I do a spot of world-building with my iPad, Apple Pencil and Procreate to map and flesh out an important setting in my current fantasy novel.
I’ve been in a dark place the last week; cabin fever is really building — working from home, homeschooling…. Finding the time and peace in a crowded household to write has been…hard, really hard. With my creativity and motivation at a real low point, I’ve turned my hand to world-building again.
My latest effort is to map and describe the town and monastery of Hafran, a locale featured in the novel I'm currently writing. Hafran is where Owain, my protagonist from Mistress of Skeinhold, lived before he became apprenticed to Master Trysten of Langorn.
I always imagined Hafran like a cross between Tintern Abbey, on the English-Welsh border, and Shrewsbury, a town made famous by Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael novels. I visited Tintern about twelve years ago, overwhelmed by the sense of history in the place, and I’ve always wanted to write a story set there.
I also decided it was long-passed time I challenged myself to create a map completely in Procreate — a drawing app for the iPad.
I started with a very rough layout, pencilled in purple.
From there, I began sketching the drawing, layer by layer. Starting with the river.
Then the buildings and roads.
And finally the fields and trees.
I don’t pretend for a minute to be an artist — it’s all just lines and hatching. Procreate comes some decent brushed, but what really helped me was Josh Stolarz's cartography brush pack. (Not a paid advertisement, I’m simply a happy customer).
I’ve got a lot to learn and practice, I consume a LOT of tutorials on blogs and YouTube. After years of half-hearted attempts and struggling with shitty drawing tablets, I’ve finally found a combination in the iPad, Apple Pencil and Procreate that really works for me. For the first time in my life, I feel confident I can improve, whereas before I thought drawing was something only those with natural talent can do.
I became engrossed in the act, and manually drawing each and every little building was actually quite a calming experience. As I drew, my imagination began fleshing out place names, characters and stories. I began thinking on how the local economy worked, how crafts were present, what was the relationship between town and abbey. This, for me, is the real power of world-building and map-making, and the reason why I persist instead of merely commissioning an artist to do it for me.
I also figured I might as well make a poster and use it as a creative reference for my wall above my desk. For that, I turned to Apple Pages in Layout Mode, which after my paperback experiment and making a bunch of D&D player aids, has become my favourite desktop publishing app.
Here’s the result.
All said I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I really am no artist, and I’m too cheap to commission one. I can barely draw a straight line. I have poor fine-motor control and terrible spatial awareness. Even so, with a few inexpensive apps and a lot of perseverance, I’ve managed to create something of which I’m rather proud!
I plan to publish a gazetteer of sorts about the settlement and share it with my subscribers. While such a tome is of most interest to my readers, a couple of people on social media expressed a desire to use it in their homebrew D&D campaign. This was both humbling and surprising (I have enormous respect for Dungeon Masters), and I’m totally okay with using my locale in that manner. If you are interested, sign up to my newsletter and you’ll get a copy as soon as I publish it.