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Thread: [Award Winner] Painting maps in Painter

  1. #1
    Guild Member Sirith's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Western Europe

    Tutorial [Award Winner] Painting maps in Painter

    Some members, like ravells and pyrandon, were interested in a tutorial in how I do my maps. I think tutorial is too strong a word for this, though. So I'm going to call it a walkthrough .
    First a disclaimer: there are a million ways to draw and paint a map. You could do a combination of traditional and digital methods, you can really paint (so no cartoony line art), use any combination of digital tricks. This is just roughly the way I've drawn the two maps I've posted earlier.

    What am I going to walk you through?
    A process of drawing and painting maps freehand in Painter. It’s basically what you’d do with traditional media (pencil, ink, paint), but digital. I’m not going to use digital tricks other than layers and their properties, and the painting tools available in the program.

    What would you need?
    A tablet. Seriously, don’t torture your wrist.
    Any painting program will do. I use Painter, but Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, ArtWeaver (a free painting program), or ANY program that allows you to paint is good. It has to provide you with tools to ‘ink’, ‘paint’ and 'blend', and that’s it.
    For this specific walkthrough, I need layers. But I use very few, I like the challenge with using only two or three layers.

    Here are the tools I use in Painter.
    I don't know of any analogues in Photoshop or so, you'd have to experiment a bit. Don't choose tools that are too 'perfect' though, like an airbrush. A bit of roughness in the final product is preferred over perfectly smooth transitions.

    If you're going to join me in this drawing, then I'd love to see some results from you guys .

    STEP 1: The Sketch

    Alright. Here I start with a blank canvas and very simply throw down some basic shapes. I don't care for prettiness, it needs to be recognizable, but that's it.
    After that I throw down the opacity on that layer, create a new one above it, and start refining the sketch. I add in mountains, rivers, cities, cliffs, some small lakes. This need not be pretty either, it just has to be clear where the definite lines will go in the inking step.

    In this step it's most important to think about the geography of the lands. It's where you build your world.
    Another point to take into consideration is composition. Overall balance in the picture. I’m not great at this, but take a few steps back and look at the picture through half closed eyelids. Does it look good? Is there a balance between dark and light (mountains are much darker than plains in my case)? Is your eye drawn to the place you want it to?

    I have made a coastal region, with a small mountain range ending up on a peninsula. I had Pompeii-like images in my mind, and thought a volcano would be awesome in several ways.
    If you look at it, the mountain range sucks all the attention towards itself, and ‘flows’ more or less towards the peninsula and the volcano. This area is really the focal point of the map, so viewers are going to assume this is where the action takes place.
    Also, it splits the lands in half, which is usually not a really good thing. However, you can make it work, and I hope I will here . Perhaps the mountain range provides a natural boundary between the two lands, and they fight wars in those same mountains, which could be enough justification to make it the most important part of the map.

    You may notice my lack of woods. That's because I have not yet discovered a relatively easy way to draw these without being frustrated . I would love to draw every single tree, but it just takes so much time, while the resulting pattern is not really regular enough for my tastes. So I'm leaving them out now..

    Next up are the inks!
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  2. #2
    Guild Member Sirith's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Western Europe


    STEP 2: The Inks

    Usually I don't really like this step, because it takes away some of the 'flow' of the initial sketch. But to make a somewhat representable map, it's necessary. There are two methods I use: either I clean up my sketch or I put the opacity lower and draw on a new layer.
    In this case I used the second option. I've uploaded the sketch+inks and only the ink version. I will draw the rivers when we move onto the colouring. My mountains usually have two elements: the outlines and the shading, as you can see.

    I don't have much to say. Make sure you work big, so you can be a bit sloppy and don't have to worry about every single pixel. It doesn't need to be perfect, especially if it doesn't add anything when zoomed out.
    I've also uploaded a 100% zoom shot from the inked version. You see, it's rather sloppy, while on the resized version these little variations go pretty much unnoticed. If you'd want to post a high resolution file somewhere, then I'd be a little neater, but this time not so
    My point is: make a nice line art, but don't spend your time on details that don't matter that much

    Next: 'flat' colours, preparing to paint and possibly textures
    I'll post that later on, I think, I want to paint it a bit more before posting my progress again.
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  3. #3


    This is fantastic, thanks Sirith! Thank you so much for posting - as a matter of interest, how large do you make your initial canvas? I love your mountain style and might be emulating this very soon!



  4. #4
    Guild Member Sirith's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Western Europe


    The initial canvas was 900x800 (this fits at 100% exactly in my workspace in Painter with some room to spare, so I usually use this size when sketching). When I started refining the sketch I made it twice as big.
    If I'm doing something that needs to look good on high res, it might go up to 3000x3000 pixels or larger.

    Glad you like it, I'm curious what you'll come up with

  5. #5
    Community Leader pyrandon's Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    Michigan, USA


    This is great, Sirith, just great. You make it so simple. Keep it coming!
    My gallery is here
    __________________________________________________ _______
    "Keep your mind in hell, but despair not." --Saint Silouan [1866-1938]

  6. #6
    Guild Member Sirith's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Western Europe


    Okay, that's been far too long since I posted. Time flies!

    STEP 3: Setting up to paint

    I use two layers for painting: one for the oceans/seas and one for the land with everything in it. The waterlayer is put under the landlayer. I usually select exactly the landmasses along the coastlines, fill it up with a base colour, and let the Painter layer setting of 'preserve transparency' do the rest (so I can paint wherever I want, but the areas where I did not select&fill will remain untouched).

    Colours choice is something thing to think about now. I believe there are some links on the site somewhere to colour scheme generators. You could you photos to pick a colour and adjust as needed. But this is a general issue with coloured maps anyway, so suffice to say you just have to fool around until you find something you like.
    Using a colourchart on a separate layer will help remember what base colours you used. You'll see my colour chart expand as the painting goes on.

    A note on base colours. I have uploaded two versions, one with completely flat colours, and one with a very little bit of variance in the colours. You can see that last one looks WAY better already. All I did was paint the plains just a little lighter and the mountains a little darker, and blend where these colours meet. In this way, within minutes, your map will already look presentable, if a little empty

    This is also the complete basis of how I paint these things. Get a basic colour, a lighter and a darker variant, paint, blend, done. I'll talk more about that in my next post
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  7. #7
    Guild Member Sirith's Avatar
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    Nov 2007
    Western Europe


    STEP 4: Painting

    Now that the base is done, now it's time to refine it. Using my sketch (which I still have on a layer for reference underneath it all, remember that I didn't ink my rivers ) I start to add some more colours to the lands, to deepen the area around the mountains and lighten the plains and coastal areas.
    I like to keep my palette simple, by the way. I might add in a colour to spice it up, but I'm not comfortable with colour theory (how one colour behaves next to another, for example) enough to apply all kinds of subtle colours.

    Now it's finally time to paint the mountains, which is often my favourite part of doing maps =).
    I have a progress shot uploaded, starting from the left:
    - put in the base colour for the mountains, a dark grey in my case
    - determine where the light comes from, paint that side of the mountain a slightly lighter grey
    - paint the area around the mountains darkgreen (I like to imagine valleys and the like)
    - blend it a bit
    - highlight the mountains with an even lighter grey, then go around that with a little darker grey (my highlights are usually really big, so I have to contain a little)
    - blend it a bit again
    After that I refined the mountains a bit more, and painted over some of the green parts around the mountains (I thought it was a bit too much).
    You don't have to blend to the point where there are no hard transitions between colours, a little roughness often looks better than perfectly smooth areas.

    So yes, that's the basis of how I paint these maps really: pick some colours (lighter and darker), paint, blend, repeat. It takes time, but because it's so easy, it's also quite relaxing (to me anyway )

    Next time, I'll refine it more, add the details (lava, towns, rivers, etc)
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  8. #8

  9. #9
    Community Leader RobA's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    Toronto, Canada


    Quote Originally Posted by ravells View Post
    Hi Sirith, what do you mean when you say 'blend it a bit'? Do you mean using a smudge or similar or using a blend layer? Not sure I follow.
    Thats the same question I had! What would the equivalent to this mysterious painter blending be in other programs?

    -Rob A>

  10. #10
    Guild Adept Yandor's Avatar
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    Oct 2007


    to be honest this has been a style that has always escaped my "understanding" I think its just due to the fact that I don't have the patience like most actual painters to blend in the colors (assuming thats how you did it, have the 2 colors and keep going back and forth with a low opacity(PS) or a low pen pressure, until the colors blend instead of smudge blurring it, or using layers where one has the base and a slight increase of color on another layer...) These are just 3 techinques I've actually seen used not only in maps, but in a lot of paintings, especially digital art... I could be wrong but I hope thats what you mean by blend
    WIP :: Carian Round... Who knows...

    Back Burner :: World Map

    Software: 99% Adobe Photoshop (CS4), Geo Control 2, Wilbur Every so often I use another program!

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