Tag Archives: old maps

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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The Scupltures of Bailey Henderson

Friday Link Pack 01-30-2015

Friday is upon us! It’s time to share a few links I’ve found over the last few days. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Click here to email me and let me know! All right, let’s get to it…

Writing:

What I Get Paid For My Novels: Or, Why I’m Not Quitting My Day Job
Novelist Kameron Hurley opens up and shares how much she has made on each of her books. It’s a fantastic post. Awesome to see transparency like this. I think this is good info for every author, indie or traditional, it helps set the record straight.

The Last Taboo: What One Writer Earns
I guess this week is about finances. Erotica writer Cara McKenna shares how much she makes from her writing. It’s cool to see more and more writers share like this. I think many new authors assume writing = huge payout which doesn’t match reality.

9 Famous Authors’ Favorite Workday Snacks
From Balzac, to King, to Lovecraft. Mental Floss compiles the go-to snacks when these famous authors had the munchies. (Spoiler, it’s a lot of coffee.)

How To Tell If You Are In A Soft Science Fiction Novel
The Toast shares some tips on how to know if the book you’re reading is soft sci-fi. [Thanks to Steve for sharing this one with me.]

Art:

Coming Soon: Overlooked Details
I’m really excited to announce the soon-to-be released documentary by filmmaker Scott Wilson focusing on my wife, Kari-Lise Alexander (if you haven’t seen her work, you should check it out.)

Bailey Henderson’s Sculptures
You know those strange monsters on old maps? Well, Toronto based sculpture artist Bailey Henderson creates beautiful and highly detailed sculptures based on those very creatures. [Thanks again goes to Steve for this submission as well.]

The Art Of Marissa Buschow
Artist and biologist Marissa Buschow makes beautiful moku hanga pieces (traditional woodblock printing using water based pigments) based on birds she studies as a biologist. It’s stunning stuff. You can buy her work here.

Random:

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS
This American Life knocked it out of the park with last weeks show. Especially the piece from Lindy West about confronting an internet troll who harassed her and then later apologized. Fantastic episode.

Interactive Map of Earth’s Vegetation Rendered Through NASA Satellite
Beautiful. NOAA recently released this map, utilizing a year’s worth of data, and rendering all the plant life on earth. Zoom in and check out your neighborhood.

Weather Map Freakout
Amusing video of a weather report after the map freaks out and reports unusually high temperatures.

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

He
“I saw him on a sleepless night when I was walking desperately to save my soul and my vision…”

Gif of the Week:

In Peter we trust
#GOHAWKS

Old Maps Online

Writer’s Toolkit: Old Maps Online

If you’re a writer the odds are high that you’ve poked around through your share of maps. It could be a map you’ve created, a pile of maps you’ve collected for research, or just some maps you have gathered for inspiration. If you’re like me you can never have enough resources for that sort of content. You owe it to yourself to check out today’s toolkit link:

Old Maps Online

I simply love this site. It gives you the ability to explore a myriad of high resolution maps simply by navigating to an area and zooming in. Looking for victorian maps of London? Need a street map of a 1950s town? No problem. With some quick navigation you’ll find it easy to get the sort of information you’re looking for. It even lets you narrow your search down to specific date ranges and updates automatically showing what maps are available from their collection of links. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how extensive and deep their database seems to go. Old Maps Online is not only incredibly handy, it’s very powerful, and an easy way to get the information you need. Worth checking out.


Have a resource in your toolkit you’re willing to share? Leave a comment below or send me an email and I’ll feature it in the next Writer’s Toolkit.