Tag Archives: free

#NoBadMaps

#NoBadMaps

I am a firm believer that creators should help other creators. I don’t look kindly on folks who refuse to share process, advice, and experience. The world is already a savage, selfish, and cutthroat cesspool, and dragging that attitude into the creative sphere is counterproductive. It doesn’t matter if it’s writing strategy, musical tips, painting advice, or one’s approach to performance; we should—as a rule—lift each other up. Make the world a better place.

Enter: #NoBadMaps. My next venture into doing just that.

For much of my life, I’ve been a designer. I’ve worked for companies large and small and I love it. It’s offered unique challenges, it’s changed the way I’ve viewed the world, and it’s made me reevaluate how I see others. (Plus, it made it a lot easier to release my own books.) But not everyone is a designer. That’s okay. We have strengths and weaknesses and we should use our strengths to help others.

#NoBadMaps

Recently, many of you have noted my release of Photoshop brush sets designed for the creation of fantasy maps. There is a reason for this and it harkens back to focus on helping others. Within the realm of genre fiction many readers, myself included, are keen on maps. They can help us see a world more fully and they go a long way to enliven the text with a sense of place. Are they necessary? Not always, but much of my own reading has been enhanced with the inclusion of a map. I want to pass that experience onto others as well.

We’re nearly two decades into the 21st Century and we’ve seen the rise of indie publishing and along side that enormous growth in genre fiction. It’s no surprise that many authors—traditional and indie—want to make their own maps. But, it can be a struggle. Fantasy cartography is a skill set that takes time to hone, most writers want to write and don’t want to put in the effort to learn map-making. This is why I started #NoBadMaps—my goal is to make it easy for authors to create high-quality maps for their novels and do it in a way that doesn’t cost them an arm and a leg. While there is no substitute for professional illustration, I want to do my damnedest to help writers get as close to professional as they can.

#NoBadMaps

Using my brushes is easy: you load them in Photoshop, create a document, and place what you want where you want it with a few mouse clicks. Point-and-click. There’s very little drawing, no scanning, nothing complicated. In fact using any of my brush sets you can make super cool maps in minutes. That’s intentional. The end result is to empower authors to create better maps that fit the style of their books.

Of course, I have rules.

  1. The brush sets will always be free. This is key, after all the goal is to help others. If I charge for this stuff it feels predatory. All of the work I am using is in the public domain, all I am doing is making the style more accessible. No sense charging for what is already free, ya dig?
  2. The brush sets will always be royalty-free. I want to see people use my brushes for both personal and commercial projects. The maps are already public domain, no reason why the brush sets shouldn’t be as well.
  3. The brush sets will always be varied. One of the things I want is to help recreate that feeling of hand-drawn maps. That means I will do my best to capture and share the imperfections found in ink-on-paper maps. If you want machine-made creations, look elsewhere. We’re going for authenticity with #NoBadMaps.
  4. The brush sets will connect to history. I think this is vital. It’s why I name the sets after the engravers when possible and like to include a brief history on the map and the maker. I think it’s important to recognize the creators and in a way, this helps their creations live on.

With Monday’s release of L’Isle, I’ve now shared five sets in total and I have several more on the way. I’ve gotten enough questions that I felt this post was necessary to address concerns from my readers. Let me make this clear: my focus is still on writing, it will always be on writing, but I want to share my experience and empower others to create great maps. My brushes are a way of helping other authors create something beautiful.

A few people have asked how they can support this work. My first rule is very clear: these brush sets will always be free. I’m not planning on starting a GoFundMe, nor do I want to manage a Kickstarter, and—if I’m being honest—I cringe a little at Patreon. (A subject for another post, providing Patreon lasts that long.) If you want to support me and my work: buy what I create. In my case, it’s my books. Buy ‘em. Read ‘em. Tell people about ‘em. Leave honest reviews. Give them to friends. They’re good. They get positive reviews. They’re wonderfully weird.

That’s it. That’s how you can support me. It’s simple.

Going forward I plan on doing a few things:

  • Keep writing. I recently put up some big numbers in Gleam Upon the Waves and I have updated the tracker in the side bar. No ETA on launch, but I’m moving along.
  • Release more brush sets. I have at least three that I’m finalizing. So expect more to come. I’m really focused on finding variety. There are thousands of old maps, and making sure each set remains unique is key.
  • Write some more.
  • Tutorials! I want to share tips, tricks, and ways to best optimize the brush sets for your projects. This might include expanding beyond the typical map elements of landforms, flora, and settlements.
  • Write. Write. Write.

#NoBadMaps will continue for the foreseeable future. If you have questions feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email. There’s a lot more stuff to come, and I am excited to share it with everyone.


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 →

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

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

For a while, I’ve been releasing brush sets with the goal of aiding fantasy authors (and GMs, or anyone really) to create vibrant maps that really showcase their imaginary worlds. Personally, I love maps, a good map can draw me into a story and enhance the world.

Today’s brush set is a little different from previous offerings. Instead of focusing on landscapes, today’s set focuses on the battlefield. Violence, battle, and war is a common theme in fantasy and I figured this set would be perfect for those who are wanting something a bit different.

I’m calling this set L’Isle. The symbols are taken from the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. The map details the plan of battle near Stavuchanakh in Moldova, between the Imperial Russian Grand Army and the Turkish and Tartar Armies. The set is named after Joseph Nicolas de L’Isle who supervised the production. Usually, I name sets after the artist/engraver but this time around it was difficult for me to pin down the specific creator.[1]

A tiny fraction of the brushes included in L'Isle
A tiny fraction of the brushes included in L’Isle

With the help of my friend Redd, we translated the antiquated German from the original document. It tells a blow-by-blow of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. There’s a bit of a bias here—the Turks and Tartars are depicted as an unorganized horde while the Russian forces are shown using more standard and organized military symbols. But the symbols in themselves can work for anything: masses of soldiers, invading orcs, barbarians, an elvish army, fish men, whatever. If you’re looking to render elevation, I highly recommend pairing these symbols with Lehmann, my hachure brush set (you’ll need Adobe Illustrator.)

Inside L’Isle you’ll find, over 500 brushes, including:

  • 51 Organized Unit Markers
  • 75 Individual Horde Soldiers
  • 85 Horde Armies
  • 2 Tiny Tent Rows
  • 40 Small Tents
  • 13 Medium Tents
  • 9 Large Tents
  • 2 Extra Large Tents
  • 5 Churches (Technically there was only one, but I did some Photoshop magic.)
  • 20 Villages
  • 25 Individual Homes
  • 50 Individual Trees
  • 25 Forests
  • 30 Flags
  • 3 Bunkers
  • 13 Gun Batteries
  • 47 Canons (Firing and Silent!)
  • 13 Action Symbols (Explosions! Sword fights!)
  • 4 Random Objects

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and two transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. You can see the two transparent PNGs at the following links: Units and Elements (they’ll come up black if viewed in Chrome, but they’re all there.)


DOWNLOAD L’ISLE


As with all of my brush sets, L’isle 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, L’isle and his engravers did all the heavy lifting—so giving them credit would be fantastic, but it’s absolutely not necessary.

If you like the L’isle 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 urban fantasy novels for yourself or a friend. (The first books is only $2.99 on eBook.) You can find them in stores and online, learn more about the series at bellforgingcycle.com. When my 2nd book in the series launched I made a map for the world, you can check it out here.


🗒 Notes

1 Normally, I like to name the brush sets after the artists who created them. However, all I could find out was the engravers who worked on the atlas as a whole—and even then I only got their last names: Ellinger, Unversagt, Zubov and Rostovtsev. So L’Isle gets the honor of the naming, since he was attached and he supervised the production of the The First Atlas of Russia for the Russian Academy of Sciences.


🗺 More Map Brushes

L’Isle isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

  • Widman

    A 17th Century brush set pulled from the 1680 Alta Lombardia map of Northern Italy, engraved by Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. If you like mountains and mountain ranges this is the set for you.

  • Walser

    A 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. You can see how far Vignola’s style persisted as well.

  • Lumbia

    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.

  • Lehmann

    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 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 →

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

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

Many engraved maps from the 17th century, especially Italian maps, were heavily inspired by Italian cartographer Cantelli da Vignola and his influence extended throughout lifetimes. In doing map research, I thought it’d be great to look into his impact and from that, I decided it was necessary to build out an enormous set of new free brushes for your fantasy maps. (It’s a sickness, okay.)

Today I’m releasing Widman, a brush set of Italian design named after the engraver. The symbols in this set are pulled from the 1680 Alta Lombardia map of Northern Italy, engraved by Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. It’s a solid set with a heeeavy focus on mountains (over one-hundred!) as well as a wide variety of forts, villages, cities, and towns.

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

I find when creating your own map, it’s helpful to have a variety of brushes with subtle differences for each symbol. It adds a hand-made quality to the work. No engraver is perfect, ink bleeds, and the tooth of the paper can affect printing. The quickest way to making a fantasy map look machine-made is the repetition of the same symbol over and over and over. With that in mind, the Widman set is enormous allowing for the subtle differences to help make your map feel more alive and vibrant—it gives the work a human quality.

Inside Widman you’ll find, over 500 brushes, including:

  • 25 Villages
  • 40 Towns
  • 45 Cities
  • 25 Forts
  • 14 Fortified Cities
  • 16 River Crossings
  • 50 Individual Trees
  • 50 Forests
  • 100 Mountains (Hope you like mountains.)
  • 50 Mountain Ranges (As I said.)
  • 42 Hills topped by Settlements
  • 7 Unique Settlements
  • 36 Administration Symbols
  • Plus More

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. You can see the transparent PNG here (it’ll come up black if viewed in Chrome, but it’s all there.)


DOWNLOAD WIDMAN


As with all of my brush sets, Widman 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, Georgio Widman did all the heavy lifting—so giving him credit would be fantastic, but it’s absolutely not necessary.

If you like the Widman 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 books is only $2.99 on eBook.) You can find them in stores and online, learn more about the series at bellforgingcycle.com.

I hope you enjoy using Widman, it was a labor of love and I think it’s robust enough to handle all manner of projects and help give your fantasy maps a refreshing and unique edge. Plus that extra connection to history can 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.


Want to see the other cartography brush sets I’ve created?

  • Walser

    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 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

    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 →

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

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

I was doing some research on Switzerland and looking at old maps when I came across a 1763 map of Canton Lucern created by Gabriel Walser. I found myself inspired by all his details, especially those focusing on the cities, towns, and parishes. It’s still stunning 250 years later and it’s an amazing time capsule. You can see the influence into more modern designs and the connections to older styles. As I was looking, I realized it’d make an excellent set of brushes for fantastical maps, especially for those artists (like me) who like to ground their work with a historical approach.

So, I spent a Saturday converting all sorts of objects in the map into brushes and today I am releasing it as Walser, an 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Photoshop taken from Gabriel Walser’s original work. The set is enormous—over 250 brushes, to help make your projects unique. Having different images for the same object helps make your map feel more hand-drawn. No artist can hand-render the same object identically—even printing presses aren’t perfect no matter how hard they try. Adding subtle variants can help trick a reader’s eye and it makes a map feel more authentic.

A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Walser
A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Walser

I like working with a lot of brushes and Walser is big (see the full set here), all of the settlement’s names I took from the original German key (thanks to my friend Redd for helping translate)—Walser had a particular way of labeling ruins that I enjoy. Inside the set you’ll find:

  • 5 Large Cities
  • 10 Castles
  • 10 Towns
  • 10 Catholic Parishes (They look like towns but with little crosses on top. Consider swapping those for a religious icon from your setting.)
  • 10 Monasteries
  • 10 Chapels
  • 20 Scattered Farms
  • 10 Ruins
  • 30 Individual Trees
  • 30 Blocks of Trees
  • 40 Hills
  • 30 Mountains
  • 15 Mountain Ranges (aka jagged hills)
  • 22 Unique/Combination Landforms

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files.


DOWNLOAD WALSER


Wasler 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, Wasler did all the heavy lifting—so giving him credit would be fantastic, but it’s absolutely not necessary.

If you like the Walser brush set and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my urban fantasy novels. (The first books is only $2.99 on eBook.) You can find them in stores and online, learn more about the series at bellforgingcycle.com.

Enjoy Walser! It’s a great little set to make maps and connect with history. There’s a lot of incredible cartographers and geographers throughout history that should be remembered and it’s important we enthusiasts take moments to reflect on their impact. Gabriel Walser has a few other maps as well and his style varied, which has me thinking about a Wasler supplement for the future. Finally, feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email! I love seeing how this stuff is used and sharing your work with my readers.


Want to see the other cartography brush sets I’ve created?

  • Lumbia

    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.

  • Lehmann

    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 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 →

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

If you spend any time on cartography forums or cartography-related subreddits, you’ll eventually run across folks using Star Raven’s Sketchy Cartography Brushes. You can see why, the whole set is incredible, cohesive, and you can make beautiful maps in no time.

I have always admired Star Raven’s work, but I began to see it everywhere. One thing I love about maps is how unique each felt, and I wanted to do what I could to help maintain that feeling of discovery. Star Raven was a big inspiration for me to create Lumbia, my own sketchy cartography brush set which I’m giving away today for free.

A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Lumbia 1.0
A tiny fraction of the brushes included in Lumbia 1.0

The set consists of over two hundred brushes designed for high-resolution use. Each mountain, tree, and hill are separate by design—I find this allows more custom placing than the block method, it lets you decide the look of the forest and ranges.

Lumbia 1.0 Includes:

  • 1 Mother of Mountains (an absolute unit)
  • 15 Large Mountains
  • 42 Medium mountains
  • 25 Small Mountains
  • 71 Hill
  • 17 Scrub bushes
  • 9 Cattails
  • 13 Cacti (prickly bois)
  • 9 Bone Trees (spoOoOoky!)
  • 9 Cyprus Trees
  • 10 Acacia Trees
  • 21 Maple Trees
  • 19 Pine Trees
  • 12 Generic Jungley Trees
  • 12 Tumbleweeds

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support the brush file. A vector set isn’t included in this initial release, but will most likely come in later a later version. I’m sure I’ll announce it here when its ready.


DOWNLOAD LUMBIA 1.0

Download the Cliffs & Canyons Supplement
(Photoshop .ABR only – Updated 10/2019)


Lumbia 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. So have some fun.

If you like Lumbia and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my urban fantasy novels. They’re available in stores and online, and you can find out much more about them at bellforgingcycle.com.

Enjoy Lumbia, everyone! Have a suggestion or request for future Lumbia versions or want to show me what you created, feel free to send me an email! Have a friend who might be interested in using Lumbia? Share this post with them.


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 →

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. I call the set Lehmann after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann who developed the Lehmann hatching system in the late 1700s, and I’m releasing it today for free.

Lehmann a hachure brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator by K. M. AlexanderI 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 Lehmann in your own project.

Download LEHMANN

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.

[Update 01/02/2018] I’ve renamed this set “Lehmann” after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann who developed the Lehmann hatching system in the late 1700s. This will bring it further in line with the naming of my other free brush sets, Lumbia and Walser.


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.


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 →