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.

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