Drawing Hillshade: A tutorial (with time lapse videos)

Introduction

Welcome to my tutorial on drawing hillshade. This post is for people who want to draw map hillshade with pencil/graphite. In an upcoming post, I’ll describe drawing true hillshade on a complete map (with labels, roads, etc). Other upcoming mountain-drawing posts will include pen-and-ink and colored pencil. For now, this post is a tutorial for drawing with your graphite pencils. I’ll present some fundamental steps that should get you on your way to being a pro hand-drawing hillshader.

A friendly recommendation to all you graphite art enthusiasts: Drawing at your best requires getting into the flow. Reading through this post, and then doing some warm-ups (some listed at the end of this post) is a great way to get into the flow of drawing hillshade. Warming up will help you get acquainted with the paper and graphite you’re using. Music helps too!

The description of each step is accompanied by a time-lapse video of me demoing the step. In the videos, you can follow along as I sketch the area around Mount Everest captured in Imhof’s hillshade. I also incorporated photos of my sketch of a ridge along the Knik Glacier in Alaska, showing the static results of each step. You’ll find a full video of this Alaska drawing as the second-to-last item in this post. The reference for this second video comes from a digital hillshade image that I created from a DEM using GIS software. In Step 1, (Choose a Reference Photo) you can download this image as a reference photo, along with some others if you like.

The Materials

  1. Pencils. If you’re incorporating hillshade into a map with other information (labels, cities, etc.), you might want to use pencils on the lighter end of the scale. When drawing just the hillshade, I like to use any pencil ranging from 2B to 6B on the the HB graphite scale (sometimes up to 8B if I’m feeling super shady). I’ve drawn entire hillshade landscapes using only the 2B, but the 3B to 6B are so great for blending the smoother areas. Faber-Castell is my go-to pencil brand. I find them to be quite smooth. Staedtler pencils are also good.
  2. Paper: Get a good sketch pad. Get a few with various weights and textures, in fact. Always experiment with the paper to which you are committing your final project. Graphite blends differently on various paper types.
  3. Blending Stump(s) and tortillonEveryone is going to have a different drawing style. When I draw, I use the tortillon a lot. You’ll find it really useful for the gradients when your drawing hillshade.  While there is a difference between blending stumps and tortillons, this post will use them interchangeably and let you choose which you want to use (both the term and the tool). While you will vary the pressure, I use medium-to-slightly heavy constant pressure when using the blending stump (and tortillon). The thicker the paper, the more pressure I usually use.
  4. Erasers. I use a high polymer eraser and a kneaded eraser. The high polymer gives a nice clean slate in the spots you’re erasing, and the kneaded eraser is great for smudging off graphite to lighten up spots without removing all the graphite. Kneaded erasers can also be formed into narrow shapes for erasing small areas and finer lines. Sometimes, I will use an exacto knife to slice off a narrow piece of high polymer eraser for these fine-line erase jobs too.

To trace or draw freehand?

When practicing this technique, I like to draw freehand. It’s really great practice for getting accustomed to drawing from real-life references. Freehand also helps train your mind for how to draw from the imagination. However, when it comes to final drafts of real landscapes, for example a map of a real space that I want to put out into the world, I will likely perform Step 1 by tracing the ridges on a light pad, light box, or on a computer screen (super gingerly to protect the screen!) So, while you’ll see me drawing freehand in the videos, just know that you don’t have to do this. In fact, Step 1 for the Alaska hillshade that I demonstrate was traced from my computer screen.

BUT! All other steps after sketching the ridgelines do not need to be traced. In fact, it is recommended that you do all other steps by freehand while using an image as the reference. Paper over a light pad is going to hide all of the luscious nuances of light values. You’ll never be able to capture the landscape’s drama by tracing your whole way through it.

Sarah Bell tracing the North Cascades

If you’re tracing, only do so as you initially sketch the ridges and valleys. Here I am tracing the area around Ross Lake, in the North Cascades National Park

 

The Preparation Steps

(Actual drawing begins Step 1, Sketch the Ridgelines)

Pre-Step  1 – Choose a Reference Photo

If this is your first time drawing hillshade, I recommend starting from an actual reference. This will be help you understand how the light plays on the landscape. But where do you find a reference photo of hillshade? Here are a few ideas:

*Note – If you are using an image made from a DEM as your reference image, remember that these can oftentimes show a lot of extra data in the landscape. It is ok to generalize to the predominant gradients and values along the landscape where DEMs may have a little too much detail.

It can be helpful to start your shaded relief drawing journey with a great reference photo of a steep area that has some significant relief (a lot of elevation difference between the peaks and valleys). The reason I find this helpful in the beginning, is that steep areas allow for a lot of shade, so they will have a lot of different light and dark values you can work with. A scale of 1:100,000 or larger (larger scales: closer to the Earth) is a little easier to start with as well. The smaller the scale (farther from the Earth) the more ridges and valleys you’ll have on your page. It’s nice to start with something less challenging, but I also know how fun a good challenge can be! Remember, you don’t have to start by drawing the entire landscape in the photo; you can focus on a few ridges as a warmup.

Here are three magnificent maps with gorgeous hillshade. Each of them has areas of distinguishable relief, which makes the lighter and darker areas easy to identify.

From L to R: Imhof's Everest map; S. F. Emmon's Topographical Map of Mosquito Range; Imhof's hypsometric & hillshade map of Rheinwaldhor-Biasca, 1963

From L to R: Imhof’s Everest map; S. F. Emmon’s Topographical Map of Mosquito Range; Imhof’s hypsometric & hillshade map of Rheinwaldhor-Biasca, 1963. You can find the entire PDF of this atlas here.

Pre-Step 1.a – De-saturate: Black-and-White

This step is optional, but it’s a nice trick when you’re just practicing: De-saturate all the color from your reference photo. My approach when starting with hand drawn shaded relief was to use a black-and-white image as my reference photo. The reason is that all shaded relief really is is the difference between light and dark values on a page or screen to give the illusion of elevation relief. When making graphite art, the appropriate use of light and dark values is what makes a drawing realistic. It sounds like an oversimplification, but it’s true! You can get the right values in a variety of ways: pencil pressure, erasing, smudging, smearing, blending, hatching, scribbling – really any style you want to use to make the brighter areas brighter, and the darker areas darker. Back to the original point of this paragraph – Black-and-White reference images. When beginning this journey of hand-drawn hillshade, I found it a lot easier to see the difference between light and dark values in my reference photo if I was using an image without color. Luckily, on page 339 of Imhof’s Cartographic Relief Presentation (2007. Esri Press), there’s an image of just shaded relief for his Everest map, which I’ve included below this paragraph. This is the same area from the map above-left.  Take a moment to study this photo. It is a beautiful placement of light and dark values to give the impression of mountains and glacial valleys. There are no harsh lines. The ‘lines’ you see along the ridges are just an illusion provided by darker slopes’ adjacency to lighter slopes. Understanding that key point is fundamental in drawing hillshade.

E. Imhoff Shaded Relief Everest

E. Imhof’s shaded relief for his Everest map, 1967-1972 (photo from Cartographic Relief Presentation, Esri Press 2007)

Notice how dark those southeast facing slopes are! The richness of this particular image is the reason I was so drawn to it for one of my first hillshade sketches. If I were to draw a hillshade as part of a map with other information, like labels, buildings, glaciers, lakes, I might want to ease off on the darkness so that the other information could show up well.

Pre-Step 2 – Identify the light source

It really is about the lights and darks! It’s implicit the name, really: hillshadeshaded relief. You’re basically creating an impression of elevation by adding shade to the areas where less light can reach. Take a moment to identify the direction the light is shining in your reference image.

The light source on almost every shaded relief that you’ll see comes from the upper-left/northwest. In fact, there’s this weird phenomenon that happens when you switch the light source from upper-left to lower-right – or of you rotate a shaded relief image 180 degrees – the high areas look inverted. The two following shaded relief images of Mount Saint Helens are identical. The one on the left was rotated 180 degrees so that north is at the bottom of the image, while the image on the right has north at the top. Notice how the stratovolcano on the left image appears to be sinking into the earth instead of rising out of it, like the image on the right. Also, the left image’s valleys look more like ridge tops. It’s a neat optical illusion. Check it out! These images are identical. I promise.

These are identical shaded relief images of Mt. Saint Helens. On the left, the image has been rotated 180 degrees so that the light source is at the lower-right. Notice this orientation gives the image an inverted look - as if the mountains sink into the earth like canyons. On the right, north is at the top of the image.

These are identical shaded relief images of Mt. Saint Helens. On the left, the image has been rotated 180 degrees so that south is at the top of the image, and the light source is at the lower-right. Notice this orientation gives the image an inverted look – as if the mountains sink into the earth like canyons. On the right, north is at the top of the image.

With the light source in mind, investigate all the nooks and crannies of your reference photo. This is a sort of warm-up I like to do when drawing hillshade. Sometimes we draw what we think should be there instead of what the still life, landscape, model, or any other reference is telling us. Where do the darkest shadows collect? Where do the brightest parts of the slopes shine? Also check out the gullys, valleys and plateaus. Understanding the light’s behavior along the landscape you’re about to draw is key to getting a great impression of what’s really there. And yes! It is an impression. So 100% perfection is not required. But your peaks, valleys, rolling hills should correspond extremely closely with your reference, especially if you’re making a map to be used or viewed in the wild. Although, I’m also a fan and creator of fake maps, fantasy maps, and maps inspired by – but not based in – reality. And hillshade in those maps are rooted partially or fully in the imagination. But you’ll even need to account for the light’s behavior – albeit imaginary – in those landscapes to make them look like mountains.

The Drawing Steps

Step 1 – Sketch the Ridgelines

Purpose of this step – In this step, you’re basically drawing the framework upon which the subsequent steps will be based. These sketched lines will “disappear” soon, as the image starts to take a more physical form while you continue to sketch and blend.

Pressure and Pencil Choice – After investigating the light source on your reference photo, the next step is to lightly sketch the ridgelines – or divides. I like to use a #3B or 4B or higher pencil. Since you will eventually blend this sketched line with your stump, you’ll want to sketch lightly. The #2B is nice for blending, but I find that the increased softness in the #3 makes this a little easier. You could use a #4B or darker, but just know that it is always easier to go darker later on, and more difficult to go lighter.

Sketch the ridgelines & divides. Start with the most prominent ones.

Sketch the ridges & divides. Start with the most prominent ones.

 

In this time lapse video below, I’m sketching most of the prominent ridges from Imhof’s shaded relief image. While I’m doing so, I’m keeping in mind that these ridges are going to simply serve as guidelines which will divide light and dark values – that is to say these ridgelines are not the drawing, but rather they set up the framework by which you will shade.  So, the pencil pressure should be very light. I’m also faintly sketching in some of the lines where the dark and light values diverge in the valleys, but mostly this step focuses on the ridges.

 

Hillshade Step 3 Alaska

The ridge along Knick glacier after I sketched the ridges via tracing. This will be the only step that tracing will occur (if at all); the remaining steps are freehand. This image also includes some lightly shaded areas I did while sketching the ridgelines. More shade added in the next step.

Notice how faint the sketched ridges are.  Although the images in this tutorial each have prominent ridges, the concept holds true for gentler landscapes as well: Draw a faint line along the highest crest that follows the length of your hills, mountains, and cliffs. Note that in gentler more rounded landscapes, you’ll eventually blend this sketched line, so draw faintly.

Step 2 – Shade the Shadows

Purpose of this step – The objective for Step 2 is to get some graphite on your page so that you can blend with your blending stump in Step 3. This shading step will start to give your drawing some depth as you add graphite to the general areas where the predominant shadows fall. As explained below, the shading for this step should be kept pretty tight against the ridges and features where the shade/shadows begin, since this is usually where shadows are darkest in shaded relief (or so I have found).

Pencil choice & pressure – Using a pencil ranging from the #3B-#6B start lightly shading in the landscape you just sketched on the sides of the ridgelines and hills where the shadows are cast. The pressure should still be pretty light. Tilting the pencil to use the broader edge (as opposed to using the tip of the pencil) will make the graphite easier to blend.

Technique – As previously stated, you’re shading pretty tightly close to those ridgelines for now (see video below). You’ll fill in the rest of the shadow along the slopes gradually. This is also an opportunity to sketch in some of the less prominent ridges that you may have left off from the previous step. In fact, I sketch a lot of minor ridges later on in the process once the drawing is beginning to take form. Here’s a time lapse video showing me doing Step 2:

 

Alaska shaded relief: A closeup view of Step 2 (Shade the Shadows), prior to blending. The pencil pressure was pretty light, and was done with a 4B Faber-Castell. This combination of medium-to-light pressure with a softer pencil will make it easy to blend.

Now we have a nice sketch going! Don’t be frustrated that what you have doesn’t look like a shaded relief yet. It will soon. You’re doing it right!

Step 3 – Blend!

Technique – This step is so rewarding because it is the one where your sketch starts to take the form of a true hillshade drawing. Take one of your blending stump tools (I’m actually using a Tortillon for all the drawings you see here) and start blending the graphite you just shaded in the last step away from the ridge in the direction that the shadow falls. If you’re doing a deep canyon, this is still the same, except you’d be blending away from the rim instead of the ridgeline. You will essentially be drawing with your stump by moving around the graphite. I blend in tiny little circle motions. You can scribble, drag, or back-and-forth, whichever works for you. Remember to be consulting your reference photo occasionally.

Pressure – Test with various pressures. I find that I use a medium-to-heavy pressure when I blend. Don’t be shy when you blend; you can tilt the tool to get broader coverage. Now is also a good time to mention that I spend the majority of time using the blending stump/tortillon when I draw hillshade. It’s true. I’m blending or drawing with the blending tool more than I’m using a pencil.

Remember to consult your reference image throughout this process. Try not to blend into the lighter side of the ridges, especially if the ridges in the reference photo indicate a sharp edge versus a gradual slope. If you do, you can easily erase it. In this video, I’m taking the blending stump and just blending those areas I shaded.

Soft ridgeline drawing (Nifty Trick) –  Much of my time drawing hillshade is with the blending tool.  After you’ve been blending this dark graphite for a few minutes, you’ll notice that it will build up in your blending tool. This is GREAT! You can use the extra graphite that accumulates on the blending stump to draw in some of the minor ridgelines on the brighter slopes of the mountains.  This is useful since brighter slopes’ ridges have a softer appearance, and drawing with the blending tool has an instant softness to it. Notice how far the blending stump can take that graphite you just put down in the previous step!

The landscape is now taking form on the page.

Alaska Hillshade step 4

My Alaska hillshade sketch after the first blending phase. Although it isn’t complete here, it’s starting to gain some depth.

 

 

Step 4 – Shade Again

Purposes of this step – This step is a lot like Step 2, but now you will focus on more details in your reference image, and transfer them to your drawing by shading. Take a good look at your reference photo. Where is it the darkest? How dark are those dark values? Pretty dark! I usually find that my drawings really start coming to life when I start getting dark. This doesn’t mean use a ton of pressure. But you want to try to increase the pressure ever-so-slightly. I use a light-to-medium pressure. Choose a #3B to #6B pencil. Maybe even a #7B or #8B if you’re feeling it. I used a #5B in the following video. Remember that you will blend all of this graphite. After studying your reference photo, start shading in the darkest areas where light has a hard time reaching. This will likely be against the ridges. You will also use this step to begin shading in some of the minor ridges and the valleys that haven’t been added yet.

In the video below, you’ll see me add a lot of new ridges that didn’t get added when I did Step 1 (Sketch the Ridgelines). I’m adding these as I frequently consult my reference photo.

Getting these darker areas into the drawing really makes the higher areas begin to pop. Now get ready for some more blending.

Step 5 – Blend Again

In Step 4, you just put down some more graphite on your paper with a pretty soft blend-able pencil. Now it’s time to blend it. Following the same principle from Step 3, use your Tortillon to blend all that graphite you just put down. Remember you can also draw with your Tortillion with all that extra graphite that you’re picking up as you blend. You can also continue to add those ridges on the sunnier slopes, where the shadows aren’t as harsh.

Notice in the video above, I did a lot of drawing with my Tortillon on those sunnier slopes. I also used the extra graphite on the stump to fill in the valley floors.

 

Step 6 – Create the Highlights

With all that shading and blending that you’re doing (nice work!), you’ll find that some areas need to be brightened along the way. You’ll use the eraser to do this. Consult the reference image and compare it with your drawing to identify some ridges and slopes that might need to be illuminated.

If it is a narrow spot, make sure you’re using a narrow polymer eraser or a narrowly formed part of your kneaded eraser. I didn’t get a long recording of myself erasing for highlights; this video was recorded as a time lapse, and then slowed down; the result is a little choppy. However, slowing it back down was necessary to show the technique more clearly.

 

Step 7 – Repeat until you’re happy with it

Now just keep shading and blending while still consulting your reference photo, paying attention to the light source, values, and forms of the ridges. The key throughout this process is to remain confident, and not get frustrated. Oftentimes the drawing doesn’t start looking like the landscape in your reference image until you’re well into the process. Drawing hillshade takes practice, and with each iteration you will learn more tricks and your own personal drawing style will emerge. Skip to the warm-ups below to get the hang of it.

 

Here my Alaska hillshade video, which pieces the steps together:

 

Hillshade Warm-ups

Draw simple shapes like the following, and test out the steps. Consider the imaginary upper-left light source as well.

 

Sketch the ridgelines. Using simple shapes like this is a good way to warm up.

Sketch the ridgelines. Using simple shapes like this is a good way to warm up.

 

Lightly shade in the shadier slopes along the divides.

Lightly shade in the shadier slopes along the divides.

Blend in the graphite on the shady sides

Blend in the graphite on the shady sides

Repeat until complete

Repeat until complete

 

 

Fantasy Mapping: Place Names & Design (and free Adobe map assets!)

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a fantasy map named Kystfjell (pronounced kist-fyell, but feel free to say kist-fell), which translates from Norwegian to “coastal mountains.”

In that first post, I mentioned I’d be writing an upcoming Part II that describes some of the design decisions, including place name and language, character illustration, and geographical juxtapositions within the Kystfjell map. I also promised some free Adobe Illustrator libraries based upon this design. So here we go! This is Part II. If you want to jump straight to the free stuff, HERE is a truncated design assets library that I made, inspired by this map. But wouldn’t you want to know the background of those libraries and of Kystfjell?? If so, keep reading.

Important to know: This map was made using the M4CC extension inside of Adobe Illustrator. For information on how, read the first post on this Kystfjell map.

The difference between the actual geography and Kystfjell’s geography

As cartographers, even though we aim for a known level of accuracy and precision, we still are abstracting spatial data to a digestible level. The most obvious example of this is scale. Maps are typically a 1 to greater-than-1 scale – at least the examples we usually think of when we hear the word “map.” Although, consider this beautiful Anatomy of the Teeth poster by medical illustrator, Lydia Sharp. In a sense, Sharp’s poster, and microbiology illustrations like Shannon McMann’s Brain Cell diagram are maps of a 1 to less-than-1 scale. Maps (and dataviz) of all kinds have abstracted the representation to its necessary parts, so that the visualization’s purpose and message can be easily understood by the intended audiences.

When creating the Kystfjell map, although I downloaded real geographic data over coastal Norway at a scale of 1:140,000 (see image below), this map was fantasy. I can move mountains!

And I did. I was not tied to usual intentions of communicating an abstracted reality for the purpose of data comprehension or actual geographical navigation. While I frequently do draw illustrations that have nothing to do with maps, I have never applied the liberty of mapping things where I want to for the purposes of a fantasy map. Kystfjell’s scale is much smaller (the world in the map is much larger than the downloaded data’s actual scale), as a series of large interacting societies. This means that instead of the actual geographic extent’s ~30-40-mile width, my map is about 1,000 to 1,800 miles wide. Although who knows? There is still time for Kystfjell’s geomorphology in my imagination, as the book is still being written.

Data downloaded into Adobe Illustrator using M4CC

Original data downloaded into Adobe Illustrator using M4CC.

 

Check out this map diagram below. In it, I’m showing the extent of the Kystfjell map, and changes that I made to the data that were included in my original download into Illustrator.

Changes made to the original (real) geography to make the Kystfjell fantasy map

Changes made to the original (real) geography to make the Kystfjell fantasy map

Here is the final land juxtaposition for the Kystfjell map.

Kystfjell Map full (unfinished)

Kystfjell Map full (unfinished)

Overall design of Kystfjell

Please consider the Kystfjell fantasy map unfinished. In fact, I’m not certain that the land will retain the “Kystfjell” name over time. When I get some time to finish it, the first sentence of this paragraph will be deleted. So will the sentence preceding this one, along with this sentence, and perhaps a few subsequent ones. While the map is unfinished, the overall aesthetic will remain. Why am I posting about the design when it is not quite finished? In part I several weeks ago, I promised some free Adobe Illustrator libraries, along with a post about Kystfjell’s design “soon.” Now feels like soon, so let’s talk about design!

Colors

There are really five basic colors on this map, and every other color stems from those hues. The sixth color is the highlight color. I don’t know how everyone else thinks about color, but for me, what I call highlight color is essentially just that – the color that all other colors travel to as they get lighter. So if you can imagine a gradient for each of the base colors, where the darkest hue in the gradient is the base, and the brightest hue in the gradient is the highlight color, then you can imagine that the colors within those gradients are fair game for the particular project. In most of my work – maps and other illustrations – the highlight color is almost never basic white. This retains rich tones throughout the illustration. With every map I make, I try to keep the colors at a minimum, so I made swatches of about six or seven colors within each of these gradients and only drew from those colors. I use this color method for a lot of things that I do, but when it comes to mapping for customers with specified style guides, I’m often bound to a basic strict small group of contrasting colors and/or complimentary colors. But not for Kystfjell!

Kystfjell Base Colors

Kystfjell Base Colors

 

The mountain base color-to-highlight color gradient.

The mountain base color-to-highlight color gradient

You can find the Kystfjell base colors and other Illustrator Assets here, where I’ve shared them publicly. Notice how the colors look much flatter and more saturated than they do on the map. Recall how I’ve created gradients from each of these base colors to the highlight color (image above this paragraph), and from that gradient, created a palette made from those gradients. Doing so gives the map some depth. Also, I’ve added some transparency masks explained below.

Kystfjell Assets

Save these free assets by clicking on the image

Texture

I was able to apply a papery texture to the Kystfjell Map by using Adobe Illustrator’s Transparency Mask option. This post isn’t going to include a step-by-step tutorial on how to use transparency masks in Illustrator, but perhaps such a post as it relates to cartography is called for in the near future. It is just important to know that this is how this map was textured. There are a lot of great YouTube videos and online tutorials provided by designers that share how they use transparency/opacity masks. But here is a tiny window into my particular approach to how I used a transparency mask to achieve a papery look in the Kystfjell map. Ultimately:

  • There are ten layers listed below that make up the entire land-plus-ocean base of this map, and one more that makes up the shorelines (see next section for the shoreline creation).
  • Each of these ten layers has some sort of Illustrator effect (not necessarily capital “E” effect, or what AI considers an effect). By this, I mean each of these ten layers has a permutation of gradients, transparency masks, and inner glows; at least one of these effects, but perhaps two or all of them.
  • By removing any one of these ten layers, the entire base’s aesthetic would change, either slightly or dramatically (see animation below for how stacking these layers changes the base’s look).
  • This approach is certainly not necessary, but I’m really happy with the result.
Kystfjell Land and Ocean Layers

Kystfjell Land and Ocean Layers

Of the layers inside my Land and Ocean Layers above, the following have a transparency mask applied. The mask was made from a photo of crumpled paper:

  • Highlight Ocean (Also using the Lighten filter within this transparency map setting).
  • Darker Pink Land with Gradient
  • Land Color Burn (Also using the Color Burn filter within this transparency map setting).
  • Bottom Ocean Layer

When applying a paper texture to a transparency mask on multiple layers, one trick I like to use is to make sure that the paper texture image is the same one for each layer and the X, Y registration for this image is identical each time you paste it. Copying artwork and pressing CTRL + F / CMD + F will paste artwork in the exact X,Y registration in front of  your other artwork in a layer, and CTRL + B / CMD + B will paste it behind your other artwork to whichever layer you are pasting.

Stacking the 10 ocean and land layers and the shorelines layer

Stacking the 10 ocean and land layers and the shorelines layer

Concentric Shorelines

I applied a concentric shoreline effect to the land shapes using the Object –> Expand –> Offset Path method that I wrote about on this previous blog post. Note* That previous post addresses making concentric shorelines from a linear (unclosed path) feature, such as a shoreline that falls completely off the edges of your map (Object –> Expand). I applied the remaining principles from that post’s approach to Kystfjell’s concentric shorelines.

Kystfjell map shorelines

Kystfjell map shorelines

Whimsically hand-drawn

I wanted the Kystfjell elements to appear whimsically hand-drawn. To avoid a clean digital look I used brushes from the Artistic_ChalkCharcolPencil brush library that is provided with Adobe Illustrator, as well as a few other brushes. You can see some of those brushes applied in these complimentary graphics that I’m sharing here.

Language and Placenames

Each aspect of this map was an adventure: location scouting, character developing, mountain drawing, and place-namingAs stated previously, this is my first fantasy map, so creating placenames was unexplored territory. I wanted the names to be of Norwegian influence as a nod to my heritage, but also easy for an English speaker to read. Some of the names are combinations of Norwegian words, or combinations of Norwegian and English words. And some locations are English words. I wanted Norwegian readers to read the names as actual names as well, so I consulted my friend that I have known since middle school, Benjamin Nelson. Ben is fluent in Norwegian, lives in Norway, and is married to a Norwegian woman, Linn Monica. They reviewed the placenames to ensure the names did not get translated as garble to a Norwegian reader. Also, it was pretty important to me that I wasn’t unintentionally using a word that was crude. Many thanks to Ben and Linn Monica for their review of the Kystfjell map placenames!

The Future of Kystfjell

It is true! Kystfjell is a place in a story that I am writing! As the story gets written, the map is sure to change and characters are sure to be added. I anticipate that I will generate many maps and illustrations as the story moves forward.

I’m always excited to see the fantasy maps that others are making, as well as read about the stories that inspired those maps. Please share yours if you’d like! And happy mapping!

Me making the fantasy map

Hey, it’s me with Kystfjell in the background. Action shot! Whoa.

NCAA Basketball: Who’s Come the Farthest?

If you visit ESPN’s website, you can find the team rosters for all the NCAA Basketball teams that made it to the NCAA tournament. On that site, ESPN lists the players’ number, position, year, and hometown, among a few other statistics. A couple of my colleagues, Nick Brueggemann and Gregory Brunner, did some mapping with this data. I asked them if I could take their dataset and crunch it a little further. There is a ton more that could be done with this information. And maybe I will someday, but here’s what I have done for now to spatially visualize the NCAA D1 Basketball Tournament team roster data:

I decided to map the women and men athletes’ hometowns as graduated symbols, where hometown sizes are based upon the amount of athletes that come from there. The men and women hometown maps are separated in order to more easily identify the different locations. These maps started out with world city points and labels, but I removed them for the sake of decluttering the visualization. I was able to identify the lat long of the athletes’ hometowns using ArcGIS. I then calculated the distance from each player’s hometown to the city that their team is located; here is a really handy blog post that someone wrote eleven years ago; I often refer to that post when calculating distances between lat long coordinates. Calculating the distance of each athlete’s hometown to their team city allowed me to identify the average recruit distance per team, along with the farthest (and closest) recruit distance. Other than the maps themselves, I haven’t done any visualization for teams on the lower end of the average recruit distance. (Maybe in few days ?) There are a lot of players whose hometown is also the the same as their team’s city.

 

 

Flow Mapping Bezier Curves onto the HTML Canvas

*This post was written in February 2017. It was the first collaborative geovisual project between Jacob and myself. We have since presented this mapping method at the North American Cartographic Information Society annual conference in Montreal, Quebec in October 2017.

This post presents our Canvas-Flowmap-Layer, an extension of the ArcGIS API for JavaScript (Esri JSAPI) for the purpose of mapping the flow of objects from an origin point to a destination point by using a Bezier curve. Collaboration with friend and colleague, Jacob Wasilkowski, was precisely the push I needed to finally (re)begin releasing some (non-work-related) mapping and dataviz projects into the wild. It is imperative to note that much of the responsibility for this repo rests on Jacob’s shoulders, even though it is under my name.

Flow maps, academically speaking

In Bernhard Jenny et al.’s recent article Design principles for origin-destination flow maps(2016) flow maps are defined as maps that “visualize movement using a static image and demonstrate not only which places have been affected by movement but also the direction and volume of movement” (p 1). Jenny et al.’s article points out the lack of empirical user studies for flow map design, stating that “Design principles for flow maps are largely based on expert intuition and aesthetic considerations” (p. 1). I am the type of cartographer who finds extreme liberation in these two aforementioned points, which I will restate below:

The lack of empirically based cartographic design principles results in the freedom of relying on intuition and aesthetics.

So for all the mappers out there reading this, I hope you find extreme freedom in knowing that this Canvas-Flowmap-Layer is only one of many ways to map the journey of phenomenon from one spot on Earth to another. It is one method that we are quite comfortable in presenting, and have successfully implemented versions of the Canvas-Flowmap-Layer in a few real world scenarios.

Curves with Rules

Common solutions for dynamic flow mapping include using straight lines and geodesic lines, both of which have immediate visual limitations. Using a Bezier curve for flow map lines, where each curve on the map is created with the same formula benefits mappers twofold:

  1. While straight lines are not inherently ugly, an overlapping or convergence of them across a global dataset can be. A series of Bezier curves created with the same formula, even when displaying an over-abundance, has a mathematically congruent flow that greatly improves the map’s aesthetics.

2. The single formula that is used to draw each of the Bezier curves means that map readers can immediately know the direction of the line without having to add animation (explained below).

RULE DEFINED

Ultimately, the flow line’s direction from the origin is the order of the bend (a northwest direction’s curve bends north-then-west)

  • northwest from the origin, the curvature will bend northward-then-west
  • southwest from the origin, the curvature will bend southward-then-west
  • northeast from the origin, the curvature will bend northward-then-east
  • southeast from the origin, the curvature will bend southward-then-east

As you can see from the image below, if the end point is due north (or south, east, or west) of the origin, the resulting curve is a straight line.

THE POINTS

Each point is added to the map twice – the first instance of each point is an invisible “ghost” Esri graphic with associated attribute data, geometry, etc. We call these “ghost” graphics since the symbology has no outline or fill color. These ghost graphics are required for 1) having a to- and from- point from which to connect the Bezier curve, and 2) allowing the points to provide functionality and interactivity that developers and users are familiar with.

The second instance of the points is what you actually see on the map. Each one of these points has the same radius as their ghost counterparts that lie directly beneath them, but are created by finding the screen coordinates of the ghost graphic and then placing them onto the HTML canvas. By doing this, we are able to draw the curved lines that connect the points onto the canvas.

THE LINES

I was drafting Bezier curves onto prototypes before this became an actual interactive map layer. Once it came time to add the curves to the map canvas there was no shortage of resources for figuring it out. Here is one of the many useful out there. The lines are added to the HTML canvas by finding the screen coordinates of the points, and then using those coordinates in the .bezierCurveTo() canvas method.

LINE ANIMATION

The convexity or concavity of the curve does convey the direction of the flow line, but the directionality won’t be easily intuited due to its novelty. In the event that this mapping technique catches like wildfire, we can delete the second part of the previous sentence. In the meantime, we’ve added line animations, similar to the “ants marching” effect, with a nice easing effect inspired by this Kirupa post. The Canvas-Flowmap-Layer uses two separate lines when animation is added, although two lines are not required to achieve animation. The first line is the solid static Bezier curve, and the second line is the dotted or hashed animated Bezier curve that sits on top of the first line. Those animated traveling dots are actually a curved line with really a  big gap setting in the hash pattern.

 

 

Demos and code

You’ll find out a lot more about how the Canvas-Flowmap-Layer was constructed by diving into the code, and checking out the comparison and main demos.

Limitations

Projection – This is not a limitation, just a bit of information. This particular instance of using a single formula Bezier curve for flow mapping onto the canvas was implemented with Web Mercator projection. This cartographic method is not limited Web Mercator, provided that you are mapping a projected map and grabbing the correct screen coordinates from your start and end points.

Connection vs. route – The Canvas-Flowmap-Layer is ideal for the flow of things, where the route can be abstracted to a simple conveyance of start point connected to end point. Our data did not contain route information. When mapping thematically for things like the flow of ideas, phone calls, or even the logistical flow of things that – while they do take an actual route – can be reduced to its mere start-end connectivity. (In fact, oftentimes adding actual routes can clutter the map with chart junk). There are things to note, though, when giving precedence to connectivity over actual route. Namely, for example, when you have things from Seattle being shipped to Tokyo, but the flowline travels across Europe, Kazakhstan, and China on its way to Tokyo, when the shipment might have actually traveled across the Pacific Ocean. Jacob has cleverly built in a cool feature where the flowline updates as you pan the map so that most/all of each flowline can be viewed (at the small scales). It is totally feasible to add this sort of directional information to your data (where true direction matters). It might be pretty prudent to restrict users to your dataset’s minimum and maximum extent as much as possible. We didn’t add that restriction to our sample maps.

6 (Really 3) steps to Create an Antique-looking Concentric Shoreline Effect in Adobe Illustrator

6 (Really 3) steps to Create an Antique-looking Concentric Shoreline Effect in Adobe Illustrator

*This is a re-post from my former site*

I’m currently working on a map that I’m intending to incorporate Victorian (and maybe a little bit of steampunk) visual influences. For inspiration, I was initially looking at a lot of beautiful Victorian-era (roughly 1830s-1900, some say a little later) sketches of contraptions, including some diagrams of intricate devices that went nowhere.  Then I started to investigate common styling techniques used in maps that were made during the Victorian era. The USGS Historical Topo Map Explorer was a great resource for this investigation. I really wanted to incorporate the sort of concentric shoreline effect that was evident in all the earliest USGS topos, and elsewhere. Check out these cool mid-late 1800s maps in the slideshow that use this effect: