For practice, and to keep the creative juices flowing even when I didn’t feel like writing, I’ve started drawing and painting town maps using Procreate on my iPad. I use an iPad Mini, and drawing large maps isn’t practical, so I settled on a canvas of 6×4 inches, which is the size of an average photo print in Australia, or an index card in the United States. Keeping the size small, meant that I can knock them up in an hour or two, and typically do so while my wife or kids watch a film, or while I listen to an audiobook in bed.
I find they make nice little vignettes for my fantasy world. If I want to flesh out a location quickly, I can. The 6×4 size is easy and cheap to print and I stick it on my whiteboard for inspiration and store them in small plastic photo cases. The more I did, the more I enjoyed it, and it’s occurred to me they might make decent player handouts for D&D, or stage dressing for those who play Index Card RPG.
Inspiration and references
I’m the first to admit that I’m no artist — I am terrible in fact, as you’ll see shortly. I don’t visualise space very well, nor can I draw from a picture in my head. I need inspiration and references, and there’s a couple of places where I get them.
- Historical maps from books, CADW and English Heritage guidebooks, articles I photocopied years ago when I did my undergraduate degree, and simple google searches
- Screenshots from Google Maps
- Using lego bricks in random arrangements on a piece of A4 paper
- Free city map generators — my favourite is by Watabou over on itch.io
For this tutorial, I’m using a reference map generated using Watabou’s Medieval Fantasy City Generator.
Setting up Procreate
In Procreate, I create a New canvas, 6” x 4” inches. At this size, I get 120 layers with my iPad Mini 5 — Procreate limits the layers based on your device’s available RAM. I use about 20 layers max for this map style, so I’m well within the performance limits of the iPad.
I then import the PNG I saved from Watabou’s generator from iCloud — any file service that works with the iOS Files app will work, including Dropbox.
Procreate imports the image into a new layer. I scale and adjust it to size.
Note that while the latest version of Procreate has a reference window, I find the iPad Mini’s screen is too small for this to be usable. It’s easier for me to work with the image sitting in a background layer. If you have a larger iPad, certainly use the reference window if you wish.
Blocking in the elements
With the image imported as a guide, I’ll block the major landmarks — river, houses, castle and roads. Each goes on a separate layer.
For this stage, I’ll a thick marker brush and a solid garish colour. This lets me see the layout at glance — recolouring them later is easily done by setting the layer to alpha lock.
For the building, I’ll block these in as simple rectangles and circles. Rather than trace individual buildings, I use what’s there as a guide, treating clusters like blocks.
Outlining and details
Once I’m happy with the layout, I’ll ink my outlines. For this, I use the Stone Liner brush, I bought as part of the Map Maker set by Josh Stolarz over at Map Effects.
With the major outlines done, I ink in the details of the buildings. Here, I typically alter, refine and sometimes move things around too. This part takes the longest by far.
While I’ll revisit some details late, I like to start painting and texturing the map at this point. I enjoy this stage because it’s where my crude drawing start to look like a real fantasy map — or at least one that satisfies my tastes.
First off I’ll add a couple of background parchment textures and play with the blending mode and opacity until I have something I like.
Now I’ll return to those blocked in element colours I worked on earlier. I’ll repaint the roads layer, having decided I want all the central town and castle to look as though it’s all dirt. Then I’ll recolour it in a less garish colour and set the blending mode to Colour Burn. To create the illusion of gravel, I’ll add a new layer and generously stipple in the texture. That can end up looking overpowering, so I set the blending mode to Multiply and drop the opacity.
This has made my bridges transparent, so I’ll fill those in with a new layer, and I’ll adjust the river’s colours while I’m at it using the same combination of blending mode and opacity until it looks right. Oh and lets, fix the buildings and castle too.
Next, I paint some greenery to surround the town, and for that I use a texture wash brush, some green I like the look of and set the layer’s blending mode to Multiply. At a later point I might draw some basic tree shapes over the greenery as I’ve done with other maps. It’s getting late on Saturday afternoon, and I’m starting to think more about pizza than I am of maps.
Finally, I’ll add the fields.
Well, here’s the final map — I did warn you I’m no artist, but it’s serviceable for my needs as a world-builder and fantasy novelist. I certainly don’t feel too self-conscious about sharing this style of map with my readers, or if players as handouts if I was a Dungeon Master.
I my revisit the map later and add more details, like trees, buildings inside the castle walls etc — in fact I might redo the castle completely. I did rush on some things for the tutorial. I’m also still learning as I go, and I do feel somewhat limited by the size of my iPad Mini, not to mention my lack of artistic skill.
The real star here is Procreate, and in the hands of someone much more proficient than me, the results can be amazing. It’s a terrific app, effortless to learn and enjoyable to use.
Oh, and as an update a couple of hours after I published... I did a test print to see what they looked liked printed to index card size. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out.