Tag Archives: free

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.


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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Old Broken Road by K. M. Alexander

Old Broken Road Summer Reading Giveaway

We had a really nice weekend here in Seattle. Temps hit eighty on Saturday. I realized that we’re now well into May and summer is just around the corner. That means it’s summer reading time!

I’m sure you’re going to be looking for a fresh slew of new books to read. Well, good news! If you live in the US and have an account on Goodreads you can enter my Old Broken Road Summer Reading Giveaway. You can be one of the five lucky winners to win a signed copy of The Bell Forcing Cycle, Book II: Old Broken Road plus some cool swag. Entering is simple. All you need to do is login to your Goodreads account and click the big “Enter to Win” button at the top of the page and you’ve entered. Just follow the link below:

ENTER TO WIN TODAY →

The five winners will be chosen on May 31st and the books will be sent out the following week. Enter to win! Tell your friends! Good luck!

Congrats OLD BROKEN ROAD Giveaway Winners

Just wanted to extend a big congratulations to the winners of the first Old Broken Road giveaway! The giveaway was a smashing success and out of one thousand fifty-two (Wow!) entrants five walked away with signed copies of the book and a bunch of cool swag.

So, please join me in congratulating: Rachel, Stephanie, Annie, Kate, and Matt! As of this morning the books are in the mail so they should be getting them real soon.

All sorts of other awesome things are coming. Stay informed by subscribing to my newsletter. Subscribers get news on my books before anyone else delivered direct to their inbox. Click here to subscribe!

Win a signed copy of Old Broken Road!

Last Chance To Enter The OLD BROKEN ROAD Giveaway

We’re in the final stretch. Today is the last day to enter the Old Broken Road Giveaway. As of 9am this morning, over seven-hundred of you have signed up to win a one of five signed paperback copies and the number of entrants keeps growing. Not a bad way to ring in the new year.

The five winners will be selected tonight at midnight so if you haven’t signed up and you live in the US, UK, or Canada you can CLICK HERE and sign up now for your chance to win. Good luck!

Old Broken Road by K. M. Alexander

OLD BROKEN ROAD Giveaway Update

I hope everyone had a excellent holiday and that you’re looking forward to the new year. We’re coming into the final stretch of my latest contest so I figured it’d be nice to update everyone on the Old Broken Road Goodreads Giveaway.

We broke 300! As of right now there’s currently 325 of you signed up to win a signed paperback copy of Old Broken Road. Wow! That’s awesome! If you haven’t signed up yet, it’s real easy. All you have to do is log into your Goodreads account and click the Enter to Win link on the top of this page! That’s it! Only eight days left, the contest ends on January 6th.

Oh! Don’t forget to add Old Broken Road to your reading list!

The Stars Were Right by K. M. Alexander

A Giveaway To Celebrate The OLD BROKEN ROAD Launch!

We’re in the final stretch. And to celebrate the coming arrival of Old Broken Road I am doing a giveaway! For the next two weeks (now through the 21st) you can enter to win one of five signed trade paperback of The Stars Were Right. (U.S. only, sorry!) This is the perfect way to get caught up just in time for Old Broken Road‘s arrival! All you have to do is enter to win on Goodreads! Just click the link below and then click the big “Enter To Win” button!

Enter The Stars Were Right Book Giveaway ≫

It’s that simple! Good luck to everyone who participates. While you’re on Goodreads make sure you add Old Broken Road to your To Read shelf and (of course) tell all your friends!