Getting started on my fantasy map – what I want, how I want it.

Seeing as how the end product of this independent study will be a fantasy map of my own, imagined by myself, possibly accompanied by some story of sorts, I must decide how I should make it and what will be on it.

I have looked at a number of maps on the Cartographer’s Guild website. Most of them were made using artistic software, especially Photoshop, Illustrator, GIMP, and some other specifically cartographic software like Campaign Cartographer by Profantasy, which are more often used for role-playing games.

I have found a number of tutorials on the forum, of which I have looked through most and found they are very helpful. There was a tutorial that used a specific style which I like quite a lot. It used GIMP, with which I am kind of familiar. The elements on the map were created using animated brushes, where things like mountains and trees are drawn yourself in GIMP and then set as a brush, so you can place multiple mountains very easily. According to the tutorial it seems like a fast and easy way to create basic maps. In a way, the elements are hand-drawn, which would give whoever used this style the opportunity to be as creative as he would like.

This is darklingrisen's GIMP tutorial sample map. It has a distinct artistic feel and the number of options to be creative, particularly with the animated brushes is very nice. Of course, it is just a sample map done in about 15 minutes, so I will definitely be spending more time on my own.

What I liked about this style was that it truly did remind me of many of the maps I would see in children’s fantasy novels, where cartographic accuracy was less of a concern and allowed the artist to give the map character, rather than just making the map for geographic reference (which is how the Dragonlance map is – it’s rather dull). However, it’s not like geographic accuracy is completely disregarded, all of the places can generally be in the right locations, but you could possibly get very distinct in your symbols for different places. One thing that I must consider, though, if I choose to use this style, would be to consider scale. Scale has a great deal to do with detail, as any geographer would know, so I probably would not want to create a world map or atlas style map using this artistic “hand-drawn” style.

Or even something like this. I could easily imagine some sort of cultural significance to having mapped these parcels as a rhino. Although I think this map artist did it for fun, the idea remains pretty relevant.

Another thing I need to consider is how I want to represent things on my map. Professor Krygier, whom I am working with on this project, showed me river symbols used in maps in Latvia, in which they did not resemble the usual representation of the jagged, meandering thin blue lines on most maps. These symbols showed the river as a thick cylinder, with multiple shades of blue (which I assume indicate depth), and other elements, like dams, underwater rocks and even flow direction were shown using specific symbols that most likely do not represent them accurately but show where they are and can be seen on the map very clearly. The way this river looked, it was almost shaped like the body of a dragon – which would be interesting if there was some sort of lore behind how rivers were represented by a particularly culture. In fantasy, dragons are commonplace, so it would make sense for a river to be the embodiment of a dragon-like spirit (I’ve read quite a bit about land and water features in China being considered spiritually related to dragons) or something, which could, in turn, be represented on a map as such. It would make for a very artistic touch which would imbed the maps functionality into the cultural aspects of the area. If I were to use this, it would be an anthropomorphic feature. Anthropomorphic maps were used quite a bit for propaganda mapping.

I considered making my map by hand, which would give me the most artistic freedom, especially since I have decided to go with a more artistic style than the more accurate, scaled, atlas style maps. I feel the ability to create my own elements at a scale in which detail can be seen but is not too close as to not provide enough geographic features to not be used as reference. It is reminiscent of the Tolkien maps, particularly the ones in the Hobbit, where not all of Middle-Earth is shown. However, the ability to edit quickly and easily on software appeals to me. I very much liked the GIMP tutorial that I found, and since I will not have a great amount of access to Photoshop, it will be the most convenient tool. Of course, I will be sketching out the design for my map as I go along.

Ultimately I want to assume the role of a mapmaker whose intention is to adhere less to the geographical accuracy of his map, but more create his map in a way that comprises cultural and even spiritual components of the land he is representing. However, I do not want to make something along the lines of an anthropomorphic map, because I do wish to provide the map reader with some referential information. It’s in the artistic presentation of the map that I want to include the cultural/spiritual factors, such as which rivers or which mountains hold specific meaning to the people that live nearby. The naming of places will play a huge role in accomplishing this subtle cultural influence – as I have learned from a number of my classes, names of places hold specific cultural, social, historical and possibly spiritual value.

Scale is probably my biggest issue. I want my map to show my artistic detail, yet I want people to be able to situate themselves, or the character, on the map as a reference to a story. The author of the GIMP tutorial provided an example of a map in which he called a RPG style reference map. The map cannot necessarily be used to physically play the game, like a celled dungeon map, but it gives the players the ability to situate themselves within the imaginary space and establish fictional spatial and cartographic relationships between places. I do not specifically wish to create a map related to an RPG, but it could definitely serve a similar purpose.

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