Four Different Ways To Draw Hills On A Map

Four 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.

1. Simple Line Art

Draw hills with simple lines showing the slope
Draw hills with simple lines showing the slope

This is by far the simplest – and mimics how cartographers have been indicating hills on maps for decades. The short dagger-like lines indicate the slope of the hillside, and the area contained by the lines is the hill’s crest. The lines themselves, give an indication of the breadth of the hill. You can use concentric rings of these lines to have a large hill with multiple crests.

This is a very stylised representation – nothing in this form is intended to actually look like a hill.

Shaded Top Down Hills

Start with lines that indicate the edges of the hill
Start with lines that indicate the edges of the hill

If you drawing a top down map, and you’d like to have an illustration that actually looks like a hill, then this is a better style for you. Start by drawing broken lines around the rough shapes of the hills. Notice that this is the same set of hills as in 1. above. In this style, we’re drawing the lines along the slopes, rather than across (down) the slopes. This is almost like a contour map – with very broken contours.

Note that for a mountain, we draw the ridge, and then the crests that run down from the ridge. In contrast, here the crest of the hill is our whitespace.

This already gives a rough indication of where the hills are, but we can go further and add shading to clearly indicate the hills:

Use overlay layers to add form to the hills
Use overlay layers to add form to the hills

Here I’ve used a couple of overlay layers, and used a grungy brush, with a dark colour (blue-black) to block in shadows on the SE side of the hills. Note that I don’t add a lot of shade to the crest of the hills. Then I’ve taken a very light colour, and a hard round (low opacity) brush, and blocked in the lighter crests of the hills, and the NW side of the hills.

These effects combined, give an effective depiction of hills. Once you have the light and shade in, you can actually decrease or even remove the lines.

3. Side on illustrated hills

Use lines to pick out the form of the hills from a 3/4 perspective
Use lines to pick out the form of the hills from a 3/4 perspective

This style of hills is much closer to the mountain method. Because we’re using a 3/4 view, we can show the hills by drawing the crest. Unlike the mountains, we make sure the top of the hill is basically flat. Also, make sure to use broken lines here. A mountain ridge is a clean unbroken line, but for hills, the softer shallower pitch of the hills can be indicated by using broken lines.

Draw the tops fairly flat, then tilt down into the sloped sides, and finally level the lines out again as the hill blends into the nearby plains. I find it’s always easiest to draw the hills in front (bottom of the page) first, and build up the hills behind later. That helps avoid lots of erasing.

As with the top down hills, we could stop here. But if you have the time, you can add light and shade and bring these hills to life:

Use overlay layers to shad your hills and give them form
Use overlay layers to shad your hills and give them form

As with the top down hills, I’ve used a couple of overlay layers and darkened the SE side of the hills, whilst lightening the NW side. The brightest highlights are the along the lines that I’ve illustrated on the top left of the hills. A sharp edge will always reflect the light most brightly. It will also cast the deepest shadow – hence the darkest shadows run alongside the lines on the right hand side of the hills. Both the highlights and the shadows blend smoothly into the surrounding tone as the hills blend into the surroundings. You should avoid any hard edges here – it’ll look weird.

4. Simple Side On Hills

Last, but not least, we have a Middle Earth style hill, where the hills are represented with a stylised icon indicating 3/4 view hills.

A simple hill shape indicates hills on a Middle Earth style map
A simple hill shape indicates hills on a Middle Earth style map

This is the simplest representation. Here we have a U shaped crest that can be quickly laid in to represent rolling hills. If you want to go a little further, and add in a little simple shading, you can:

Use a lower opacity brush to lay in a block of shadow and simple highlights
Use a lower opacity brush to lay in a block of shadow and simple highlights

Here we have a simple block of shadow (using the overlay layer) and a simple highlight. It gives a stylised form to the hills, and adds a little visual interest. This style works well with the simple tree tutorial.

There you have it – four different styles of hill, for four different styles of map. If you want to see how this was made in detail – here’s the .psd photoshop file.

And, to see the progress from start to finish, here’s a quick video of the creation of this tutorial:

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