The Cartography and Art Equation

To create great artwork or cartography requires some things.

  • You need tools or programs you can use. Like a pencil, or ArtRage 5.
  • Some skill. It doesn’t have to be a university level degree.
  • A basic understanding of physics (such as light and shadow). For example, the same light can’t hit both sides of a roof unless it’s top-down without some variation.
  • Time. Don’t rush it.

That last one. Yeh, time.

There’s a simple equation to the positive reactions elicited from the final creation of a piece of cartography and artwork. And it’s the most important one.


MBD-4.jpg(I’m clever, me).

Like Shoeless Joe Jackson said, “Build it, and they will come”.
He didn’t say, “Take your time to build it, and they will come.” I did, and I stick by it.

There’s lots of way to save time, like copying and pasting the same icon repeatedly. But it stands out like a sore thumb in most cases and messes with the suspension of disbelief. You don’t tend to have that luxury when drawing traditionally by hand anyway — unless you have a tendency to stipple (which I do) and have access to a Cuttleola Dotspen.

Do I use shortcuts, hell yes — sometimes, but I try to make them as difficult to spot as possible with hue variations, random rotations, slight scale adjustments, etc. Generally speaking, if you look for shortcuts you undermine the wow factor.

The first step is don’t rush it, don’t try and make a self-imposed deadline. Tackle it in stages if it’s looking like a bigger job.

If you spend ALL DAY (8 hours) drawing a map it will look really nice. If you spend 5 days (8 hours a day) it will look fabulous.

Try it. Let go of time as a limitation. It’s probably holding you back.

BtC r1.jpg


5 thoughts on “The Cartography and Art Equation

  1. I agree totally, but at the same time, we illustrators have to balance how much time is spent based on what the project pays, as you know niche markets like gaming typically do not pay hourly rates like other illustration fields. My better works are those that I simply ignore the time it takes and just do the “extra” work because I have my own standards…. Thanks Glynn, keep up the great work!

    1. Absolutely Del. The post is aimed at hobbyists really rather than freelance artists/cartos. I find it such a valuable lesson that I learned.
      I often find myself doing a bundle of tiny details that I convince myself that no-one will notice, but the reality is that it’s these details that make the piece.

  2. Hey Glynn, I think I may checkout that Cuttleola Dotpen. I just started using stippling technique. Love it. My wrist thanks you. Some of us who put too much time into their maps tend to mess them up. And I do that a lot.

    1. It’s a great pen and really takes some of the pain — actually and literally — out of stippling. I still do some stippling manually but when I know there’s a lot… Dotspen time!

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