttac, Stage Three - Ocean Depth, Test One
This was my first test with the ocean depth, and I was pleased with the result but felt it lacked definition.

Each color was on a separate layer then blended together using Blend Modes and Opacity adjustments until I achieved the effect I wanted. There was no system to this, I just did it by feel. I felt it was working, and I got some positive feedback, but I didn’t feel my first approach was detailed enough. So I started smaller and worked with more layers and a broader color ramp to simulate depth. The smaller brushes helped a lot and let me get more elaborate with undersea ridges while still achieving the painterly effect, I liked.

When finished, I was worried its boldness would overpower the landforms. So, when complete, I dropped the ocean down to an opacity of 65% —it softened everything significantly. You can see a comparison below.

Crafting Cuttac, Stage Three - Ocean Depth, Final Result
Original bold coloring on the left with the softened final version on the right.

🗺 More to Come in Part Two

That’s where I am for the end of Part One! I think the softer ocean colors will help the terrain pop when I get started on that. I’m going to try to use a similar style for the elevations but stick with even smaller brush sizes and utilize a standard topography color ramp. I think nine “stages” will work well.

Crafting Cuttac - Elevation Color Ramp
A simple color ramp showing shifts in elevation, left is sea level, right is the highest peaks in the continents

Hopefully, you enjoyed this series! There will be much more to come in Part Two. I’m going to be delving into the above-water topography and figure out the placement of the rivers. It should be fun!

Any questions, ideas, or advice? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me. Want to make your own maps but don’t know where to start? I can help! Be sure to check out Free Stuff to download any of my free brush sets or to check out one of my Tutorials with practical step-by-step guides at getting started.


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like my brush set, tutorials, or map experiments like this one, and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it.

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

The Bell Forging CycleNot interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


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 →

Ogilby: A Free 17th Century Road Atlas Brush Set

Ogilby: A Free 17th Century Road Atlas Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

“You come to a Descent sprinkled with Woods, whence by Loudwater, a small Village, (a Brook accompanying your Road on the Left) at 32’3. You enter High Wickham, seated in a pleasant Vale, a large and Well-built Town, numbering near 200 Houses, with several good Inns, as the Cathern Wheel, etc. Is Govern’d by a Mayor, Recorder, etc. Sends Burgesses to Parliament, hath a well-frequented Market on Fridays, and two Fairs annually…”

Outside of some slight language differences, that description of 17th century High Wycombe could be taken from any modern travel guide. It comes from John Ogilby’s 1675 book Britannia, Volume the First. Or an Illustration of the Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales: By a Geographical and Historical Description of the Principal Roads thereof (the full title goes on much longer, and I’ll spare us all.) Britannia is, in essence, part road atlas and part travel guide—it also serves as the source for my latest brush set named after the man himself: Ogilby.

The Road from Bristol to Exeter, 1675
John Ogilby’s depiction of the road from Bristol to Exeter

While the depictions of British towns, inns, and valleys are charming, the actual maps themselves are a delight. They are unlike anything I’ve seen before. These maps place the traveler’s perspective front and center making for a much more intimate experience. Read bottom to top and left to right one can trace their route through the countryside. Windmills, wells, ponds, homes, and churches are lovingly depicted as well as are the small towns clustered around roads and random points of interest. Climbs and descents are documented as one would encounter them as they crossed the rolling countryside. The route will move, but barely, instead, significant turns are shown with subtle shifts indicated by the compass rose that rotates on subsequent “scrolls.” I thought this was an interesting solution to show more substantial variations in a road’s direction.

Fiction has long had a fascination with the road story, and fantasy isn’t an exception. So it’s a wonder this sort of map hasn’t been attempted before. (Prove me wrong, if you know a book with this style of road atlas, let me know!) It’s so useful and such an interesting presentation. After spending some time with the plates and Ogilby’s descriptions, I knew at once these etchings would make an excellent brush set. Whether one is attempting to recreate an Ogilby-style road atlas or just using his various signs and symbols on a more standard map.

As I worked, I realized that I would need to build this set off of multiple plates, and uh… the set sort of grew in the making. Ogilby is now my largest set ever. Inside you’ll find over 870 brushes (yes, seriously), including:

  • 60 Homesteads
  • 50 Manor Halls
  • 10 Hamlets
  • 60 Villages
  • 10 Large Villages
  • 20 Steepled Churches
  • 70 Towered Churches
  • 10 Priories
  • 5 Unique Churches
  • 20 Castles
  • 20 Unique Settlements
  • 10 Ponds
  • 20 Rills/Streams
  • 10 Rills/Streams w/ Bridges
  • 20 Rivers w/ Bridges
  • 20 Heath/Wetlands
  • 20 Hills
  • 20 Upslopes (Hills with space for roads to pass up them)
  • 20 Downslopes (Inverted hills with space for roads to pass down them)
  • 20 Unique Slopes
  • 30 Scrub Lands
  • 30 Leafy Trees
  • 30 Evergreen Trees
  • 30 Bushy Trees
  • 10 Leafy Forests
  • 10 Evergreen Forests
  • 30 Bushy Forests
  • 40 Windmills
  • 10 Elevated Windmills
  • 20 Beacons
  • 20 Gallows
  • 5 Wells
  • 5 Springs
  • 10 Quarries
  • 10 Coal Pits
  • 10 Lead Mines
  • 10 Parks
  • 10 Monuments
  • 15 Unique Points-of-Interest
  • 20 “Plain” Compasses
  • 35 Standard Compasses
  • 15 Complex Compasses
  • 5 Combined Compasses
  • 3 Boats

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, Points of Interest, Flora, Cartouches, and Landforms. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.

[ ! ] Bonus #1 – I’ve also included the option to download a blank and layered PSD of the scroll background used in Ogilby’s original maps. To save on file size, this must be downloaded separately. It also includes a transparent png.

[ ! ] Bonus #2 – I found more success mimicking Ogibly’s road styles in Adobe Illustrator. This will allow one to recreate the various styles of roads Ogilby uses across his maps quickly and efficiently. Like the Scroll background, this must be downloaded separately and it requires Adobe Illustrator.


DOWNLOAD OGILBY

Download the Ogilby Scrolls Background

Download the Ogilby Illustrator Road Brush Set


As with all of my previous brush sets, Ogilby is free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Ogilby. 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. Let me see what you make!


🌏 Ogilby In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Ogilby, and you can see a few variants below. Just click on any of the images below to view them larger.

Ogilby Sample Map - Black and White     Ogilby Sample Map - Colored    Ogilby Sample Map - Decorated

💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Ogilby brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging CycleNot interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Ogilby isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. You can find other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles over on my Free Stuff page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project.

Van der Aa Sample Map - DecoratedVan der Aa: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This regional map set is based on a map by Dutch cartographer and publisher, Pieter Van der Aa. It’s a beautifully rendered version of the Mingrelia region of northwest Georgia. While not as extensive as other sets, the size of the map allowed for larger brushes that helps highlight the uniqueness of each symbol. It also features a failed wall!

Gomboust: A 17th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set

My first brush set to focus on creating realistic maps for fantastical urban environments! Gomboust is a huge set, and its symbols are extracted from Jacques Gomboust’s beautiful 1652 map of Paris, France. His style is detailed yet quirky, isometric yet off-kilter, packed with intricacies, and it brings a lot of personality to a project.

Harrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetHarrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Eugene Henry Fricx’s “Cartes des Paysbas et des Frontieres de France,” this set leans into its 1727 gothic styling and its focus on the developed rather than the natural. It’s hauntingly familiar yet strikingly different. If you’re looking for more natural elements, Harrewyn works well alongside other sets as well.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush SetPopple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This set has quickly become a favorite, and it’s perfect for a wide variety of projects. The brushes are taken from 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple, and it has a fresh style that does a fantastic job capturing the wildness of a frontier. Plus, it has swamps! And we know swamps have become a necessity in fantasy cartography.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush SetDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

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.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush SetBlaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

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.

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetAubers: 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: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush SetL’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fant

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 for mapping out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush SetWidman: 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 SetWalser: 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 robust set of mountains 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 Sketchy Cartography Brush SetLumbia: 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 Hatchure Brush SetLehmann: 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. This set works perfectly in conjunction with my other sets from the late 18th century.


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 →

Visual Inspiration: Sam Hogg

Visual Inspiration: Sam Hogg

My readers know that I am an enthusiast of rich well-imagined worldbuilding. So when I stumbled across the work of artist and writer Sam Hogg, it’ll come as no surprise that I found myself enthralled. Her concept work is excellent, but I’ve become a bit obsessed with her high-fantasy project, The Whaler Girl.

This is visual worldbuilding at its best. Hogg captures and constructs a rich tapestry of a setting and inhabits it with fully imagined places, creatures, and characters. It’s something I strive for in my work, and here it feels so effortless which only makes it more enthralling and inspiring. These locations and characters don’t come across as templates, they feel like real people, and we can see hints of their story playing throughout the work. The sense of place is palpable and the shifts in style only cement that further, we’re exploring a world after all and worlds are not limited to a single style. As I moved through the project I found myself eager to learn more. I want to know all about Eidy’s story, and Saul’s troubles, and how a young whaler girl from Varlsbeyn ended up as a pirate courtesan. You will too.

With Sam Hogg’s permission, I’ve shared a few of my favorite pieces below. (Honestly, it was really difficult choosing, for each of these there were at least four more.) You can click on any image to view it larger.

This is just a small fraction of The Whaler Girl. You can see much more of the world and Hogg’s work on her website. Be sure to join me in following her on Twitter. Don’t forget to follow her excellent Instagram account, not only does she share work frequently, but it’s also often accompanied by evocative vignettes that only adds to the depth and richness of the story. Finally, you can buy prints of all this work from her store and hang the world of The Whaler Girl on your walls.


If you like Sam Hogg’s work, be sure to check out some of the other artists who I’ve found inspiring in the past. While there’s certainly a theme to the art that inspires me, you’ll find lots of different styles, tones, and moods.

Van der Aa: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Van der Aa: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

History is rife with “impregnable” walls and it’s a long list full of failure. The ancient Wall of Amurru didn’t last long, invaders got around the Great Wall of China (many times), and the Walls of Constantinople couldn’t stop the Ottoman forces. And that’s only three examples. The record goes on and on (Berlin, Hadrian’s Wall, Walls of Ston, the Red Snake, etc.) and we see the colossal scars they leave behind all across the earth.

With that in mind, I’m happy to present a new set based on Mingrelie autrefois Colchis by Dutch cartographer and publisher, Pieter Van der Aa. A beautifully rendered map of the Mingrelia region of northwest Georgia complete with, you guessed it, a wall. (The Kelasuri Wall to be precise.)

That’s right, you too can let your arrogant fantastical kingdoms erect a border wall! Watch as they bankrupt the royal treasury and overextend their defensive forces! Finally, shake your head as the barbarians invade anyway and the whole ordeal proves once again to be a monumental waste of effort and resources. Hey, it’s drama, and at least someone gets a tourist attraction out of it. Think about it, future generations of hotel owners will thank the ancient paranoid rulers for their ignorance.

Van der Aa isn’t my most extensive set, nor is it my most complex. But what it does, it does rather well. Because of the map’s size, the brushes tend to run a little larger than other sets (the biggest is over 1000px wide), and the settlements and landforms have a very unique style. Lots of little details in the settlements and craggy mountains. I think you’ll like it.

Inside Van der Aa you’ll find over 180 brushes, including:

  • 11 Hamlets
  • 1 Elevated Hamlet
  • 30 Villages
  • 7 Elevated Villages
  • 2 Unique Villages
  • 30 Towns
  • 12 Elevated Towns
  • 8 Large Towns
  • 3 Unique Towns
  • 3 Towers
  • 25 Mountains
  • 25 Mountain Ranges
  • 3 Unique Mountain Ranges
  • 25 Forests
  • 4 Walls
  • 1 Well
  • 2 Cartouches

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 & Cartouches, and Landforms. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD VAN DER AA


As with all of my previous brush sets, Van der Aa is free for any use. As of July 2019, I now distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Van der Aa. 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. Let me see what you make!


🌏 Van der Aa In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Van der Aa, and you can see a few variants below. Just click on any of the images below to view them larger.

Van der Aa Sample Map - Black and White     Van der Aa Sample Map - Color     Van der Aa Sample Map - Decorated

💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Van der Aa brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging Cycle


🗺 More Map Brushes

Van der Aa isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. You can find other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles over on my Free Stuff page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project.

Gomboust: A 17th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set

My first brush set to focus on creating realistic maps for fantastical urban environments! Gomboust is a huge set, and its symbols are extracted from Jacques Gomboust’s beautiful 1652 map of Paris, France. His style is detailed yet quirky, isometric yet off-kilter, packed with intricacies, and it brings a lot of personality to a project.

Harrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetHarrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Eugene Henry Fricx’s “Cartes des Paysbas et des Frontieres de France,” this set leans into its 1727 gothic styling and its focus on the developed rather than the natural. It’s hauntingly familiar yet strikingly different. If you’re looking for more natural elements, Harrewyn works well alongside other sets as well.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush SetPopple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This set has quickly become a favorite, and it’s perfect for a wide variety of projects. The brushes are taken from 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple, and it has a fresh style that does a fantastic job capturing the wildness of a frontier. Plus it has swamps! And we know swamps have become a necessity in fantasy cartography.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush SetDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

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 maps cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains then this is the right set for you.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush SetBlaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

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.

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetAubers: 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: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush SetL’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fant

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 for mapping out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush SetWidman: 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 SetWalser: 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 robust 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 Sketchy Cartography Brush SetLumbia: 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 Hatchure Brush SetLehmann: 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. This set works perfectly in conjunction with my other sets from the late 18th century.


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 →

My Ongoing Blog Series You Can Read Today

My Ongoing Blog Series You Can Read Today

There’s plenty of writers on the internet who user their blogging platform to dish out advice on writing or focus on the craft. While that is all well and good, I’ve intentionally chosen to do something a little different with my blog. For several years, among the book updates, pleas for reviews, and general news—I’ve been writing several reoccurring series about all manner of things. Fake swearing, my books, plants, riverboats, history, the list is large and full of interesting things.

In this post, I’ve collected all my ongoing series and have provided links so you can peruse the various categories—I even offer starting suggestions. So, if you’re looking for something a bit different than your standard author-blog content, consider starting with one of these…

Wild Territories

Frequency: When they’re ready
Category: Bell Forging Cycle lore
Current Number of posts:
Three
Start with: Faiths and Creeds of Lovat

It’s always fun to explore the backstory of a series. I love extending some of the lore and legend that surrounds my novels. I’m also a fan of PBS and Marty Stouffer’s Wild America. That all came together for Wild Territories, a series about the extended lore of my books. Currently, there’s only a handful of posts, but with Gleam Upon the Waves coming soon, I’ll have many more on the way.


Garden of Horrors

Frequency: Monthly/Bi-monthly
Category: The natural world is gross
Current Number of posts: Nine
Start with: The Clathrus Archeri

Nature is a wild and weird place, in this series, I take a look at the more unusual bits of the earth’s flora. Generally, it’s pretty gross, sometimes it’s disturbing, but it’s always fascinating to see what sort of bizarre adaptations exist. Sometimes that feeling of disgust can come from the most unexpected places.


Raunch Reviews

Frequency: Monthly
Category: Language
Current Number of posts: Sixteen
Start with: Mork & Mindy/Starsiege: Tribes

The English language is a stupid language. It evolves, steals, shifts and absorbs, and it never looks the same across centuries. Slang is often the driver of this drift. Raunch Reviews is a series about slang, particularly, profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not.


Riverboats! Revolution! Magic!

Frequency: Occasional
Category: History
Current Number of posts: Ten
Start with: A Riverboat’s Menu

Researching history for my big ol’ project Coal Belly has given me insight into bits and bobs of history and the details surrounding riverboats—stuff I never learned in school. In these posts, I share my findings, focusing in on the people or technology that made these vessels so unique and sharing a plethora of photos from dusty old archives.


#NoBadMaps

Frequency: Monthly (for 2019, at least)
Category: Cartography/History
Current Number of posts: Nineteen
Start with: #NoBadMaps

This started as a project to help fantasy indie authors develop their own maps for their books and has grown into something much more. Now, eleven brush sets and several tutorials later #NoBadMaps has become something greater, and it’s exciting to see people using these in their work.


Visual Inspiration

Visual Inspiration

Frequency: Occasional
Category: Art
Current Number of posts: Eleven
Start with: Yuri Shwedoff

I’ve been a graphic designer for nearly two decades now; I’m drawn to visual mediums. Often, I come across an artist’s work, be it paintings, concept art, or digital drawings that enliven me creatively. In this series, I share the work of artists who’s work I have found inspiring, perhaps they’ll inspire you as well.


Watching History

Frequency: Occasional
Category: History
Current Number of posts: One
Start with: Watching History 1

When I was a kid, my favorite TV channel was the History Channel. But in recent year, the History Channel has eschewed history in favor of scripted and reality programming. It’s a bummer. Thankfully, the internet has stepped in. There are all sorts of amazing creatives who run YouTube channels with a focus on making history come alive. In here, I share my favorites.


Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

Frequency: Yearly
Category: Cosmic Horror Gifts
Current Number of posts: Five
Start with: The 2019 Lovecraft-Inspired Holiday Gift Guide

For the last six years, I’ve been assembling a highly-curated list of cosmic horror goodies that are perfect for yourself or the cosmic horror fan in your life. Books, Games, Music, Apparel, Housewares and a whole lot more! Loads of goodies worth checking out around the holidays or… at any time of the year, really.


I’m really proud of the work I’ve been doing. It’s been nice to work on blog posts in between writing sessions. Keeps me on my toes, lets me explore different concepts, and I think it makes my books better. Hopefully, you’ll find something entertaining or eye-opening among this list.

Have a question, comment, or want to drop me a line? Leave a comment below, or visit the Contact K. M. Alexander page for a list of handy ways you can reach out.


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 →