Tag Archives: map

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 →

The Treasure Island Map Doesn’t Skimp on the Details

Treasure Island’s Map Doesn’t Skimp on the Details

A big reason I put together my brush sets was to help my fellow authors create authentic maps to enhance a reader’s experience. (I wrote a whole post about it.) The design of a book, from chapter headers to the breaks between scenes, can all be utilized in ways to add details to a world. The map is no different.

Understanding details matter and when they’re ignored, they can often have the opposite effect. Usually, it’s helpful to see this in practice and I want to do that today. Take Robert Louis Stevenson’s map for his classic Treasure Island; it’s a masterclass in getting the details right. Check it out below, click to view it larger.

Stevenson's map of Treasure Island
Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island

If you’re writing a book on piracy, creating a nautical chart that fits its era is clearly the correct visual direction. But Stevenson goes much further pushing past style and into a faux-authenticity that enlivens the imagination. It does this by paying close attention to its details. Note the sounding markers scattered around the coast or the anchorage label in the North Inlet. Those are important for sailors, yes, but for the story? Not so much. He even goes as far as marking rocks along the shores (the little cross symbols along the coasts) and labeling the direction of the current (the arrow floating off the eastern side.) Style can get you halfway there—but details are what brings this sort of ephemera alive.

Details of Robert Louis Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island

The map does more than just clarify information; it becomes an extension of the world. It creates its place within the context of the story. The details establish its purpose within the fiction. This chart could be real which is why it’s so brilliant. One can look at this map and forget that Treasure Island isn’t an actual island. You can easily imagine that this map came from Captain Flint himself with his small details pointing out strong tides, strange landmarks, springs, swamps, and other bits and pieces. You can picture it folded away in its chest, waiting for Jim Hawkins to come along. You can visualize it in use.

This should be what we strive for with our fantasy cartography. It’s what I aim to empower. We shouldn’t settle with just the informative, we should strive for the authentic—one that enhances the overall experience and delights our readers. The details matter and they’re a treasure that’s worth it.

Robert Newton is still the best Long John Silver


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 →

Map of the Known Territories

Map of the Known Territories

For a while now, I had had readers ask me about a map for The Bell Forging Cycle. Between The Stars Were Right and Old Broken Road, Wal covers a lot of ground. However, I didn’t want to do any old fantasy map. The Bell Forging Cycle is, well… it’s unique and it deserves a unique treatment. So, with the release date announcement for Red Litten World looming, I figured this was the perfect time to share the official map. [Spoilers Ahead: If you haven’t read Old Broken Road be warned, the following images contain spoilers.]

Picture yourself as a caravan master eager to lead your first company down the Big Ninety as soon as Lovat and Syring put away their differences and the Grovedare reopens. As a favor to you, Wal offers to tell you what he knows (for the cost of a meal, of course.) So you agree meet at a diner in the city. The place he picks is a hole in the wall named Cedric’s Eatery. It’s located in Denny Lake, a cramped warren in north-central Lovat. The diner itself is located below the street, in the entresol between Level Three and Four. You’d have never found it on your own.

Wal’s there, sitting at one of the high-backed booths as you enter. He smiles and waves you over. You both order some food from the limited menu and Wal dives into what he knows. He talks about schedules, dealing with the rowdy clients, popular waystations, and so on. So you can follow along, you’ve brought along a well-worn map you picked up from a roadside depot that covers the major trails between Lovat and Syringa. As he talks, Wal grabs a pen and begins to annotate his favor spots for food, known bandit camps, and even his recent experience on the Broken Road. The result is this:

CLICK HERE to view the full size Map of the Known Territories

Tada! An annotated Bell Forging Cycle map of the known Territories. It’s too big to really show properly in the narrow column of the blog. You’re not going to get much out of it unless you click on the image and view it larger.

What do you think? I had a lot of fun making this and I hope it helps you visualize the world a little bit more. It won’t be the last map we see, as the series progresses, I’m planning to reveal more of the world little by little. But for now, next time you’re on the trail, and if you have a hankering for the best bánh mì in the Territories you’ll know where to look.


I’ve gone ahead and made this map available as a downloadable background as well. You can click on any of the links below, or head over to the Free Stuff page and find it (and other goodies) there.

1280×8001440×9001680×1050
1920×12002560×1440

Since phone backgrounds are a bit narrower their images focus on two separate sections of the map: Lovat and Syringa. So, for your phone you can choose your loyalty with the following backgrounds:

Mark Twain at his writing desk

Shut up and write!

I over plan. I mentioned in a previous blog post that I like to plan—and there is nothing wrong with that—but sometimes I take it to an extreme. When I wrote my first manuscript, Coal Belly, I learned a valuable lesson about my tendency to over plan.

It started with a map. After I had finished it apparently I needed to draw out the deck plans for the riverboat central to the plot. When that was finished, I had to draw a new, highly detailed map of the capital city where a section of the story took place. That obviously wasn’t detailed enough, so I needed to divide it up and name all the neighborhoods. Then I needed to draw out the various symbols of the various factions within that capital city. Next, I needed to… no…no, no, no, no, no.

NO.

I didn’t need to do half that. Eventually, I realized I was spending so much time creating busy work for myself that I was getting nothing done. I was working on collateral and not on the actual story itself. That’s a problem. Research is fine when it’s crucial, but there comes a time when it begins to get in the way. Learning to recognize when I was doing something necessary, and when I was just spinning my wheels was essential for me to get things done. I had to quit working on all the tangential stuff and focus on the work itself. The actual work. I needed to just shut up and write.

I have to remind myself about this daily. I need to separate the busy work from real work. There’s always a blog post to write, a character to outline, an article to read, a comment to compose, a map to draw, a playlist to assemble, a twitter conversation to follow, etc. The list is endless, and it can get in the way and keep you from finishing. (Rule #2) It’s different for each of us, but somewhere inside, we all know if what we are doing is needed to completing our project or if it’s just a distraction.

Whenever you catch yourself doing something that isn’t what you want to be working on, do a double check. Decide if it’s really worth your time or if you should just sit down, shut up, and write.