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Thread: How to make a fantasy map sketch look professional?

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    Default How to make a fantasy map sketch look professional?

    Hi guilders!

    Novice cartographer here just trynna have some fun and craft a world, was just wondering; now that I have the basic outline of an overworld laid out, what's the next steps to make it professional looking? How should I go about making it look authentic and aged? The program I am using is photoshop elements cloud!
    How to make a fantasy map sketch look professional?-aern-alpha-v1.jpg
    Thanks for your time!

    TB.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails How to make a fantasy map sketch look professional?-aern-alpha-v1.jpg  

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      waldronate is offline
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    What style are you intending to produce? There are many, many possible ways to go from an outline to a finished product. You need to know what you want before you can figure out how to get there.

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      Wired is offline
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    The easiest way to give it a somewhat aged look is probably to apply a paper/parchment texture to it, though that only really makes sense once you've placed the topographical features since it's a purely cosmetic step.

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      TimPaul is offline
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    The best way to get something to look professional.

    Find some professional looking maps. Then practice making maps till they look as good as the maps that inspire you. I do not mean copy those maps, or imitate them. Figure out why they look professional.

    How do they handle text. How do they handle color.

    Then practice, practice, practice.

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      Falconius is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by TimPaul View Post
    I do not mean copy those maps, or imitate them.
    If you do copy or imitate them you also pick up skills as well. Many, many illustrators started out copying their favourite stuff. You can also embellish your favourite works if you go down this route, see why what they did works and why they left this or that out. Etc. In short, don't be afraid to copy to improve your skill.

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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    Imitation is definitely a valid approach to developing your eye for technique, but you should also actively investigate the principles and theory of design. Spend a little time each week reading about things like color theory and experimenting with what you learn on your maps. Maybe read about composition—what's the "rule of thirds" and how can it make a map look better?

    Obviously, you don't want to spend all of your time just reading about how to make art, though. For every hour you spend reading about something, you should spend at least four hours making something. I firmly believe that everyone can make good art if they spend enough time and energy practicing at it.

    Wikipedia has an excellent article to serve as a jumping-off point for research: Design elements and principles - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    There are also tons of design blogs out there, in addition to the more specific guidance you can get here.
    Falconius likes this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Midgardsormr View Post
    Imitation is definitely a valid approach to developing your eye for technique, but you should also actively investigate the principles and theory of design.
    I'm curious: to what extent do the professional artists on this forum apply their school-acquired or professional abilities when making maps? I would love to hear from some professionals/experienced members/anybody about this (maybe this question deserves its own thread). I regard the maps we make here as a form of art, but they are also about conveying specific, and usually fictional, information.

    THW

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      Falconius is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheHoarseWhisperer View Post
    I regard the maps we make here as a form of art, but they are also about conveying specific, and usually fictional, information.

    THW
    All art (dare I say good art? heh) is about conveying specific information I would say. Even if it perhaps sometimes more nebulous than the hard information one can convey in maps. But a sculpture of a person or a portrait of a person is certainly conveying specific information in the same way of a map.

    "School acquired" or perhaps a better term "study acquired" abilities even if not specifically used provide an underlying understanding and foundation of how things work. It allows one the basis to transfer that knowledge to new areas and explore them effectively. I often hear stories and indeed experienced it first hand of really super talented kids in art school who in the first year simply amaze their classmates and other poor shlubs who are amateur and more often than not it is the "shculbs" who surpass the "talent" by the end of school or in the professional field, because they've had to work hard at acquiring the skills that the "talent" already had, but more importantly they've developed the discipline and the foundation that it takes to improve and to extend their understanding into new areas. In other words it gets easier and easier to climb hills the more you climb, and eventually you can get to the top of the mountain, but for a guy standing on top of a hill he's not quite as good as getting up them as the guy who was standing at the bottom. That is hopefully what school is around to encourage and provide, not necessarily the technical skills one acquires but the ability to improve oneself more effectively.
    Last edited by Falconius; 08-28-2014 at 09:13 PM.

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    Guild Master Gracious Donor Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    Well said, Falconius.

    I'd disagree with the generalization that art is necessarily about communicating information. Very often it is about evoking emotion. But in the case of mapmaking, the information is definitely of primary importance. In that way, it's more like graphic design than "art," by which most people mean fine art. So with that distinction in mind, I went to a school that was focused on commercial arts, and thus design and communication were typically more important than the "finer" points of the art. In the relatively rare instances that I make a map these days, I do apply a great deal of what I learned formally to the process.

    Thinking about balance helps with composition. It helps me decide where to put a legend or compass rose, and how big it should be. Knowing a bit about color harmonies, symbolic and emotional freight carried by color, and the principles of contrast greatly helps me to choose my palette. Typographic knowledge helps me to quickly narrow down what fonts I want to use and an understanding of how the details of a font interact with the features it is placed over help me to integrate my type into the image. Understanding the concept of unity helps take disparate elements and tie them together into a whole that looks like it belongs together—that means identifying noise levels, blur/sharpness, line qualities, style and color/value.

    Here's a practical example, using Silva's coastline alpha attached above. It's pretty heavy along the top of the frame with that polar continent, so I would be inclined to balance that with a largeish title cartouche centered on the bottom.

    Another example: One of the things that often jumps out at me in digital maps is the use of pure white in city markers or labels. Whenever I notice it, I typically advise the cartographer to match those markers to the color of the brightest other feature on the map. That helps to integrate the elements into the map and prevents the viewer's eye from jumping haphazardly across the image from bright spot to bright spot. Blacks should likewise be matched, but they don't draw the eye as much as white, so I don't lean on them quite so hard.

    Many of these skills are things that you learn, and then as you practice them they just kind of vanish into your consciousness. Eventually you don't have to think about them, you'll just apply them reflexively. When I began my arts career, I sometimes agonized over my color choices. These days, I choose them intuitively. All of that knowledge and experience is being applied to the choice, but I seldom do it deliberately.

    edit: Oh, and I feel that I should also mention how much my participation here has affected my work as a professional artist. Just today I finished a difficult shot for NCIS where they're zooming in with an infrared spy satellite. I spent a lot of time in Google Earth, on the USGS website, using G.Projector, and applying other knowledge I learned here to that shot. I'm sure that's all going to be completely lost on the audience, but it's there. And that's not the first time this website has contributed to my job, either.
    Last edited by Midgardsormr; 08-28-2014 at 10:33 PM.
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      Falconius is offline
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    Indeed, I wasn't sure where to put invocation of emotion, whether the evocation was to be filled under information or something else. I defaulted to putting it under information, because ultimately it is the manner in which information is arranged that leads to forming said emotion. I'm not sure emotion really belongs under that umbrella though. For the purposes of this case though I felt it was warranted to put it there as it suited my topic.

    Also interesting is that my background is fine art rather than design, so it's interesting to see the two interpretations. In my stream, sculpture/installation, the program was less interested in refining basic skill sets as it was in refining and editing one ability to express. For the most part the skills were taught merely to facilitate the creation of stuff, in other words the basics were introduced but most refinement was done via one's own expectation. For the most part quality of workmanship was besides the point unless it was exceptional or exceptionally poor. Obviously though, the better the workmanship the more likely the audience will forgive a paucity of meaning or feeling.

    It is true what you say about skills. Intellectually I understand that what I had to learn in school and those basics are not in fact obvious and innate, but where I am now in certain things it just feels like they are obvious and innate. But then developing a person to such a level where things just come "naturally" to them is the purpose of all training.

    Also these forums indeed help me a lot in development of something I'm not particularly strong in. Thanks for the tips in your examples for instance. I don't think I would have ever realized that tip with the white cities vs. brightest point and the dark points.

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