If you're reading this, you're probably interested in drawing fantasy maps. I've been doing that for a while now, and I love every bit of it! I'm a regular in several Discord (a chat engine) channels related to mapmaking and RPG art, where I get feedback on my own maps, and try to give feedback on others. Every now and then, you encounter the same types of maps, usually accompanied by a message like "this is my first map, help please".
A number of recurring issues related to the coastlines and shape of the landmasses are:
- Blobby maps. Just chunks of land, lacking detail in the coastlines and generally either being a rectangle, a blobby circle or a group of them.
- Archipelagos of islands, just randomly placed.
People generally make the same mistakes at the start, and tend to have the same question: How to draw a good looking landmass. Be it a continent, (group of) islands, or a world map. Your landmasses are logically the first step to many fantasy maps. If you don't get a decent shape for your landmasses that you're satisfied with, it often becomes very difficult to keep going and actually finish your map. I did some questionnaires with people that seemed interested in, or struggling with, mapmaking and the number one asked question, was how to draw landmasses.
To get this Patreon started, this first tutorial is freely available to everyone visiting this page! This will eventually be a full guide to how I make my fantasy maps.
Ink World Tutorials
- 1: Landmasses
- 2: Mountains
- 3: Rivers
- 4: Forests
- 5: Detail
- 6: Digital Work
How do you decide what you want your landmasses to be shaped like? I've seen a lot of people use a bag of rice, beans or other small things - even dice. The idea is that you can plop them on the paper and rearrange them into landmasses without having to draw and erase all the time. Sure, that works for some. Personally, however, I always start by really just drawing blobs.
This is a basic and simple exercise that will really help you in the future. Draw some boxes on your sheet ( I'm using an A4 sheet at this point ) like I have, in varying sizes. The one you see above is the one I used to do the most. Next up, draw some blobs. Don't be afraid about how they look, it's just practice - you won't end up having to use any of them. For the example above, I quickly drew several maps that I saw coming through the various Discord servers. They're all quite simple and generic, with plenty of flaws.
Now, don't immediately scroll down and look at the scan below, a lot has changed. First, let me explain. The blobs from step 1 are all pretty round and simple. If we take a few examples of interesting shapes found through Google Maps:
A few pointers about what stands out about the landmasses:
- Bays(All images)
- Inland seas (Image 3)
- Island chains(Images 1 and 3)
A lot of people get to the stage of drawing blobs(Step 1) and then move their pencil shakily around those edges and they feel like it has improved a lot. All you really get that way, is a shaky blob with sharper edges. All of my maps have got dozens upon dozens of dozens of bays, inlets, inland seas, long winding island chains. Now, this might not be useful or appropriate for all types of maps, but for most fantasy maps it's great. It adds a sense of awe and wonder. After all, in a fantasy world, or a tabletop roleplaying game, a small island is a world on it's own. Imagine the adventures your party would have in archipelago chains exploring inland seas!
As I said, don't be alarmed be the amount of changes to the blobs. Really, everything I did, was add bays, inland seas and island chains to the coastlines. I hope these example maps show you can lose some of the roundness and smoothness of the landmass shapes, as well as give you some inspiration for future maps.
When I map, I tend to see everything in broad arrows, or directions of where the shape of the land is going. I indicated that on the above maps with red arrows. They show where the landmasses curve or bend into a different direction or angle. Straight island chains suck (say that out loud a few times!). Give them a nice curve, sprouting out of the bend of your larger landmasses and the sharper edges of your bays. Have a few closer to the shores look like they might have broken off of the larger landmass at some point in the past, or maybe eroded into islands because of rivers/watersheds. Let's take a closer look at map number 6 for a moment:
I added some lighter arrows to point out where the various island chains are going. They don't always need to consist of a dozen islands, they can be just one or two islands long. I picked this map in particular for a close up, as the blobs this map once was is a fantasy standard. Two large continents on either side, with two small continents in the top and bottom. World of Warcraft's map for example, all that was missing was the maelstrom in the center. I tried to turn that simply cliché into a different map. making the top and right part of the map a chain, as well as the left and bottom part. You can really see the power of bays in this example. They just add so much depth and variety to the coastlines. They also offer great possibilities for rivers and mountain ranges, but that's for a later tutorial.
Let me know in the comments what you thought about this tutorial, and come back next time to see how we progress from these basic shapes, to actual landmasses, with mountains! Yes, you heard that right, Tutorial number TWO will be focused on the art of creating mountain ranges in various different styles. After that, we will turn to Forests, Rivers, Details, and from there on to the digital aspects of how I create my maps.