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Thread: W.I.P map for upcoming novel... would love critique before starting in Photoshop

  1. #1

    Wip W.I.P map for upcoming novel... would love critique before starting in Photoshop

    Hello Guild,

    This is my first ever attempt at drawing this sort of map (unless I drew one as a kid and just don't remember). As the title says, it will ultimately be used for a novel I'm publishing. So, I want it to be as good as I can make it. I also want it done as quickly as I can make it good enough to call done... in hopes of having the book available for sale by Christmas. To that end I would welcome any critique from the guild.
    The western part of the map is currently blank because I was drawing a blank on how to depict a particular section. However Forum member Chashio gave me a great idea. I'll post what I come up with from that soon. In the mean time, please take a look at this newbie map maker's work in progress and let me know what you think could be better. If I have the skill (and time) I'll make adjustments. Any help in this would be greatly appreciated.

    Without further ado, here's the map of Darlandis & Cairemia (Darlandis is the unfinished section. Cairemia is the part virtually done.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	WIP Map Day 1.jpg 
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    I look forward to your thoughts.

    And Thank you,


  2. #2
    Guild Journeyer kestrelgrey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011


    I like how this looks. There's an almost nostalgic feeling (I'm thinking of the maps in the old McKillip books, the "Hed Series"; I guess also the Jacques books too). Excellent hand-drawn look, but detailed enough to be really engaging. The scale looks good too, although I have a terrible time with scale myself. Looking forward to see the rest!
    Portfolio & Project Blog: 99 Colored Umbrellas
    World Building Project: Worlds of Sand

  3. #3


    Your big river is a problem. It comes down out of the mountains in the north, and it flows okay through that pass through the Plains of Vendil, and around the hills to the east, but then instead of turning toward the sea, it continues south. Okay, well, I can see how that might happen if there's a rise in the land, but then after it heads through Rivertowne, again instead of turning east, it climbs the hills to the south and vanishes into a forest. Water won't flow uphill, so at one end or the other, this river is doing something unlikely.

    Now, if you assume that Rivertowne is downstream of those hills, and this is two rivers that join somewhere east of Dorinden Rell, you can add a branch headed out to sea. I am assuming that the depiction of the width of this river indicates its importance and not its physical width, by the way, because it doesn't seem to be draining nearly big enough area to justify its size.

    You're going to need a label on that feature southwest of the Plains of Vendil, as it is not at all clear what that is intended to be. It looks a bit like a dike, or perhaps a man-made cliff.

    I like the style you're shooting for here, and the arrangement of features is pleasing. Try not to lose the hand-drawn feel of it when you get it into Photoshop; it is very easy to sterilize a map by making it look too clean and computer-generated.
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

  4. #4


    Kestrelgrey, Thank you. I'll admit with some chagrin that I don't know the maps you're referencing. I hear how you like them from what you've written. So I definitely take that as a compliment. Where could a guy I get a glimpe of one of those maps?


  5. #5



    That's exactly the kind of critique I'm looking for. And, The Great River Moriella (as it is named) does not have the magical ability to climb hills. I spent my 10 minute break at work today fixing that right off. Thank you! And you are correct, the river is decidedly not as large as the scale would imply, but it is quite large. So, where you say "not draining nearly big enough an area..." I'm not quite sure how to remedy that. In the book there is a bridge over the river at the top of a chasm and its described as "so far across that a soldier at one end would have difficulty distinguishing between a horse and a man at the other." So... not the several miles wide it would be if this were true to scale, but big. Any thoughts on how I can make this more realistic?

    And also yes... "The Wall of Ellerion" will ultimately be labeled. I'm still tweaking with how it's ultimately going to look. And, I'm really hoping to keep the hand drawn feel when all's said and done. I just don't want it to have a kidishly drawn feel. So, I'm hoping to refine a bit in PS.

    Thank you again for such an encouraging and informative critique.


  6. #6


    No problem.

    There are three ways (in my opinion) to look at the river width issue. One is to make it as wide as it actually is for the scale of the map. In that case, it would be only the finest of lines, no matter how wide it is. Even the mighty Mississippi, which drains everything between the Rockies and the Appalachians is only a couple of pixels wide at this scale in a satellite view. Other rivers are only visible at all because the land around them is somewhat greener. That's not really practical for a map, though, and this isn't a satellite style, anyway, so I think you'd be safe to ignore the physically accurate approach.

    The second is to make it as wide as the people who interact with it perceive it to be. The people see it as the biggest river they can imagine, so on their maps, it's drawn quite wide, much like you have it here.

    The third is to link the feature's size to its importance. There are two ways you can go here: how important is it to the cartographer, and how important is it to the story?

    All told, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing for the river to be oversized in comparison to the map's scale, but if it is, it should be for a reason. Even if you make up the reason afterward! ;-)

    Oh, and if this is going to be printed in a book, remember that it's going to be rather small. So don't go overboard with details. Take a look at some maps in existing fantasy novels, especially softcovers to see what looks good to you and what looks overwrought. Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow & Thorn trilogy is a good example: I really like the coastlines, mountains and hills, but the forest seems muddy to me.
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

  7. #7


    Next step in the rough map. Had to play with the color a bit (cause I like sepia maps better). still rough. still looking for critique.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Map Day 3 or was it 4.jpg 
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ID:	49751

    Gotta get to work or I'd write more.

    Thank you all for your help,


  8. #8


    Alrighty, I was able to work on the map on my lunch break, and I figured I'd get this question out there for those who have been kind enough to help me with this (and any others who would be willing to give advice).

    I'm feeling like the map is muddy and part of the problem may be how much territory I'm trying to cover with this map. So tip, advice, critique... are all welcome. Also, I'd love to get opinions on which of these two would be better.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Click image for larger version. 

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    The compass rose is just a place holder. I'm wanting to start cleaning this up, but I'd love a few last minute critiques from willing parties. Thank you to those who've already responded, and thank you in advance for any others who will.



  9. #9


    I prefer the wider view, myself. I wonder if the muddiness you're perceiving is simply a matter of having too much line density. Rather than drawing all of those trees, you might be better off with a blobby outline and some light shading, instead. I'd love to link you to an example of what I'm talking about, but I just can't seem to find the map that I want. I guess it's similar to Schley's approach, only in grayscale:
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

  10. #10
    Professional Artist Facebook Connected Schwarzkreuz's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2011


    I prefer the wider too. Also i would only put trees where a dense forest is present like in tangleweave woods.
    All massive dots are distracting. Its clear your World is not a wasteland if you are not putting trees everywhere.
    Also your big river is doing some weird flow, which was stated above.

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