Skull Island

skull island2

Earlier this year Profantasy ran a competition where you had to create a map of an island, less than three miles wide. The competition ended in March and the map at the top of this post was my entry.

I saw the competition as a perfect way of trying out some new brushes that I had acquired, and also a good way of getting some training of making a free hand drawing using my Cintiq. The map itself is supposed to look like a worn pirate’s map that will lead you to the location of the treasure, if you can avoid all the dangers that are plotted out.

Everything is made in Photoshop and I had a great time making the map. Of course there are always things you can improve but overall I’m quite pleased with the end result, even though I didn’t win. But that wasn’t the important thing here, the important thing was to have fun and do some mapping. I will definitely make more free hand maps in the future, because it really is great fun to do them.

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Outside my comfort zone

test map dungeon
We all have our comfort zones in everything we do, and so do I when it comes to mapping. Most of the maps I do are either overland or city maps and while doing them I’m feeling very safe. I know what’s looking good and how to accomplish the things I have in mind for the map. But staying inside your comfort zone wont make you better in what you do. You have to force yourself to step outside, to do the things you feel insecure about. That is the best way to improve whatever you do to the next step.

Earlier this year, before the summer, I was asked by a Swedish RPG company to do some old school dungeon maps. I hadn’t done many before and felt a bit insecure about it but I thought I could give it a try. The maps turned out pretty well (you can see them in the book “Monster” for the Swedish RPG Fantasy!) and doing them kind of gave me the urge to do more.

I started to play around with different ideas and made a couple of test maps to see where I could get with this. Around this time I also talked to Ralf at Profantasy to see if they would be interested in me making a Black and White dungeon style for their annuals. I sent him some of the test maps and he thought it’d be a great idea, so we agreed on me making the style, to be released now in October.

evil temple

When you make a style for Profantasy you get a list of things that usually are included, so I started at the top and ticked them off when I had them done. All symbols are made in a program called Artrage that has been a great help while doing the symbols, especially the “Paint symmetry” tool. The tool lets you divide the painting in between 2 and 12 parts. Everything you do in one part will be repeated in the others. So if you for example draw a coffin you divide the painting in two pieces, everything you draw on the left side will be repeated on the right side, and this will make the coffin have the correct proportions.

Making the style has been great fun and I already want to make more symbols to flesh it out. The style includes around 75 unique symbols but as always you cannot get it all in there. You will always miss something. But I think the selection of symbols is more than enough to make it possible to do the map you want. I actually even included a couple of monsters that you can populate your dungeon with.

I feel that I really had to step outside my comfort zone to make this style, and that I have learned a lot from it. Hopefully those experiences will improve my future maps.

I hope you will enjoy the style now in October.

Remaking a style

september_map
One of the programs I use the most while mapping is CC3 from Profantasy. The good thing with CC3 is that due to the annuals they release every year, that gives you a new style every month, there is now a vast collection of styles that you can use.

Most of the styles are quick to work with and you can produce a finished map that looks good in a rather short time. When we talk about short times and mapping, that still means quite many hours of work. But for me CC3 is usually the program I use in the beginning of my process of making a map, nearly all maps I start working on in CC3 will end up in Photoshop sooner or later.

So why do I do that? Well mainly it is because whenever I use a style there are things I like to change or things I want to enhance. One of the drawbacks of CC3 is that when you work with a style you are limited to what’s in the style. You can of course use symbols from other styles in the particular style you’re using, but not many styles work well together.

Sometimes you want more then what is offered and sometimes you just want to change the feeling of the map by adjusting the colours. Of course you can do a lot of those things in CC3 as well, but not all. And due to that my skills in CC3 are being quite limited it is much quicker for me to open up the map in Photoshop and do the changes I want there.

As an example lets look at the latest style from the Annuals, the overland style made by JT Vendel. The style is absolutely gorgeous and the mountains in it are among the best ones released. But still there are things I want to do different. For a start I have some mixed feelings regarding the water texture, so I wanted to change the texture in the map and see how the result would be.

When a friend of mine asked if I could make a map for his RPG campaign I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to test the style again, with my changes.

To do this I picked a flat grey texture as the sea, in this way it would be very easy for me to select the grey water in Photoshop and replace it with something else, in this case a paper texture that I partially coloured blue and a pattern of waves that I made. However the sea felt a bit empty now so I added some sea monsters from the July issue of this years annual. Those monsters are only in black and white, so I had to colour them in Photoshop so that they would fit into the style.

Another thing I like to do outside of CC3 are rivers. I like my rivers width to change while they flow downstream, it gives the rivers some more life. In CC3 the rivers will be a line with the same width all the way. Yes you can change the size of the line, but it will still just be a line. Also i feel like I have more control of how the river flows when I do them outside CC3, but that might just be me.

I’m very pleased with the end result and the new sea texture and sea monsters gives the map a feeling of an old medieval map, in a fantasy sort of way. I think the feeling is different from when you use the original sea, which one that is better is hard to say. It is more about what version of the style that works best with the setting you are mapping for.

The Annual September style

Two kingdoms

This month saw the release of a new overland style in the monthly annual from Profantasy. This style was made by TJ Vandel, or Schwarzkreus as he is known as over at the Cartographers guild. The style itself is lovely with a very handmade feel to it. It is quite sharp in its details and it feels like the symbols are made with a pen on paper.

In the style you have an astonishing amount of mountains and hills to choose from. This is a style that crave a lot of mountains. They feel like the soul of the style. If you’re not going to use them you can as well just use another style. This style wont come to its full potential if you don’t use mountains in it.

Apart from the mountains there are some nice textures of deserts, open plains, fields and more. You also get some really nice cities, castles and more to place in the map.

The only thing I’m feeling very divided towards in the style is the sea texture. To be honest I can’t really decide if I like it or not. The sea texture is very colourful compared to the rest of the textures and this makes it take over the map a bit. At the same time it is the seas that makes the style unique compared to other styles. I guess I’ll use it in some maps in the future, but in some others I might try something else for the seas.

The style was very easy to use and you can, thanks to the shear amount of symbols, very quickly make large mountain areas. So you can without a problem make a map in an evening if you need to, and the finished result is gorgeous. I’m definitely going to use it in more maps in the future.

In the map I picked another font though then the recommended one. I didn’t like the included one in the style, but that might just be me. And one of the good things in CC3 is that If you don’t like the default font you can just pick another one.

Another style coming up

Example map

Lately I’ve been working hard on a new style for Profantasy. As you can see in the test map of the style it is a black and white style that hopefully will work very well in print.

I have always been very fond of the old fantasy maps like the ones you found in the hobbit and the lord of the rings, black and white and very clean looking. Recently I’ve also made some old school dungeon maps so I thought that I’d like to have a black and white style that would work with these.

First I only had some mountains, forest and rivers and simple icons for cities/towns but when I was asked by Profantasy if I could turn it into a style for them I decided I had to expand the number of symbols and textures that could be used. I’m still convinced that you should keep things as simple as possible with this kind of maps, this is really a style where less can be more. Let the negative space in the map do its job. But now this one won’t be just for me, and there might be a million reasons why someone wants to include some symbols that I wouldn’t. So I decided to work through the list of symbols that are the most common in the styles released by Profantasy. Then everyone can decide for them self what to include.

The first map I made in the style had quite a lot of water in it, and while looking at the map I felt that the water area of the map was a bit empty compared to the land area with all its symbols of trees, mountains and hills. So I decided that I would add in some monsters like you have in old maps. The inspiration to the included monsters is from an old Swedish map called the Carta Marina. In this map the sea is full of strange and scary monsters and snakes. Of course there had to be a ship or two as well that fearlessly sails through these dangerous waters.

Making these monsters and ships has been a great challenge for me, I haven’t done anything like it before and I really had to push myself to the next step to make them. But it has been great fun and I must say that the monsters are probably the symbols I’ve enjoyed the most to make in this style. They’ve also inspired me to some more ideas for future maps, but more of that in a later blog post.

The style is not completely done yet, I still have some small things to finish up and I need to make a compass and a scale bar. But you should all be able to see the finished result this summer, if you subscribe to the Annuals.

Vadsbro

Vadsbro

In the last post I published a mind map for an adventure, now it is time to start making maps. First of all I need a campaign map of the area where the actual adventure will take place, with that one in place it will be easier to plan the other maps I need to draw.
To make the map I decided to use the style I made for the December issue of the Annuals from Profantasy. The style was made for creating campaign maps for smaller areas, so it will fit very well for this map.

The adventure will take place in the country Armadien, close to a city called Vadsbro (Littlebridge in my Armadien map). Vadsbro is situated close to the Armadien border, next to the Traal infected Skymningsskogen (dusk forest) and the Traal mountains, so there will be a lot of forest in the map.

As soon as I started on the map I realized that I had to improvise a bit with the style. The main feature in the map, except for all the forest, is the river that split up in two rivers closer to the mountains. The rivers in the style aren’t really suited for depicting a main river in this scale, so I decide to use the ocean texture for the rivers. In this way the river will look more like the dominating natural feature in the area.

The river tool however comes in handy to show smaller rivers connecting into the main branches, but I had to change the colour of the rivers to blend in more with the main rivers. When I created the style, which is based on my Truscian map, I wanted the rivers in a darker colour and the ocean in a lighter one. That works very well if you do a more zoomed out map. But if you zoom in closer to an area for a map, and you suddenly want to use the ocean textures as rivers, the colour for the river tools don’t really blend in. So I decided to change them.

It is actually quite funny how a style you’ve created yourself, suddenly needs to be trimmed when you start working with it. But I think you can say that for all styles. At least I always trim the styles so they’ll fit into my way of working.

Now that the map is done it will be easier to decide what more maps I need to do. You can say that I’m making my adventure from the maps, the story I have so far will probably change a bit with every map I make. But that is the fun part of mapping, to weave a story around your maps instead of making maps from your story.

Artrage saves the day

Sommerlund_and_Durenor

So finally the style I’ve made for Profantasy has been released. I must say that I am very pleased with the end result and the work the people at Profantasy has done to turn it into a style. It actually feels kind of strange to make a map in CC3 and use graphics you’ve done yourself.

One thing I’ve learned from making the style is that my biggest strength when it comes to mapping is the big picture. With this I mean things like placing terrain in the right places selecting colours that blend good with each other etc. The small things are usually what cause me problems, things like symbols for villages, towns, fortresses and so on.

So in making this style I really had to push myself into areas I’ve avoided earlier and I’ve learned a lot from it. The process actually started some time before Profantasy contacted me about the style. When I decided to start to make more close up maps of the Etrakien world I really had to start to make symbols for cities and villages, but I didn’t feel ok with the things I produced. If you for example look at my Armadien map you can see that all the city icons actually are from different styles in CC3. None of them are my own artwork.

But I felt I had to jump the cliff on this and make some icons on my own. I think the biggest problem I had was to transfer my drawing techniques to the computer. And it was first when I discovered Artrage I felt that the pieces started to fall in place. With Artrage I got the tools that made me feel like I was drawing on paper again, but instead everything was done digitally.

So I started to look through tons of videos on youtube and reading articles about Artrage to learn the program. Of course I also had to do a lot of testing and drawing in the program. But in the end I actually made all the line work for the December style’s symbols in the Artrage, for different reasons I however did all the colouring and shadowing in Photoshop.

So for me working on the December style for Profantasy has really forced me to push my mapping skills to a new level and I now feel much more comfortable when it comes to making symbols for future maps. But you can really say that Artrage saved the day here, so buying that program was probably some of the best money I’ve spent.

The map in the beginning of the post is a map made by Ralf Shemmann and is a remake of a map from the lone wolf adventure books in my style. I feel that it very much accomplish what I hoped for while working on the style. So hopefully some of you who subscribe to the Annuals will find it useful.