Using the Pen Tool to Draw Buildings
Following the previous tutorial about town design here’s a tutorial on filling in the buildings in the town.
I’m jumping in at the stage where we’ve already got the terrain, major locations and roads mapped out. The next step is filling all the remaining space with buildings to turn a skeleton of a town into a town. The key here is to give the impression of a large number of buildings, without having to agonise over every single chimney pot and awning.
1. Using the Pen Tool
Here I’m using the pen tool in Photoshop (P) – you can also use the pen tool in Gimp (B). Under Paths, hit the New Path button, and give it a name. Here I’ve called it “Houses”.
The advantage of using the path tool is that you can go back and edit any element of the city at any point. This is invaluable. It may be that you need to add a road later once and have to move some buildings to accommodate. This way, just use the direct selection tool (A) in Photoshop, or the pen tool (B) in Gimp and go back to edit the vector outline of the houses.
Many path tutorials will focus on the fact that you can use the path tool to create bezier curves. We’re not doing curves today, but creating straight sided polygons instead. To lay a house polygon, click one for each corner. Because you’re clicking – rather than clicking and dragging – the path lays in straight lines between anchor points. Click again on the first point (you should see a small circle appear under the pen cursor) and the path will close. In Gimp – you need to command-click the first point to close the path.
Click again somewhere else to start the next building, and you’re off!
2. Use a variety of building sizes
First of all, don’t worry about the shapes being precisely right. Any town map will have a lot of buildings, and the chance of a viewer looking at any one and judging the historical accuracy of the building shape are slim. You want the impression of an urban sprawl without having to carefully design each bit of sprawl. So, work quickly, and don’t sweat the details. But – make some decisions about the blocks that you’re filling in. A slum area should have smaller and more disorganised buildings – or solid tenement blocks. There shouldn’t be too much spare space. A wealthier neighbourhood might have bigger building with more empty space around them.
Use a variety of building shapes. It may well be that buildings are mostly rectangular, but a complete uniformity of buildings forms a repetitive pattern – and out brains are very good at spotting repetitive patterns. That’s part of the reason we’re doing these shapes by hand. Add variety – t-shaped buildings, l-shaped buildings. It might start to look a little like the reject bin in the Tetris factory, but that’s okay. Remember, we’ll be seeing this zoomed out, not examining every single building in turn.
Also, use negative space. We see not just the buildings, but also the space around them. Leave courtyards and meeting areas, squares and plazas. Leave more empty space in some parts of town than others – even if you don’t have a reason why. Either you’ll come up with a reason later, or your players will rationalise the difference for you, and add detail to your world without you trying.
3. Let the buildings flow
The roads and terrain have a flow to them – let the buildings work with that. Fill in the empty space around your featured locations, but use the buildings to describe lines and emphasise the larger shapes of the town. So, for example, a line of similar size buildings all curving around a bend will suggest that the buildings are all the same, and might help to sell a barracks, or pre-built line of miner’s cottages. In contrast, a set of widely varied buildings, all spaced out, might be the mansions of the wealthy – all created to each person’s taste.
Filling in the buildings takes time – lots of time – but the end result is worth it. I’ve got a few methods of laying out blocks that are more automated, and these help for cities, but nothing beats just drawing in all the houses.
4. Turn your path into a selection
Once you’ve tweaked your houses to your liking, turn the path into a selection. (Path’s palette – button at the bottom ‘Load Path as Selection’ -PS, or Path Tool -> Tool Options -> Selection from Path, Gimp).
5. Fill your houses selection
Create a new layer, and fill the houses selection with a colour of your choice to lay in all the houses! Here I’ve used some layer options. I filled the selection with white, and set the fill opacity to 50%. I also added an inner stroke of 1px in black. There are lots of good choices for layer styles that can give you a more satisfying set of houses from this selection, but that’s a tutorial for another day. For now, you’ve got a full layout of your town.
That’s it for now. I’ll post some alternative house style tips over the coming week, and delve into what to do once you’ve got all your vector outlines, later in the week.
Using dynamic brushes to draw in city blocks
Earlier in the week I posted a tutorial on how to draw buildings with the pen tool. But sometimes drawing each building just takes too long. For whole cities, you probably want a quick way to lay in whole blocks of buildings. Photoshop can help - using dynamic brushes.
1. Set up the brush
Here's the settings for the brush I'm using. Start with a square brush. Add jitter and shape dynamics. When you're using the brush you should vary the spacing, size and amount of jitter on the brushes. This will give you difference in the shapes and sizes of buildings that will suggest the difference in the socio-economic status of the different districts.
2. Lay in the buildings
To lay in the buildings, either freehand along the sides of the roads, or click and then shift-click to lay in straight lines of buildings. At this stage - don't worry about going over onto the roads. We'll handle that later.
3. Create a roads mask
We create a mask on the buildings layer. Select pixels on your roads to get a roads selection. At this point you have a choice. The quick route is to select the buildings mask (option+click the icon), and then stroke the selection (Edit->Stroke...). The problem with this is that you end up with curved edges on the mask which doesn't look great.
A better way is the following - take your roads selection and then use Selection->Path to generate a path along your roads. Now, stroke the path with a rectangular brush. In this case we want the rectangular brush to go along the path, with no jitter and small roundness jitter. Option-Click the layer mask on the buildings, and stroke the roads with the brush. In panel 3 you can see the result of stroking the roads.
4. City Blocks
With the mask in place the blocks are now confined within the city blocks and you're done!
A couple of notes – here I’m using my current work in progress town map – obviously the featured buildings are a totally different scale and can’t co-exist on the same map! Second – these styles of blocks work best when you’re going to view them quite zoomed out. I’d suggest that this works best if the image above was your working resolution, and the final scale was 1/3 of what you see there.
Finally, a word on styling – here I’m leaving the houses as black silhouettes. Later in the week I’ll show you how you can style these silhouettes to make them integrate into your map.
And, as with some of the previous tutorials, here's a video version:
Drawing Old-fashioned Coastal Waters
Really quick one today - this is an illustration of how to draw old fashioned coastal waters. Lots of historic maps use rippled lines to indicate the sea. Here's a couple of quick pointers on reproducing the effect.
1. Add your first ripple
First, draw the coastline in a nice dark brush - or press relatively heavily with your pen (this was a ballpoint on sketchbook paper). Then, pressing more lightly to get a fainter line, draw a parallel line to the coast. Where your coastline is ragged and fractal, this line should be smooth and flowing. Follow the edge, but smooth off the sharper changes. Try too keep the same distance from the coast as you draw.
2. Add in the rest
Now repeat this with successive lines. Each time you add another line, increase the spacing slightly. Also, smooth off the sharper corners of the line inside. If you have an inlet (like I've got here), don't cram the lines in to get through - smooth over the inlet, and draw another set of disconnected ripples within.
This looks good with a light blue wash around the coastal edge as well - so this doesn't have to be just a black and white map technique.
I prefer this to the procedurally generated version, as those tend to create artifacts when you get to the larger ripples. Gaussian blurs tend to generate hard straight 45 degree angles. But that's a matter of personal preference.
Highlighting Important Buildings - Shape, Detail and Contrast
Cities and buildings come up a lot in questions. I'll put together a software specific tutorial on buildings, but today I'm just going to go through my philosophy when illustrating a featured building like a castle or a temple. The process is the same, regardless of software. In this case - ballpoint pen on sketchbook paper.
A map is a complex image. We want to be able to access the important information quickly. To do this we can use three things the human brain does very well - identify things that don't fit the pattern, notice detail and focus on contrast. By giving out featured buildings interesting shapes we break any pattern of regular rooftops, and by detail and tonal contrast, we help the eye focus on them amongst the sea of buildings.
1. Design the outline
Historically, the most likely shape for almost any building is a rectangle. But that's pretty boring on a map. How do you know that a building is special from overhead if they're all rectangles? Here I've drawn three outlines for three featured buildings.
The Inn has a main building, a stables and an outhouse/privy. The whole area is surrounded by a wall or fence, and the central area has a courtyard. The negative space (the courtyard) will stand out in a top down map.
Temples are fancy. They're meant to impress, and they're meant to dominate. This meand buttresses and spires. I've avoided anything that might look like a cross - as that's always going to break any sense of disbelief - but the same principles apply. Add off-shoots and extensions. If it's a lawful god, make the building symmetrical. If it's chaotic, make it a rambling sprawl, if it's militaristic, add towers and gates. Circular buildings and domes are a good choice here too, especially when using graphics tools that make perfect circles easy.
There's a lot to be written about castle design, so I'm not even going to try here. I've gone with a simple keep/fortified manor house and a curtain wall. Tower guard the vulnerable corners, and there's a hefty gate guarding the entrance.
2. Add Detail
Here we add some lines to give some sense of the detail. Our eyes are drawn to detail naturally, so if you add more detailing to your featured buildings, they'll stand out in a map. Here I've added lines to indicate thatching or tiles to the Inn. The temple also gets some tiles, as well as a turret or bell-tower at one end, and some little roof elements. The castle picks up walkways on the walls, detailing on the keep's roof and some internal buildings in the castle grounds (well, we all need somewhere to keep the foot soldiers, hawks and the horses).
So this is going to be different depending on the medium your using, but it's the point where the building stops being a flat sketch and starts to take on some life. Pick a direction for the light, and shade in blocks away from that direction. Note that buildings cast geometric shadows, and that shadows have different depths. The Inn gets simple geometric shadows, and a lighter shadow on the right side of the roofline. The temple i more complex - I use the shadows to emphasise the height of the tower, and the height of the buttresses. The castle gets the most work - each tower gets a long shadow, and I also added a set of battlements to indicate the crenelations on the walls. Deeper shadows here and there help to call out specific architectural features.
If you'd like to see these techniques in a finished map, check out my Iconic Town pack: New Map Pack – The Iconic Town | Fantastic Maps