US Park Maps

Taking some of what I've been learning with my France map and doing a short series of US National Parks. Going to just focus on 4 - Rocky Mountain, Zion, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. I've got an itch to do something less mountain based though, so I might have a whack at the Everglades when these are done.

These can actually be quite a faff to create.

Initially I looked at using actual DEMs (digital elevation models), stitching them together, and the cutting the models into horizontal slices to create these. However, the easily available DEMs of national parks tend to be quite detailed and therefore, very high poly. Additionally I had to stitch together about 12 - 14 of them for the Rocky Mountain park, resulting in a model that was over 9 million polys. I tried using a poly reduction however if I did that with the whole map it ticked away for hours before I gave up.

I then tried loading the DEMs in strips, doing a poly reduction, then stitching the new, lower-poly model together. Quite tedious, but it worked! I then made my horizontal slices, turned them into paths. However the paths were quite messy. It took me almost 3 days to tidy them up and then group them according to their vertical placement. Then, finally, it was ready to extrude!!   And it looked crap. Well, not crap, but the large number of slices meant the result was quite detailed and it felt too busy. I almost gave up then, having poured so much time into it. I hadn't really sat down and done any preliminary sketching, and that quite often leads to dead ends for me. 

In a last-ditch attempt at saving the idea, I switched back to illustrator. I was lucky that while looking for topo maps of RMNP, I had come across an elevation map split into big sections. I was able to use that as a guide to create more simplified elevation guides. For two of the maps I wasn't able to find anything like that, so I ended up using low poly models of the parks that someone else had created, applied vertical gradient, rendered out the resulting elevation map, then used that to make the linework in Illustrator. And then of course brought it all back into c4d. Round and round and round we go...

Schoolism Kickstarter

If you're interested in online art courses, I highly recommend having a look at the Schoolism Kickstarter.

There are a variety of courses, run by some of the best artists in the industry, covering drawing, oil painting, digital painting, lighting, character design, and so on. I wasn't sure myself about signing on as I'm already enrolled in a different online course, however I've seen great things from other artists who are using Schoolism and the value of the Kickstarter subscriptions is hard to pass up; their  campaign offers subscriptions that work out at about £6.50 per month and the ability to switch between courses an unlimited number of times (for a $1 fee each time).

There's only 24 hours left to back the project (which has already reached all of it's stretch goals) and take advantage of the great value subscriptions.


New Maps - Part 5


I ended up shifting the text all the way into the middle of the state, as opposed to the far left side. 

Additionally I did some final colour tweaks and then brought everything into photoshop where I applied a soft bit of texture.


You can see a few detailed images here and if you're interested, you can buy prints or various other items featuring the map here.

New Maps - Part 4

Getting a bit closer to being to finishing this map of Oregon. 

In my last post about this, I'd just laid down the coloured segments on the landscape, the rivers, and the mountain ranges.

At this stage, I'd added in some stripes and dots on a few of the squares and adjust the colours of the mountains to blend into the squares they are sitting on. I've also started to bring in some of the assets I created to work out how they will fill the state. 

Here I've added in the trees and bushes. This can be quite a tedious task, as I'm having to adjust the colours of these assets to make sure they're readable against the square they're on and I try and get a nice balance regarding which type of tree or shrub is used. 

I heartily recommend getting anal about your layer stack. When there's this many objects in an image, it makes finding a specific tree or hill much easier.


So now I just need to figure out how I want to title the map, maybe tweak the colours a little more, and then add a little texture in Photoshop!

New Maps - Part 3

So I've been a bit busy the last week and a bit, which has slowed progress on my Oregon map. But I have managed to get a bit more done.

Here I've laid out the rivers and mountain ranges as well as the patchwork of land.

For the first couple of maps I made, when it came to the patchwork I just used a clipping mask to cut the edges, however at the end stage I like to drag the map into Photoshop to apply texture and do some overall colour tweaking and that creates a small problem.
 If you select everything in your Illustrator file and drag it onto a document in Photoshop, it automatically converts it into a smart object. This allows you to change the size without losing quality, but Photoshop ignores clipping masks, which resulted in patches crossing over lines and such. So now I use pathfinder to actually clip the patches at the edges of the state and avoid clipping masks where I can (Oddly not all clipping paths are ignored. For example, I use clipping paths on the waves under the boats in my previous maps and those come through fine. *shrug*)

I've also been working on creating some unique assets. The bottom row are the ones that have been made for Oregon so far.It's kinda nice to see this AI file grow every time I create some more objects. I sorta hope to one day have a massive A1 size artboard filled with these little things.


The results of my time tracking have been a bit surprising. I spend a lot more time on each little asset than I expected, being able to get about 4 done in an hour. Overall, I've put in just over 14 hours on the map so far. Is that fast or slow? I haven't got a clue. Feels slow though.


Anyway, the next steps are adjusting the gradients on the mountains so they blend in with the ground colour they sit on, checking the edges of the rectangles to make sure they line up properly, and adding a bit more detail to the rivers.

New Maps - Part 2

Going to try and update throughout the process of creating this next map. Here's where I'm at so far...

Initial planning - some R&D about the states including major cities, industry, flora and fauna, mountain ranges, attractions, and so on.

Initial planning - some R&D about the states including major cities, industry, flora and fauna, mountain ranges, attractions, and so on.

A rough layout of the state with borders. 

A rough layout of the state with borders. 

Sometimes gradients just don't work very nicely in Illustrator and you end up with the banding you can see in this image. I'll have to play with the colours and layering to get rid of this for the final version.

Like my previous maps, I've kept the lines very straight, using 45 degree angles for bends. I would normally have simplified the edges more, but as Oregon has a mostly rectangular shape doing so would leave it looking pretty bland.

Portland building sketches

Portland building sketches

Cities of Oregon: Portland, Eugene, and Salem

Cities of Oregon: Portland, Eugene, and Salem

When selecting the buildings I like to use Google Maps street view (where I can. It's a bit harder in Europe). It allows me to wander around the town and act a bit like a tourist. This method also helps force me to break the building shapes down, as street view often has you looking from an angle, not straight on.

Once I've found a good selection, I will start sketching simplified versions of them, usually making them more square, dropping some details and exaggerating others. I don't consider the colours or layouts final until I put them on the map along with all the other objects and see how they interact.



My next step is to lay out the mountain ranges and start making the other assets that will be dotted around the map - animals, unique plants, attractions, etc. 

Fur Painting

After doing a couple of of my Wainscott Weasel characters I went looking for nice fur painting tutorials. I found this School of Visual Storytelling demo with Therese Larsson to be the best. It's not a step-by-step tutorial, but the video provides a great overview of her general technique as well as insight into life as an extremely successful (and busy) illustrator; and it also comes with a set of photoshop brushes..  At $20 (£13.30 at the current exchange rate) its a bargain. 


What to listen to while working

So after telling myself I was going to try and update this blog more often, at least once a week, I've gone and taken a month to sit down and do this. In my defence, the combination of Christmas & New Years and the start of a new bit of work which has needed a bit of commuting to London hasn't helped.
I'm going to try and do better, but I'm afraid it might just be doodles, sketches, and half finished studies for the next couple of months. (^_^;)

My recent travelling resulted in me burning through a lot of music and podcasts, and as someone who doesn't work well to music (I always fall into the trap of trying to find the right song), I thought it would be worth sharing podcasts I regularly play to fill the silence. 


Christ Oatley's Artcast 
There are a lot of art-based podcasts out there, but I generally prefer non-art subjects to listen to. However I always enjoy Chris's podcasts and there have been times when they've been a great help, either bringing up new ideas or providing comforting insight into how things work for other artists and that maybe you aren't doing it all wrong.

Level Up 
OK. Not a podcast, but a Youtube channel where some amazing artists discuss working practice and do paintovers to show technique. The episodes are little long, and they aren't something you can get the benefit of by playing them in the background, but if you're bored and want to watch something more useful than a tv sitcom, these are great.


Answer Me This
Podcast where people write in questions and these clever Londoners try and answer them. 

Complete Guide to Everything
New Yorkers Tim and Tom pick a topic and discuss it, usually in a very tangental fashion. It took me a couple of episodes to get into their humour, but once you do its great. 

Throwing Shade
Humour of the more irreverent, sometimes crude and vulgar, vein. 


This American Life
A gold standard for radio shows that's been running in the US since 1995.

Radio Lab
Similar to  TAL, but with a focus on science and philosophy. Also a bit more experimental in their approach to aduio production.

A new podcast under the NPR banner. Quite similar to TAL and Radio Lab

Stuff You Should Know
A weekly podcast that covers an immense list of topics, from how to start your own country, dreadlocks, and LEGOs.

Stuff You Missed In History Class
Similar in style to SYSN, but focused on events in history.


Writer and climber Chris Kalous gets some amazing climbers to sit down and talk with him about climbing (obviously), life, and overcoming obstacles of all kinds. 

Dirtbag Diaries
More in the style of This American Life, but with a focus on outdoor life.

True Crime

A 12 episode podcast that follows a reporter as she looks into a case from the early 2000s. It went viral late last year, but if you haven't had a chance to listen to it you should definitely check it out.

Sword & Scale
A smaller, independent podcast venture primarily covering cases of murder. Not your lighter fare podcast.

A fairly new podcast, with an NPR feel. Covers various forms of criminality such as hacking, con jobs, and the PMS murder defence.

Thinking Sideways
Three hosts cover a variety of mysteries, many related to crime. Can border on conspiracy theory territory, but the topics are always interesting.

Phew! That took longer than expected! I hope this list helps some of you pass the time while doodling away. 

Thanks for reading.