View Full Version : Foam Carthography

09-11-2012, 12:19 PM
Hi guys!

This is going to be my first post on the Cartographer's Guild forum - I hope I don't break any rules in the process. The text below comes right off my personal blog (http://caenwyr-en.blogspot.be/2012/09/foam-cartography.html). I hope you like it!


Imagine you're standing in front of the bathroom mirror on a sunny sunday morning, razor in hand, daydreaming away. Birds are chirping lovingly and you wonder, just wonder what would happen if the tufts of shaving foam in the sink would be islands in a vast sea, or better still: continents in a steaming ocean.

I'm sure you're not the kind of guy that has these fantasies. I'm sure you dream of that party you went to last night, or that game you're saving your pocket money for, or perhaps that beautiful girl you saw on the bus the other day. Yep, busted, I knew you were!

But if you happen to dream about islands and continents in a sink full of shaving foam, then I have news for you: you're suffering from a bad case of carthocacoethes. Yes, you're seeing maps in random patterns. I'm afraid it can't be cured, but with a bit of work you'll be able to live with it. Sort of anyway.

So I'm standing there, staring dreamingly into the sink, which looks like this:


But what I'm really seeing is this:


Well, not exactly that, not yet. The image above is actually the result of a fairly basic edge detection, bump map and gradient map in GIMP. But even with the razor still in my hand I find myself wondering how life would be like on the shores of that lump of foam on the bottom left. Or what the people would look like on that archipelago on the upper left. And I notice I don't like it there. It should be more to the south. I don't like the fact that the northernmost continent is stuck to that wall in the north. And only then I remember I'm still staring into a sink, with half a beard on my cheeks. A bit like a madman, actually.

So I run for my camera and take a picture of the sink, still with foam on my face, and continue shaving. I'm going to process that image, of that I'm sure, but not today. Not while the birds are chirping and the sun is shining as if its life depended on it (which is does, but that's another story).

A few days later the sun has burned itself out again, and has been replaced by a carpet of fat, low hanging, ominous clouds. The perfect weather for some cartography fun. So I start messing around with the picture. The first result I get is the one you've already seen above, but I don't really like it, there's too many messy bits. Plus, I want it to incorporate my story map, which looks like this:


So I start messing around with the image. I decide to reduce the image to the essentials: a coastline. The rest will be filled in by yours truly. And when that's done, I start hustling them together. I insert the coastline of the map above. Apart from that I keep the main continent. The smaller ones that used to be stuck to the sink wall get a coastline of their own, carefully harvested from already existing lines so as not to change the style of the would-be map. After a few hours' work I end up with this:

(notice the northwestern part of the continent, where I plugged in my story map)

Still not satisfied with the result, I start moving the resulting continents around, mixing and mirroring them as I go. When I'm finally content with the lay-out of the map, it's time to start filling in the details. A very preliminary result:


And then, after many, many more hours of work (done on rainy evenings over the course of some weeks), I end up with this map:


And this one I actually like. The mountains could have been better, but that's a job for another period of bad weather and too much free time. For now I'm pretty content. How about you?

09-13-2012, 05:37 PM
That is awesome.

What an ingenious way to make a map.

I was looking at fernlike plants floating in a swamp last week and thought there isn't much difference between their structure and that of a nebula.

This will be a good technique when looking for some fresh truly random shapes based in nature.

09-14-2012, 02:13 PM
Those are some really pretty maps! I'll have to come back and look at them all in detail later, but they caught my eye. I love making maps out of real-world textures... had some coffee mug inspiration a bit ago myself, and my Moora Cinthe design actually came from a large rock in the garden, and I have another going that began as chipped paint on concrete. =) Anyhoo, great maps, and have some rep for jumping right in with them, and I look forward to seeing more of your work, and... I'm leaving now. Yes.

LATER: A couple suggestions for the latest map... At this resolution, I can't read the tiniest labels at all; and most of the others might become more legible if you add the slightest bit of glow around their edges so they stand out from the darker areas. You also appear to have drawn a river flowing straight off a continent, along a narrow neck, and straight across a little peninsula into the 'Stormzee'... which might not happen naturally. Other than those personal nitpicks, great work! And thanks for sharing your process =)

09-17-2012, 08:54 AM

First of all, a big thanks for your remarks! Those are what make a fun project into a (hopefully) great map. I fully agree with the graphic tips you gave. The lettering still needs *a lot* of work, I'm painfully aware of that. That and the mountains, which will eventually be shaped like the ones in the story map (which in turn I based on the amazing tutorial by Arsheesh (http://www.cartographersguild.com/showthread.php?18280-Award-Winner-Eriond-A-Tutorial-for-GIMP-amp-Wilbur)).

By the way, you can find a higher resolution version of the last (not "finished", mind!) map here (https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/cxWwYmTh6LDaoSRugS44k5crFyaZjb5WTbm7alOLLGA?feat=d irectlink).

About the river you mentioned, flowing all the way through a country called Bahrissey, on the yet nameless island roughly in the middle of the map: it's true that the river has a rather strange structure there. I intended it to look like a delta, a bit like the pretty randomly shaped Mississippi River Delta. I'm a geographer and I know such a shape is possible, but I'm well aware it's a long leap from possible to probable. I guess I made the delta just a bit too random ;).

The wife and I are in the middle of a rather violent renovations fit at the moment - you know, globs of paint and bits of plaster flying all over the place - but I promise in all sincerity (and with definite longing) that I'll continue working on the map as soon as I have the time. Until then I'm very curious about what the community here thinks of my preliminary work. Every constructive remark will be greatly appreciated.

All the best!

09-18-2012, 04:51 PM
I may have to take a look at that tutorial sometime; I don't use those programs but I've been slaving over a terrain map for the past week, doing a lot of the relief shading by hand and a bit with photoshop's bump mapping/lighting effects. It's been an instructive week, and it looks fairly convincing when I zoom out past 25% (which is about print-scale) but I'd like it to look nice at 100% for digital viewing. Either I don't know enough about photoshop and its various uses (very likely) or I need a different program (also very likely) haha =)

That higher res image makes it a lot easier to read everything. And I haven't studied river deltas very much so don't read too much into my opinion on that point. Just to repeat myself, because it hits me every time I look at them... the coloring on your maps is lovely. (edit: okay, so I didn't exactly repeat myself, but I should have said it the first time ;)

09-21-2012, 12:32 PM
So here's the next iteration of my map. The world still doesn't have a name, but I'm working on it.


I still have to add names, city pictograms etc, but it'll do for today. Make sure to let me know what you think about it! All remarks are welcome.

09-21-2012, 12:39 PM
I loved your coasts and islands but I am not in love with the overrall shape of the continents. But it is just a mater of taste. You have made an excelent job. Keep posting as you advance on it.

09-22-2012, 08:05 AM
Yeah well, I based the shape of the continent(s) on shaving foam patterns, there's a limit on the variability in that. For a while I considered cutting the main continent in half, roughly where it's narrowest. Would that result in a continent shape that's more traditional? I agree that, while a planet with only one major continent is certainly possible, it'd be easier on the eye if I had two or more of roughly the same size.

09-22-2012, 03:29 PM
You might vary the amount of gradient 'glow' around your mountains a bit more. The only consideration you might take into account on the continent shape... The lower section looks kinda like a guy with a frizzy white beard, and the top section is sorta reminiscent of an evil cat perched on the guy's head. That could be a little bit odd, maybe. I really should learn when to keep my mouth shut.

09-24-2012, 04:55 AM
Thanks Chiashio, I'll keep that in mind! There's another update in the making, which I'll probably be posting tomorrow. I'm still looking for a nice cities icon though, and a nice font to go with it. atm I'm working with an icon I made myself in Inkscape, but I'm not sure it fits the purpose. More on that tomorrow, with the next update!

09-24-2012, 08:53 PM
I think it's looking pretty nice so far Caenwyr, although the contrast between light and dark hues in your latest map seems pretty stark. you might want to fiddle around with the gradient maps some more to try and get a more gradual color change. Still, looks quite nice.


09-25-2012, 05:27 AM
Hi all!

Thanks for your comments so far, I tried to keep them in mind as much as I could. Below you'll find the most recent iteration of my map.


I adapted the gradient glow like Chiashio suggested, though I'm not sure it's enough. I also added the city icons like I promised, though I'm not particularly happy about them just yet. I created the icon myself in Inkscape - you can find a fairly large version of it here (https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/MX5KQI47aLQz0CT2bU3lOBdyTp6jIq_aXnQtfF9QaTw?feat=d irectlink). Also, I'd like to know what you guys think of the borders I added. They're simple red dots with a shadow for the moment, but I guess I could turn them into a solid line if that would be easier on the eye.

My biggest concern is a nice typeface for the place names... I guess I'll have to start messing around with fonts and such. Yaay!

09-25-2012, 07:53 PM
I'm so happy a support group like this exists for my carthocacoethes. I always thought I was nuts that I could stare up at a textured ceiling, or let my eye drift over carpet patterns and see worlds upon worlds. And for the record, if you stare at the pretty girl on the bus until she gets uncomfortable and asks "wtf are you looking at pervert!?" and you respond innocently with "I'm just trying the see the worlds within your sweater" she WILL smack you

09-27-2012, 06:00 AM
I'm so happy a support group like this exists for my carthocacoethes. I always thought I was nuts that I could stare up at a textured ceiling, or let my eye drift over carpet patterns and see worlds upon worlds. And for the record, if you stare at the pretty girl on the bus until she gets uncomfortable and asks "wtf are you looking at pervert!?" and you respond innocently with "I'm just trying the see the worlds within your sweater" she WILL smack you
And as far as I know, only a small fraction of the male world actually likes to be smacked. So I guess not staring is the way to go for you! (that, or sunglasses :P)

By the by, I'm working on a new update of my map, incorporating Arsheesh's comment. But that's for this weekend probably. All the best!

10-03-2012, 03:36 PM
newest wip:


Added quite a few (but still not all) placenames, and lightened the seas. I'm not sure of that last one, though. I also took care of the contrast between the mountains and the flatlands, and added some simple and easy forests.

So tell me: what do you think?

10-03-2012, 04:02 PM
I like it, but what if you did a levels adjustment on the sea--or perhaps the whole thing--to raise the blackest areas (less dark) and thus bring the overall contrast down slightly. Your call... could be worth a try to see what it looks like.

10-03-2012, 10:42 PM
Really nice job on the labeling BTW, this is looking really nice.


10-07-2012, 02:57 AM
Great looking map and nice intro :) ... imho the labels are a bit on the large side, drawing to much attention, but great work :)