Fantastic Maps and How to Make Them – Islands

Fantastic Map and How to Make Them – Islands

An instructional, in-depth look into the worlds of fantasy cartography.
By Craig Simpson    Twitter

Hello and welcome back!

In my previous article I discussed where to get inspiration from, if you did not have a chance to read this article you can find it [HERE]. This week I’ll start breaking down each key aspect of cartography, from shapes and sizes to mountains and towns. I will also be putting a poll on my twitter each week so you can vote for your favourite design of each aspect every week and together, we will create a community map.

As I talked about islands and how the sea affects their shape last week, I will start by giving you some examples of how you can shape your islands and my thought process behind each decision. To begin with, I drew four circles as a template for each island with a 2H pencil. The reason I did this was to show you how the sea affects the islands depending on the direction, but remember that this is still a creative outlet so I have used some artistic license to create a shape that I want too.

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For the first island I decided that I would use the Game of Thrones inspiration to have the large swells. To achieve this effect, I taped four pencils together so that I would get the equal distance between the waves. The next part of the process was to imagine that over the passage of time, how much damage would that do to the island?

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After erasing areas that I believed would be affected by the waves, I worked on making the island appear rougher before I started creating the eroded effect by bringing the outlines further inline in a jagged way. You can also see that I drew some smaller islands around the main design, this is to help the effect of the damage that had been caused. Once I was happy with the design, I then used a HB to go over the original lines to give the island more definition.

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For the second island I used a subtle approach by using smaller waves. It was clear that this style would not cause as much damage as the first island received. You can also tell that the island closer resembles the original circular shape which is because the sea was much calmer.


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For the third island I decided that the sea would have a head on approach, with that in mind I then started working on some initial ideas that would give this effect. After a couple of attempts, I noticed that the island was taking a shape that I was familiar with. The first thing that came to mind was a Metroid and the next was a ghost from Pac-Man, these thoughts added inspiration to the design and I went with it.

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For the final island I wanted an island that had an inverted effect of the previous, what I mean by this is that the island would have a part that would extrude. The affects from a sea design did not really factor into this and after a few try-outs, I worked out that I could shape the island like the Rebel Alliance logo. I did not want to create an exact replica of the image, but it leads to a possible story hook, which helps with our overall goal.

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I also ended the process by adding some lakes onto the island to give the design a more complete look. Below are the final sketches for each island.

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I hope this article gives you a better understanding of how to create islands and how to use the sea to your advantage! I look forward to seeing your votes in the coming week and continue creating a map with you. Next week we will look at forests and branch out from there.

Carpe Geekum my friends,

One thought on “Fantastic Maps and How to Make Them – Islands

  • 9th September 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Shaping up into an interesting and informative series. Especially like the process of thinking about how natural forces might influence to topology of islands, rather than just drawing a random outline. Looking foward to more instalments.

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