Map of a Pirate’s Lair

I’ve been a little light on inspiration recently – so I asked a friend for a challenge. He proposed a map on a theme of a Pirate Treasure Map, with the following outline:

“It’s underground, the lair of a sea hag with hanging sea weed. Her lair is made of the remains of a ship wreck. The maiden’s head is a dragon. Theriver from the underground leads into the sea. The cave entrance has stalactites/stalagmites making it look like a toothy maw.”

Here’s the walkthrough of the map creation, with each step, and a video at the end showing a timelapse of the full map illustration.

For this map, I decided to work in Procreate, and began with a standard parchment background. I started with a rough sketch – using a pencil brush for quick sketching. I began by laying out the caves and the toothy maw at the mouth of the sea cave:

Sketch of a map of a pirate lair, hiding their treasure

Here we have the underground river, the toothy maw, and the wrecked ship. The circles outline stalagmites that line the river. With enough side rooms, we can fill them with fun secrets.

The next step was to ink in the outlines. For this I switch to a technical pen brush, and go over the top of the sketch:

Pirate treasure map – with line art

For the line art – the first step is to lay in the wall lines. For this I use fairly thick lines, with steps and jagged corners. I use lighter strokes for the edge of the underground river, and for the steps of the cave floor.

Each of the ‘teeth’ at the maw of the cave curves out in a radial pattern. This helps to give some shape to the cavern mouth. I use fainter lines to indicate the form of the ‘teeth’ under the surface of the water. For the ship, the teeth have ripped apart the hull, and the wreck is impaled on the spines. For the deck of the ship, I sketch in a texture to suggest the planks on the deck, and some ribs of the ruined hull poke our from the sea.

The stalagmites are a little more challenging – as they don’t have any ‘edge’ to them. Instead, I use a sequence of lines outlining the higher edges of the spire. We’ll really only get these right when we can add light and shade.

We also use line art at this point to add texture. For the rock walls, I use lines leading into the spaces to indicate the rough hewn cave walls. In contrast, on the water, I use smooth flowing lines. These contrast with the jagged stone lines. And they indicate the water waves.

Next up – we need tom fill our dungeon with interesting things. We can’t just have empty caverns. It’s a pirate treasure cave after all. So I picked a few featured caverns:

  • Treasure cave
  • Rum cave (why has all the rum gone?)
  • Abandoned rowboat
  • Stalagmite throne
  • Mystic orb
  • Flaming torches
  • A wall of seaweed, curtaining off the back of the cave.

Here’s the map with these detailed sections laid in (along with a shadowed wall):

Pirate treasure map with details of the actual treasure!

Our map’s starting to look like a real map (we added a grid too – using an overlay layer). The downside here is that with the lines, it looks a bit messy and hard to read. We’ll need some colour and shade to help it read well.

For the next step, we use an overlay layer, to lay in light and shade. For this, I use a large grungy brush for the broad textures, and then a round low-opacity brush to lay in detailed highlights and shadows.

For the colour – I use a layer set to color blend, and block in large areas of colour (mostly, grey, blue and brown for now):

Adding rough colour and tone to the map

As you can see, adding a light blue to the water makes the map much clearer, as does adding in grey for the stone. The light and shade also start to pull out the shapes. You can see the stalagmites starting to get defined – with the highlights coming on the side closest to the flaming torches. I’ve also added detailed colours to the seaweed, the barrels, and the treasure (including some greens, blues, and reds for gemstones). These colours will pop more once we add extra light and detail to the map.

The orb sheds bright light too – with a nice purple tinge to add some extra colour to the map. At this stage, the map still looks a little sketchy and rough. But we’ll address that by adding another layer to darken the map and increase the contrast:

The final map – with a final layer of colour, light and shade.

Here’s the final map, with piles of treasure, a stalagmite throne, a magical orb, a seaweed curtain, and a wrecked pirate ship with a dragon-head prow.

A nice feature of Procreate is the ability to create a progress video of the map. Here’s the video walk through of the mapmaking process from start to finish:

A video walk through of the illustration of the pirate treasure map.

If you’d like to follow along with these, follow @fantastic_maps on Instagram, or join in and jump on the #mapChallenge each week.

How To Map A Large Canyon

Vast canyons are awe inspiring. They thwart quests, halt armies, and tell the tale of vast cataclysms from times past. In this quick tutorial I’ll outline how to draw a canyon on your fantasy map. In this case I’ve drawn it in pencil on paper (I was feeling like going old school and tactile for this one) but the same tips apply if you’re using digital techniques. Continue reading “How To Map A Large Canyon”

Four Different Ways To Draw Hills On A Map

Drawing hills on a map can be a challenge. Unlike forests and mountains, there aren’t really any hard edges. On a line art map that causes some difficulty. Even when you add in light, shade, and colour, it’s not obvious how best to represent hills. Here’s four different styles that you can use as a basis to draw hills on your map. Continue reading “Four Different Ways To Draw Hills On A Map”

The Arcanist’s Mill – A Wizard’s Tower Map with a Twist

I wanted to map a wizard’s tower with a twist – somewhere a mage with a little bit of a steampunk leaning could hide out and experiment. What would such a mage need? A good cover story, and a source of power. Well, mills are the heavy industry of the medieval era – and if you’re milling flour you have power to spare.

So – the hook of the map was a wizard’s tower in a water powered mill. Continue reading “The Arcanist’s Mill – A Wizard’s Tower Map with a Twist”

How to Draw a Castle Wall

What would a fantasy world be without castles, turrets, and battlements? Sneaking over the walls in the dark, holding the crenellations from a horde of orcs, or landing on a turret on griffon-back – the castle wall is a staple of fantasy gaming. Here’s the steps I take when drawing a castle wall. Continue reading “How to Draw a Castle Wall”

Mapping Blackcliff Academy for An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir had a good year. She released her debut novel An Ember in the Ashes, became a New York Times bestselling author, and got the Amazon best YA novel of the year. I had the great pleasure of creating the maps for the novel. I’ve written about the process behind creating the world map. In this article I’m going to cover the process behind illustrating Blackcliff Military Academy.

Blackcliff Academy lies at the crux of the story. It is the training ground of the Masks, a sinister force in the book, and one that must be infiltrated. I won’t go further (so no spoilers), but the different locations in the academy are quite important – as is the secret stairway. Continue reading “Mapping Blackcliff Academy for An Ember in the Ashes”

Turning a map into an aged paper handout

The key to a good map is the information it presents. As soon as you’ve done the line drawing on a map, it should be perfectly possible to pick it up and use it. Everything after that point is polish to make it pretty. But polish matters, especially when you’re trying to set the scene.

Here’s how to take a simple map on a white background and turn it into an aged paper handout. Continue reading “Turning a map into an aged paper handout”

How to Draw Top Down Mountains on a Map

Mountains are a defining piece of any world map. They are the largest features after the coastlines, they determine the borders of countries, and the obstacles adventurers must overcome. They are the home of lost treasures, dragons, and giants – as far from civilization as its possible to be.

It can be hard to convey the majesty and scale of mountains in a top down map. It’s a little easier if you can use shade, but even with lines alone, you can show the height of a mountain range. Continue reading “How to Draw Top Down Mountains on a Map”