View Full Version : New to cartography

09-11-2013, 04:18 PM
Hello everyone, I'm trusting that you're having a joyous and splendid day. I am writing this thread, because I am new to cartography and I was wondering if anyone would be as so kind as to give me some pointers and possibly start me off in the right direction and the right foot. I thank you for the time that you put forth in reading this, It's most appreciated. Have a jolly good day.

- Amatuer113

09-11-2013, 08:48 PM
The first question you have to ask yourself is of you want to go into digital cartography or hand drawn. I have always done it the old fashioned way, so I can only give you a few pointers in that direction. In general, however, it is best to begin by asking what style of maps you want to make (what you like, what you do not, type of map [regional, cities, buildings, all of them]). Since I do it by hand, I just grab some paper and a pencil and have at it. Over time you will find your style. Above all, just play around to get your feet wet!


09-11-2013, 08:56 PM
Ok, thank you, I appreciate your advice and If you would not mind, I think that I'll take you up on your offer about the tips of hand drawn maps. I'm very artistic in my opinion. so thank you for responding and a friend request is on the way and have a blessed night.

09-12-2013, 02:49 PM
Thanks mate! Glad I could help. One day soon, perhaps, I will write a quick tutorial on how I make maps, and from experience, it takes a little while to develop a style that you are happy with. It took me the better part of 7 years to come to where I am now, although I am a rather recreational cartographer. Now that I have a full keyboard in front of me, here are a few more tips that I would have found rather useful when I was first starting.

Choice of paper is more important than you may think. There are plenty of options out there, everything from tea staining and drying regular copy paper to cardstock parchment paper. If you are going to dye your own, it is probably obvious but I'll say it anyway- dye it before you draw on it. What I have come to prefer is taking a 100% cotton paper, draw the map, and carefully seal it with an amber shellac. It produces a great aged parchment feel. Soon, however, I will be experimenting with real parchment!

Ink is another important lesson I learned late in the process. In the beginning, I used graphite and assorted coloured pencils. They were cheap and the effect was rather amateur (think 7 year old). For the better part of 10 years, I drew with graphite exclusively, and although I had a decent control over detail and shading, the contrast was lacking. Only in the past year or so have I started using india ink pigma-micron pens (and more recently, quill and india ink). It is a permanent, archival ink that is nice and dark. The varying fineness of the felt tipped pens is great. I start with pencil for the general outlines and move onto the ink once I am happy with everything. On top of that, the shellac seals in the character.

Everything else is really just patience and experimentation. I was largely influenced by the maps of my favourite books in my youth (think Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, Treasure Island, ...) and adapted from there. I'm excited to see what you draw!


09-12-2013, 03:25 PM
Mister JSP, I hope that this reply is finding you in good health, I have gained knowledge from your reply. I have started on my first island map and I'm hoping that it'll come to my liking, but that's difficult. I am wondering if I could view some of your marvelous masterpieces, so that I can gain and learn from your ideas and techniques. Thank you and have a blessed night.

09-12-2013, 03:25 PM

First, we do have a quickstart guide in the Tutorials forum:


And if you're specifically interested in hand-drawn maps, I recommend taking a look at Delgondahntelius' excellent tutorial here:


09-12-2013, 04:19 PM
Ok tyvm, I appreciate it alot.

09-12-2013, 09:49 PM
That is a great tutorial on hand drawn maps! I wish I would have had the access to material like that when I first started (or at least the knowledge of where to look!). My own pieces are far from masterwork ;) It has been a long journey, that is for certain. I would say that, at this stage, I am...satisfied. Here are a few links to some of my more recent map making endeavours.
Quill & Ink practise (http://shardsofthedarkage.blogspot.com/2013/09/isarn-project.html)
Wheel of Time map (http://shardsofthedarkage.blogspot.com/2013/05/cartography-tribute-to-robert-jordan.html), slightly older and of a different medium (pencil instead of ink)
Progression of map making (http://shardsofthedarkage.blogspot.com/2013/06/cartography-revisited.html), a brief look at where I started and how I got to where I am.

I hope this was of some use to you, and best of luck with your first map! There will always be a special place for mine, and I have redrawn it around 6 times now!
All the best,


09-13-2013, 06:23 PM
Yes, Mister JSP. Thank you for those links, they will help me out a lot. I have one question though. Is that your blogging site? If so, I do not come close to comparing to you in the slightest. Do those kinds of pens really work? I just thought it might have been for movies or something. If you don't mind, I'll ask a stupid question, How much do those pens cost?

Here is my first map, I extremely sorry for the bad graphic.

As always, I hope that this finds you in good health.

09-13-2013, 07:35 PM
So far so good! The hardest part is done (in my opinion, anyway), now all you need to do is fill in the details. That is my blog, but don't think that way! I was entirely self taught, and draw maps rather sporadically. Liquid ink pens are great, too. That quill is from Italy when my folks went there a while back, but they should be in the art supplies aisle of most stores. The nib is the most important part, as the quill itself is just something to hold on to. A good nib (metal part that holds the ink and what you write with) coupled with a decent ink (black, India ink) is all you need. They are surprisingly easy to use once you draw a few practise lines on a scrap of paper. I am left handed, though, so adjusting to the slower ink drying time took some getting used to. Look for a 'calligraphy dip pen' set. Although not precisely the same thing, it is close enough to a traditional quill nib. I think I have seen them for a little under $10, and around $5 for ink. The pigma micron felt tipped pens are much easier to work in the beginning, and the varying thickness is nice. I have a set of 6 that I picked up at the hobby store for $20. They were a little harder to find, however.

Keep up the good work!


09-13-2013, 08:24 PM
Mister JSP, I have strayed from the cartography page and I've got to admit that you have a very interesting life. You have all those resources at your disposal, you are very lucky man!

How do you add detail? Do you use pencil to start your ideals and then use the pen?

09-14-2013, 10:34 AM
Thank you for the kind words! What I usually do is draw the shorelines first, then general locations for the forests, rivers, roads, mountains, grasslands, etc. as just loose circles and amorphous blobs where the mountain shapes and trees and whatnot will go. You can see a little of this in the picture below-
Where the mountains will go is nothing more than a set of lines depicting the general direction and number of the fault line that the mountains will be centred on. It looks like a Y in the bottom left. For the forests, there is a loose blob around the inked part of the road. I will fill in that with the actual trees later. Up in the top, you can see a cluster of empty squares. Those will later be divided into buildings, but the narrow spaces between them represent the roads. I usually put the 'water' edging on the shorelines last, as it is the most tedious and time consuming and really makes the depth of the map stand out. Then, once I have all the mountain shapes drawn in ink where I want them, all the trees and dots for deserts, grass clusters for grasslands, hills and roads and cities, I let it all dry and then erase all the pencil lines. This is where it becomes important to not go overboard with drawing everything before you go to ink. The more pencil, the more faded the ink will become when you erase over it.

I hope this helped!


09-14-2013, 12:14 PM
Yes, you have help with this map making process a lot and I thank you for this. I'm going to try and get that pen today at the store, but who know. lol

09-14-2013, 06:44 PM
Mister JSP, I have traveled into town and got the calligraphy 6 nib pen set and walmart. You were right about the price, got the set for about $13.87, including ink cartridges. There was individual pens and India ink, but I thought it would be safer this way. (The separate pen looked really complicated!).

I took pictures to show you and sorry for the quality it's a cheap camera. It's all we have.

This set includes:
1 Pen
6 Nibs
1 Ink Converter
6 Ink Cartridges

I go to your blog daily and see what you've been up to, and I saw that you have created a outstanding armguard! Congratulations!!!

09-15-2013, 01:04 PM
Thank you! It was certainly a learning experience, no doubts about it.
For the pens, you should certainly try them all out and get a feel for what writes best for you. I would recommend using the finest or second finest for things like trees and buildings, depending on what sort of style you are after, and a middle thickness for mountains and rivers, and any actual writing you may have (city names, kingdoms, etc.). The widest strokes may be too large to be of use, but they may work well for shorelines and the heading of the map.

I'm not sure how the cartridge inks work, but you will probably have similar problems with waiting for the ink to dry vice getting smears everywhere. Maps are one of those things that you cannot really go strictly from left to right (or right to left), so you will probably have a bit of down time. A few ways to help make that as little as possible are to make a blotter, a convex piece of something (cross section of a large diameter PVC pipe, a piece of wood, outside of a drinking glass...) backed with paper. Cotton paper is best, as it seems to absorb the most and bleed the least. All you do is roll the blotter across whatever you just drew after a few seconds of letting it dry on its own. That draws all the excess ink off and lets the remainder dry quickly. Just watch out for blotting the lines you just dried back onto the map in another place!

A second alternative, and the one I prefer, is to use a fine white sand. Simply scatter some over the ink, again after a few seconds of drying time, and then funnel it back into the vessel it came out of. The sand is great at absorbing and reuse after a fast drying time.

Can't wait to see what you do with it! Hope this helps!


09-15-2013, 01:26 PM
Mister JSP, This was a big help. Though I'm going to have to start a new map to replace the old, to get used to the new pen. Could you tell me once more what type of paper to use that would be good and easy to scale for distances?

As always, I hope that this reply finds you in good health.


09-15-2013, 07:00 PM
I usually do three general types of maps, and that dictates the relative scale. The first is large areas, think continents and multi-nation maps. The second is smaller, usually centred around a single city with some of the surrounding countryside. The last is for villages where there are only a few buildings and terrain features. For each of them, I just wing it. There is a balance between filling the map entirely and having too much blank space. It really depends on how you envision it looking. The very few times where I have mapped places that have an actual, pre existing scale, it was a lot of using rulers and dividers to get it all right. Once you have the proportions set, you only need to make sure that your forests and mountains and the like are not overflowing from where they are supposed to be. Of course, the size of the paper will determine the size of the drawing. When I drew a map of Middle Earth, it was extremely difficult to fit everything, so I had to shrink my mountains and trees and words to fit. Even so, it seems rather cramped. If I have a large amount of information to map, I sometimes draw one large map, spanning multiple pages, with only the necessary details and most prominent features. From there, I draw smaller scale (less distance covered on the page) with more detail.

For paper, I use a lot of Southworth fine parchment paper in the Ivory colour, although it also comes in gold, blue, grey, and copper. It is a little on the expensive side, but it produces a great old world feel with minimal effort. After drawing the map, I seal it with an amber shellac (one of the ~3 colours they seem to make) applied delicately with a rag in random, blotting motions.



09-15-2013, 10:03 PM
Mister JSP, Where do you get the amber shellac? Do you make it?

09-16-2013, 07:28 AM
I find it at the local hardware store. It should be near the varnishes and paints. I got mine in a 1/2 pint can, although it also comes in larger quantities. For the amount I use at a time, this is more than sufficient to last me a few years. I believe it is made by Bull's Eye, although there should be a few brands available. I do not recall what other colours it comes in, but amber is the best.


09-27-2013, 07:36 PM
Mister JSP I have started a map and I'm pleased that it is almost down. I would like to give you the first look and open it up to your suggestion and advice.57999

And a here's a close up:

I apologize for the recent inactivity and hope to got on more toward the winter months. I hope that this reply finds you in grand health.


10-01-2013, 10:55 AM
Looking good! If I may make a suggestion (and this is mostly just personal taste), and this is more for future reference, but possibly try to add a little more randomness to the shoreline. Coastal islands are good too to break up larger masses, and work well especially when there are mountains anywhere. Of course, it is all preference!
Keep at it!


10-03-2013, 01:05 PM
I love this thread. I love the interaction.